Hurricane Maria’s devastation tore through the commonwealth of Puerto Rico, destroying the homes of thousands of islanders whose lives have been further placed in doubt by the economic future of the island.
Among the shattered trees, flooding and destruction that has affected a territory long-debating its status toward the United States, there is a cloud of doubt that cuts through the humid air: doubt as to whether or not the island of Puerto Rico is of any importance to the grander scheme of the United States, and to an incredibly hostile, insecure presidential administration.
While help has been sent, including food, fuel and other basic supplies, it is no wonder that the Puerto Rican population may wonder if Hurricane Maria would just be the start of their worries.
Last year, the island became essentially bankrupt, caused by a mounting debt crisis and uncontrolled banking practices on the island from U.S. lenders. Puerto Rico faces $70 billion in debt caused by decades of poor management and poorly enforced measures meant to prevent such a scenario.
The temporary solution was the Pietro Rican Oversight, Management and Economic Stability act, a law passed to create an oversight committee on restructuring the debt of Puerto Rico, and suspending all debt payments.
It was already a shame that it took so long to realize that constantly adding onto debt would not somehow create actual payments, and that the commonwealth could breathe a sigh of relief.
However, this is ultimately pointless if there is no island to generate an economy from. The priorities of this administration seem to have been to re-orient sovereignty over the island and seemingly treat it less like a country with citizens whose relationship to the United States needs clarification, and more like a colony, with the draining of capital and resources high on the list of priorities. Treating Puerto Rico like such a body was not going to be sustainable, and the debt crisis proved that. It only took a disaster of unpredictable proportions to fully congeal that vision. Unfortunately, that disaster came in the form of Hurricane Maria.
The infrastructure Puerto Rico needs is going to have to be rebuilt from an empty pool of money which Puerto Ricans fear will be taken advantage of by the same malicious lenders that helped instigate the original debt crisis. The reactions that can be expected now are suggestions from such lenders, to allow Puerto Rico to borrow money for rebuilding in the wake of the strongest hurricane to hit the island since 1928.
More importantly, this will not be the last hurricane to hit the island, not by a long shot.
It is predicted that this year’s storm season will include much stronger and much more frequent hurricanes due to the overreaching effects of climate change. The economic and environmental destruction is not enough to convince citizens that there is something seriously wrong with the way the administration has been handling a growing mass of issues. The convergence on the island of Puerto Rico will just be the latest in a series of disasters to the places that will be affected the most. Relief cannot come in the form of thoughts and prayers and only support for when the disaster happens.
The nation must re-orient its goals to prevent such issues, rather than facing them the moment that they happen.
The moment events like Hurricane Maria happen, it is already too late. People will already be dead and many others will be caught in the grip of such a disaster.
The United States needs to continue putting money and resources into preventative measures against everything, from predatory lending, to lack of environmental protection, to the very fact that the world’s climate is being altered in such a way that will not be beneficial to the sustainability of numerous communities around the globe.
Reuven is a junior studying Literary Form and Writing. He is the Managing Editor for Refract Magazine.