How you can help Puerto Rico
My island, Puerto Rico, is struggling for survival. I'm watching my people and my culture slowly drowning before my very eyes in a flood of post-natural disaster neglect, socioeconomic and racial discrimination, lax bureaucracy and antiquated colonial laws and politics. You can help.
I'm Puerto Rican. Puerto Rico is a rectangular island in the Caribbean's farthest eastern edge of the Greater Antilles. It's 160km across and 56km from north to south. It's home to 3.5 million American citizens, yet it's not American. It's not quite its own country either.
These are facts that you find out pretty soon after meeting me, and one that I'm all too happy to point out when I come across a chance to put a little information about our small island out there. Right now my Puerto Rico is facing one of the biggest humanitarian crises its ever seen, and we do not have the power to overcome it alone.
Literally — we have no power.
Hurricane Maria completely destroyed the island as we knew it on September 20, 2017. Our electrical grid, roads, bridges, and other crucial infrastructure was already antiquated and in need of renewal, having not changed much since the late 60s and early 70s.
Many people don't even know Puerto Rico even exists, confusing it with Costa Rica. Others have only vague misconceptions about the island's status, contemporary situation, and history.
Its current political status as a colony of the United States put us in a particularly punishing double bind when it comes to problem solving because of its arcane and expensive shipping and transportation regulations, and legal loopholes that have pushed an island of limited resources and artificially limited economy into becoming a not-quite-nation enslaved by debt.
At the time of writing, Puerto Rico has waited 10 days for the arrival of emergency relief from the US, with water, food, medicine, and fuel all almost at the point of running out. Relief that should have been pre-prepared and arriving within 2-3 days at most. The most immediate concern is to assess the damage and human toll of the storm, and to bring all those who are not yet safe and cared for to shelter and care. We can only hope that the US steps up to its responsibility of adequate, quality, and equal immediate rescue and relief efforts.
What I fear most is the long-term toll.
Without resources dedicated to the long-term rebuilding and reestablishment of communities and cities on the island, it's doomed to having those resources re-appropriated as assets towards repaying the island's forced-debt crisis. That's tantamount to telling an island of 3.5 million people, "You're not allowed have reliable water access, to eat, have electricity, get medical care, have open schools or education, serviceable roads, or basic shelter until you give us $72 billion off the top first."
Puerto Ricans may be forced to leave because they will be jobless, homeless, and without medical care, education, and means to survive. We are already seeing what will probably be the next big Puerto Rican diaspora into the US — one that will push Puerto Rico even deeper into brain-drain, local business investment, and leave it vulnerable to even more opportunistic vulture investment and land buy-ups. Puerto Rico may not belong to Puerto Ricans ever again.