It is difficult to watch the television evening news and not know that some U.S. citizens seem to be less than the rest of us. And no, I’m not talking about African-Americans living in the contiguous 48 states.
Puerto Rico is politically an interesting situation. It is not a state. It does not have a vote in Congress. Yet its 3.5 million people are U.S. citizens. And it is, as President Trump has noted, an island, separated from the rest of the United States by about 1,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean.
“This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean,” President Trump noted earlier this week. “And it’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean.”
People there are impatient for assistance after being nearly wiped from the map like a drawing on a dry-erase whiteboard. It has been said that pictures don’t lie, and pictures from P.R. show roads obliterated, nearly the entire island without electricity, water or food. Everything must be brought by ship, because there are insufficient runways for the parade of large cargo-carrying aircraft that might otherwise serve.
People in hospitals are dying because there is no fuel to run generators to provide electricity for the equipment used to keep people alive.
It is difficult to sit here in my home and actually imagine the destruction. A few centuries ago, there may have been a few people living on the island. If they took sick and the shaman could not cure them, they died. They would have been used to dying at the young age of 30 or so. After all, “elderly” is a relative term.
When I was a teenager, and my mother 46, I thought rocks did not live that long. Dad left us at 61. I am 70 in a few days; the emergency room is less than a mile from my home and it is well stocked with drugs and equipment and people who know how to administer them. I do not know how much longer I have on this planet, but I’ve noticed many people in their 90s as they board for their last train ride out of here.
It’s all a matter of money.
The 1920 Jones Act decreed that goods carried by sea from one U.S. port to another, must be carried on ships registered in the U.S. and crewed by U.S. sailors. Apparently, Congress has asked Pres. Trump to issue a waiver, and Trump says shipping companies do not want the waiver granted. That is interesting coming from companies that register their ships under other flags to avoid paying the fees and wages demanded of U.S. authorities and crews.
In 2011, when Sunoco wanted a waiver to allow non-U.S. ships to carry natural gas from export terminals on the Delaware River to processors in Louisiana, Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Patrick Meehan, both Pa. Republicans, slipped a virtually invisible amendment into another bill, thus allowing a waiver for three General Dynamics ships, registered in the Marshall Islands. The bill passed in the Senate by unanimous consent, and in the House with a 387-2 vote.
It is possible Puerto Rican ports are not ready to handle the influx of a large number of non-U.S. ships – a few news reports have reflected that as grounds for the objection – but one would expect opening the seacoast infrastructure would be high on any list of repairs. And when a port is opened, there should be a line of ships waiting to offload.
Those people are, after all, U.S. citizens, and more importantly, fellow inhabitants of this whirling blob of sometimes dangerous mud and rock we call home.
Note: Pres. Trump Thursday morning issued a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. But they’re still family, and they still need lots of help.