By Kiana Lei Yap | Opinion Columnist

Puerto Rico struggles to rebuild after Hurricane Maria, and some argue relief could have come faster. (Courtesy of Star Tribune)

President Donald Trump has been under fire for his lack of action in humanitarian relief provisions to Puerto Rican citizens suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The response to the crisis appears to have been too little, too late.

Additionally, due to the absence of objective news sources on the disaster, it’s difficult to determine who’s at fault for this delay. Is Trump and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) entirely responsible for the magnitude of the destruction caused by hurricane Maria? No. Could the President have done more to aid Puerto Ricans sooner? Also, no.

With all the power that Trump has as President of the United States, he is not a genie who automatically grants wishes. Federal aid just does not operate like that, and it would be unpragmatic to believe that it could. There are federal funds that must be reallocated, as well as FEMA communicative channels that need to relay what is needed and when it is needed.

Trump cannot tweet at FEMA to send in their first responders, electricians, medical workers, and plumbers to reconstruct Puerto Rico’s entire infrastructure overnight. Much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure has already been weak after years of neglect, according to The Hill’s Bradley Blakeman. Blakeman described the island nation’s infrastructure as “ill-prepared for a sunny day, much less a stormy one.”

Is this to say that Puerto Rico is responsible for the extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Maria? No. Was it a contributing factor to the amount of damage? Absolutely. The Puerto Rican government couldn’t have realistically safeguarded their infrastructure against hurricane damage. They’ve been in a multibillion dollar debt crisis for several years.

Additionally, FEMA Lead Administrator Brock Long was interviewed by CNN on the status of the response efforts and stated, “I have to make sure that I am laser-focused on coordinating the federal efforts of the [United States] government down through that joint field office [in San Juan, Puerto Rico] to make sure we’re meeting the needs that unified command.” He continued, “…this is complex…[and we] still have a tremendous amount of staff across this country working very complex issues around the clock. So, get rid of the noise and start focusing on the progress that has been made.”

In short, Trump is not the one to blame for the magnitude of destruction caused by Maria, nor could he himself have done anything sooner. It would be irresponsible to blindly deploy aid to the U.S. territory without receiving assessments of the damage, what is needed most, and whether American first responders would be safe. Puerto Rico is in a humanitarian and infrastructure crisis, but it is not the only one. The U.S. itself was just hit by a series of hurricanes. It’s important to recognize that federal aid is not unlimited and that the President is not in complete command over its allocation. The volatile reactions against Trump’s supposed disregard for the people of Puerto Rico is unwarranted. He is doing all he reasonably and logistically can.

What does warrant a volatile reaction is Trump’s Twitter tirade on the mayor of San Juan and the Puerto Rican people. In two tweets, the President displayed appallingly deep insensitivity for our territory that suffered an insurmountable natural disaster by tweeting, “…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They… want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

They want everything to be done for them? Is that how you view hurricane victims who are pleading for shelter, medical attention, food, and water? It takes a special kind of apathy to express such a vile remark. Amongst the criticisms of Trump and his handling of the situation in Puerto Rico, this is the most deserving.

This disaster has left some wondering what’s next for Puerto Rico. Surely, it would be inhumane to force them to repay their multibillion dollar debt. However, it may not be possible to erase it all. Perhaps making strides to welcome Puerto Rico as the 51st state could be beneficial for both parties. The U.S. would have a strategic military point in the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico could have increased access to federal funding for the infrastructure improvements that it desparately needs.

As the humanitarian efforts proceed, and the people of this great island rebuild their lives, there will be continued debate on what kind of crisis-management role the U.S. should play in the future for its territories and beyond.

This article has 2 comments

  1. Leonardo da Vinci

    Puerto Rico IS the US. Puerto Ricans ARE Americans. Hurricane relief WAS ready quickly for Houston. This column is deeply, hideously wrong. I tremble for our country’s future, seeing such facile opinionated crap coming from a young writer.

  2. Unlike the comment above, I enjoyed your opinion and do not find it “crap” as I find their comment to be rude, and ignorant. Keep writing and don’t let people tell you anything else. The beautiful first amendment gives you the right to say what you feel is right. It’s a shame people can’t respect that and try to learn from other people. Instead, they tear people down in hopes they shut them up. Keep going!!

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