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Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico in its entirety. In the days afterward, there is no electricity anywhere on the island, nor a grid to reestablish. There’s no estimate for getting the electricity flowing again for months, up to half a year. And the federal government isn’t moving a finger to help out.

The Atlantic hurricane season has been milder in recent years. Since the damage done by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, there hasn’t been another of similar dimensions. This year, however, already saw two devastating hurricanes reach American coasts before Maria, provoking great damages to the states of Texas and Florida. The number of those affected had already reached the millions, whether for power outages or damage to material goods.

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Then came Maria

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Puerto Rico is a culturally hispanic island, a possession of the United States as a consequence of a conflict with a declining Spanish Empire, which would lose all of its Caribbean possessions toward the end of the 19th century. It suffices to say that the island, not being a state, is a vestige of colonialism—its citizens are American citizens with all the privileges and duties that entails, but without representation in the federal legislature or a vote in the Electoral College that decides the president. The history of the island, a Spanish possession from the first contact with the Taíno tribe, makes it such that the island’s culture is markedly different from that of the mainland.

The response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma was swift. The affected states, Texas and Florida, received generous guarantees of help and reconstruction of essential infrastructure. Those states, as it were, are reliably Republican at the legislative and state levels. With a majority in Congress and not unwarranted national sympathy, a green light on help was simple.

In Puerto Rico, meanwhile, the entirety of the island is without power and there is a growing shortage of food, medications, and construction materials. Agriculture on the island was decimated, guaranteeing that this year, it will be unable to produce even a minuscule fraction of the food it needs. Dams, telecommunications equipment, and much other vital infrastructure are either in risk of failure or destroyed. The destruction on the island is, for means of human inhabitation, all-encompassing. Electricity will take months to come back online. There’s no estimate for how long it will be for hospitals to normalize, that food will be guaranteed, and that damaged buildings will be rebuilt.

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It suffices to say that the island, not being a state, is a vestige of colonialism

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If the reaction was productive and constructive after the previous hurricanes, how might it be after Maria? To the surprise of no one, the press has produce minimal coverage of the consequences for Puerto Rico, preferring instead a spat between the NFL and the president. The president himself took his time to make a public statement. What did he have to say? A Twitter lecture on the vast indebtedness of the island. Since then, guarantees of help have been scarce and the island is lacking. The marine law that impedes foreign ships to dock in American ports, suspended for Harvey and Irma, will not be for Puerto Rico.

That the discrepancy between the treatment of Texas and Florida and that of Puerto Rico doesn’t appear to be mere coincidence is evident. The administration and the Republican party have shown themselves to be less worried about the plight of racial minorities, if not outright, openly racist. That Puerto Rico isn’t a state complicates the already tepid reaction it has gotten in wake of tragedy is also evident. We forget about Puerto Rico because it doesn’t conform to the system that dominates it. Colonialism is alive and well, and of it here we have our best example.

Image: Angel Janer
Sacha
Author

Americano que saiu de Lisboa para morar em Barcelona. Ensina comida, cultura e língua portuguesa em vídeos. Produz o podcast Bottom of the Mainstream, focado em temas LGBT. Filólogo por opção, formado em Estudos Russos e Ciência Política pela Universidade do Colorado e a Universidade Católica Portuguesa. Não cansa do estilo de vida mediterrâneo.

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