The precarious situation in Puerto Rico dates back to 1898, when Spain “sold” it to the United States.
The island is in complete darkness. Several days have passed since the devastating Hurricane Maria, and men, women, children and the elderly remain in survival mode. People are scraping by, salvaging water in buckets as they have been left with no electricity or running water. The heat is stifling. More than 30 Puerto Ricans are reported dead, but it is feared that there will be many more fatalities caused by this horrific hurricane. There is no electricity, no internet, and no way of communicating with the outside world.
Americans have come to help in dribs and drabs, with many of them preferring to spend their days in luxury hotels in San Juan enjoying hot food, electricity and alcoholic beverages. Outside live thousands of people whose homes are now reduced to just a pile of debris and rubble.
But the precarious situation in Puerto Rico isn’t new; it dates back to 1898, when Spain “sold” it to the United States. Since then, it has not been an American state or an independent republic. It is a colony — or at least, that's how it is treated. Puerto Ricans receive a small number of benefits from their master, like any other U.S. citizen, but they are not able to vote in presidential elections and have no true representation in Congress. But of course, they must pay taxes, in the style of the 16th century colonial duties.
The hurricane destroyed thousands of homes, but it also exposed the injustice and unequal relationship that was forced upon the island more than a century ago. The U.S. co-optation has left them in a limbo where they must plead for governmental presence during such awful tragedies like Hurricane Maria.
Clearly, as Dr. Jacqueline Font from Creighton University reminds us, not all Americans are equal before the law and the unhealthy master-slave relationship still exists, which is evident from the oppression that the U.S. exercises over Puerto Rico.
This has affected the most vulnerable people: the more than 5,000 Puerto Ricans who must undergo dialysis on a routine basis, the children hospitalized at the San Jorge children's hospital, the elderly who require vital medicines, the pregnant women, and the young people who have broken their legs or arms during the hurricane. The vast majority of these people in need will not have access to a single doctor in the coming months.
The instability in the aftermath of Maria has brought them back to the Middle Ages overnight. But Donald Trump remains unperturbed. His brief visit to the island was limited to throwing rolls of paper towels to victims, like scraps of food being thrown to pets.
Trump’s visit came after accusing Puerto Ricans of not sufficiently supporting themselves in a humanitarian crisis and attacking the brave mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, with defamatory tweets. Cruz has asked for help for her people in every way possible, and her resistance to Trump’s rude and disrespectful attitude has been made clear.
In an interview with Univision’s Jorge Ramos, Cruz wore a T-shirt with the word “nasty” emblazoned on it, which was a reference to the phrase “nasty woman,” a term used by the president of the United States to refer to Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign. Now, thousands of women use it as a symbol of resistance and in support of the Puerto Rican mayor’s gallantry.
The truth is that, regardless of the debate surrounding Puerto Rico’s debt or whether it is considered American, without a doubt Puerto Rico should have the same support that was provided to Miami and Houston. Puerto Ricans were bought as slaves by the United States, and Puerto Rico’s status as a modern colony leaves it completely vulnerable when faced with natural disasters like this. The Puerto Rican people deserve unconditional support from the nation that co-opted them and it should be given immediately. It is necessary to reassess the slave-master relationship that the United States maintains over the abused Caribbean island.