“Another blow that we didn’t see coming. . . . I don’t even have any more tears,” lamented a man who lived in one town near the epicenter of the earthquake. The quake that rocked the island on Tuesday displaced about 2,000 people, cut power to most of the island and left about 250,000 people without running water. Casualties were low, with one man killed and nine other people injured. But as was so tragically demonstrated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, the aftermath can prove to be even more dangerous and deadly if there is not quick and effective action.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced has declared a state of emergency, and President Trump followed suit, approving a declaration that will allow for $5 million to be spent on emergency services in response to the earthquake. But that hardly compensates for the shoddy way his administration has treated Puerto Rico. Not only did Mr. Trump seem to make light of the suffering after Hurricane Maria — who can forget him tossing rolls of paper towels to a crowd in Puerto Rico or how he labeled the revised, high death toll a conspiracy by Democrats — but he also refused to provide the resources that were so urgently needed.
According to a study published last year in the journal BMJ Global Health, “the federal government responded on a larger scale and much more quickly across measures of federal money and staffing to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida, compared with Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The variation in the responses was not commensurate with storm severity and need after landfall in the case of Puerto Rico compared with Texas and Florida.”
Indeed, even today, the administration is sitting on $18 billion in recovery aid to Puerto Rico that has been approved by Congress. Unlike Florida and Texas — or any other state — Puerto Rico doesn’t have elected representatives in Congress who can fight for its interests. That — and the fact Puerto Rico is not a key battleground in presidential elections — has made it all too easy for Mr. Trump to treat Puerto Ricans like second-class citizens rather than Americans with all the rights of citizenship.
Still, it is worth remembering that many Puerto Ricans were forced to leave the island after Maria and are now living — and will be able to vote — in swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania. Presumably many of them will remember how the island has been treated.