Puerto Rico Se Levanta!
PR RELIEF : Last Blog Entry on PR for now. Four offices in four days...here we are working in the dark...
On the way home, I spoke to two men, one who works for the Red Cross, and one who works for FEMA, two of the most important relief organizations. The Red Cross guy is very concerned about the “Second Disaster,” the inevitable waves of epidemic disease. When I asked him what would be the most important things to send, he said, “Cleaning Supplies! People are washing themselves, their clothes, and their homes with water from the streams and rivers” the same water that functions as a sewer for animals and humans alike. And most people are careful about where they put their feces (NOT in the river! NOT in the toilet! (the plumbing system is damaged by flooding and leakage)), but it’s rainy season in Puerto Rico, so every afternoon and night there are downpours that wash all that carefully stowed stuff into the river. Each flood brings with it more disease. Standing water in puddles is attractive both to bored children and mosquitos. Bacterial and viral infections are already starting to spread. This week, teachers who have schools will be asked to clean them. With what? When all students start to return to school (sometimes not their school) the following week, disease will spread even faster. One parent in San Juan (our landlord) said, “we are told to send with our children everything they will need for the day. Water, food, and school materials. Where can we get that?” Some schools are providing food, even for students who are not normally part of their student body. And some have been inspected for both health and structural concerns. There are 1100 schools on the island, and some 10% are open already.
The FEMA guy is taking a break. And considering another career. He was most frustrated by the legal restrictions on FEMA. They have contracts with certain US shipping companies, and certain US energy companies, and can’t accept shipments from just anyone (or anywhere, now that the Jones Act is back in effect.) The Jones Act was created in 1917 in order to maintain a colonial relationship of mercantile trade with the US (not so incidentally, Puerto Ricans were also made to accept American citizenship so that they could be drafted—20,000 of them served in WWI, more in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam). The US Congress can override its laws, and while PR residents pay US taxes, their respresentative in the House (their “Commisioner”) doesn’t get a vote. Here she is giving HUD Secretary Ben Carson an earful. Notice how he puts it on FEMA. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/rep-velazquez-grills-carson-on-shameful-puerto-rico-response/2017/10/12/50ca36c6-af8b-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_video.html?utm_term=.9b2c7cb805e8 But now generators are starting to break down. The strain on the remaining parts of the grid, and regular lightning storms, are knocking power out of MORE areas. Generators were not designed to work 24/7, for weeks and months at a time. Some of them have been chugging away since Irma, on September 6. Government offices spend half of every day trying to move to another location (flooded roads, no traffic lights, no public transit, little available gas, and visits by US officials make moving around in San Juan a challenging proposition) where there might be power, water, and connectivity for a few hours before THAT generator poops out. But many generators are not made in the US, and replacement parts aren’t, either. That means getting replacements and parts is next to impossible. A repair that might have taken a few hours now takes a week or more. My FEMA friend says it is all politics. On the day I left, Trump tweeted that “we can’t stay here forever.” Here are some Puerto Rican responses: https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/politics/mr-president-you-charlatan-puerto-ricans-react-to-trumps-latest-statement-about-hurricane-recovery/2017/10/12/05c3844c-afaf-11e7-9b93-b97043e57a22_video.html?utm_term=.7afa67eb1fe2
In general, Puerto Ricans won’t tell you how bad it is. “We’re fine,” is the typical response, and you have to dig to find out the whole story. Culturally, complaining to visitors about your living conditions is like hanging out your dirty laundry in public—even when you need help. Asking for help is considered undignified. And what good does it do, anyway?
But Puerto Rico will rise. PR has been devastated before, and has stood up again. PR has been conquered and has fought back (they were forced to have all lessons in English until the 1950s). PR served the US loyally in the hopes of a real vote in Congress. PR is full of proud, beautiful, resourceful people, who are much loved by the people (if not the government) of “the states.” Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton fame, brought together leading musical artists (actually in SECONDS) to perform his “Almost Like Praying” benefit love song for Puerto Rico. PAY for the download and 100% of your money goes to help. Here is the music video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1IBXE2G6zw The power of creativity, music, life and love. Puerto Rico Se Levanta!