By Maribel Hastings
When the plane is about to touch down at the Luis Muñoz Marín airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, not only is the eye drawn to the beautiful view of sea and sun, but the other sea of blue plastic tarps that —one year and eight months after Hurricane “María”— continue serving as “roofs” for more than 30,000 residences across the Island.
The so-called “toldos de FEMA” are not the only reminder of this storm’s passage. Depending on where you live, you can still see lightning poles, fallen trees and bridges, landscapes completely changed. The fragility of electrical services is always there, just like the fragility of the lives of those who died or whose medical conditions worsened as a consequence of not having received vital medical treatment for weeks and months.
The other constant reminder of the long road Puerto Rico has to recovery is the sick fixation Donald Trump has with the Island; his constant efforts to block federal assistance money that Puerto Rico has a right to receive, just like any other U.S. jurisdiction that passes through a similar situation.
Trump never misses an opportunity to attack the Island and its leaders, such as spreading falsehoods about federal aid money, declaring that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in assistance when this figure is actually an estimate of what the Island might need, according to federal guidelines, over the next two decades.
Puerto Rico has been assigned $42 billion in federal disaster assistance money and, from this amount, has spent approximately $12 billion.
To give you an idea, the federal government spent almost $115 billion in the Gulf states’ recovery after Hurricane “Katrina” in 2005, where it is believed that 1,834 people perished. In Puerto Rico, to this day, $12 billion has been spent and the revised total for deaths in the six months since “Maria’s” passage is nearly 3,000.
Last Friday the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would dedicate $19 billion to states affected by natural disasters–a bill that does not have the support of Trump or the Republicans. The reality is, Trump is opposed to dedicating funds to Puerto Rico. His prejudice is obvious.
On Twitter, Trump indicated that the bill “hurts our States, Farmers & Border Security,” code language referring to white people in the states that paved his way to victory: the white farmers who certainly rely, in large part, on immigrant and undocumented labor, and the group of mainly white voters who support Trump’s policy of stopping immigration, slamming the door on asylum-seekers, and erecting a wall. Trump wants money for a wall and not to assist hurricane victims, particularly if they come from a U.S. territory like Puerto Rico, where Spanish is spoken and more than 3 million Hispanics live.
Trump has influence over the distribution of federal funds that originate from the contributions of taxpayers, a large percentage of whom are minorities that he disdains so much, including Puerto Ricans like myself who pay federal taxes in the United States, and the same undocumented immigrants he goes after so often. An individual, Trump, who avoids paying taxes and won’t share his tax returns with the country wants to dictate how to spend the money that the rest of us do contribute.
And Trump’s mistreatment of Puerto Ricans is just one more bit of evidence demonstrating his prejudice against minorities. If he doesn’t even value Puerto Ricans, who are United States citizens, what treatment awaits undocumented immigrants or migrants who are desperately seeking asylum in the United States?
Moreover, that sector of Anglo Saxons in the middle and working classes who blindly follow him believe that Trump “supports them,” when in reality he has just used them, offering false campaign promises that in practice are actually detrimental to their own wellbeing. This group appears to be suffering from Stockholm Syndrome or, apparently, the prejudice that they share with Trump against migrants and minorities is stronger than any other thing.
The truth is, Trump is acting like the plantation owners who mistreated the slaves and still expected them to be grateful.
As he said on Twitter: “The best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico is President Donald J. Trump.”
But truly the best thing that could happen to Puerto Rico is that Puerto Ricans in the diaspora do not forget Donald J. Trump’s vexations against the Island, when they go to the polls in 2020.