The politicization of human tragedy, sadly, has become a staple of modern American politics. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 storm that hammered Puerto Rico in Sept. 2017, Democrats predictably savaged the Trump administration for its supposedly too-little-too-late emergency response. It soon became clear that the island’s own government had dragged its feet over the distribution of emergency aid and supplies, but a new storm may have arrived after the discovery of a warehouse full of supplies intended for Maria’s victims. This tempest will not claim any lives, but it could, perhaps, claim some senior government jobs.
As things stand, the revelation that many tons of supplies are still sitting in a warehouse more than two years after the storm has already led to one dismissal: Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced on Saturday, Jan. 18, fired the island’s emergency manager, Carlos Acevedo. The warehouse – discovered, apparently, during a post-earthquake inspection in the city of Ponce – is huge and is packed with unopened cases and pallets. Photographs and video footage have been posted on social media platforms as outrage spreads among residents of the island. The supplies include cases of water, baby formula, and emergency and survival equipment.
Puerto Rico’s Problems are Local
Before his removal from office, Acevedo released a statement that said in part: “It is important to emphasize that no citizen has been denied any of the items found at this place.” The fact that, some 28 months after the hurricane, this quantity of vital supplies sits untouched and undisturbed – as the posted videos appear to indicate – demonstrates the utter incompetence with which Puerto Rican authorities approached the relief effort.
It is nothing short of appalling to observe the hardships with which many Puerto Ricans have struggled since Maria. The final death toll is still in dispute, but a study commissioned by the territory’s government puts that number at 3,000. Thousands more lost their homes or were in other ways displaced and the island is still a long way from recovery.
Whether the response to Maria from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was adequate or left much to be desired depends, it seems, on one’s political alignment. Democrats on the U.S. mainland as well as on the island wasted no time in using the terrible effects of the storm to score political points against President Trump, who claims that his administration’s response was highly effective. Local authorities, though, were slow to distribute the huge quantities of aid that did arrive on the island after the storm.
Many would argue that this slow rollout of relief was largely due to the damage inflicted by Maria, such as lack of power, flooded or washed-out roads, and so on. There is no excuse, though, for this quantity of aid to be gathering dust in a warehouse all these many months later. This just-discovered cache provides a good analogy for Puerto Rico’s considerable problems: They lie not in Washington, D.C. but have been right there on the island for far too long.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.