A month after Hurricane María, Puerto Rico’s situation is stagnant. Despite the deployment of statistics showing improvement here and there, most of the population remains without electricity, drinking water, or communications. Wherever these basic services have been restored —and a commendable effort has gone into getting them to that point—instability persists, crashes now and then occur. Informal and formal reports of spreading illnesses abound. Persons in isolated, affected communities have recurred to drawing water from polluted or uncertain sources. Waves of “temporary layoffs” have begun, as many businesses are unable to resume operations. Many government offices are closed. At this point, one month later, people on the ground report that low-income communities continue to ask for food and water as their primary need.
On the other hand, the initial lack of gasoline and diesel has been overcome, and the San Juan airport, the financial center, and the government hospital center have become operational. The courts, both Commonwealth and federal, have not yet been able to resume their normal course of operations, though they are on their way to doing so.
In truth, getting an accurate picture of the island’s overall situation is not easy. Difficulties in communication, transportation, closed offices, and a lack of reporting owing to such difficulties muddle the picture. Daily life is afflicted with “fog and friction.” Even “the simplest thing is difficult [and] the difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced [the hurricane],” as Clausewitz described in the different phenomenon of war.
Nevertheless, inlets of hope and improvement exist. Our island has received an outpouring of support from many fronts. Individuals and organizations, such as the Federal Bar Association itself, have steadily coordinated shipments, help, donations of money and supplies, and more. The solidarity that our fellow United States citizens and colleagues in the U.S. have shown is heartening and reassures us that Hurricane Maria’s devastation of our island and the hardship and difficulties it has caused us will be overcome.
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico cannot fix the Hurricane’s damages alone. The infrastructure’s devastation is too much for the strained resources of our insolvent government. The interruption and reduction of economic activity will have a further prejudicial, long-term impact on the island, as will the rise in emigration, partial and permanent, that is already taking place. These unfortunate realities make the support and solidarity that we have received from individuals and organizations on all sides all the much more valued and appreciated.
Still, the damage is great. Billions of dollars of investment will be required to fix the infrastructure that is needed not only for the daily necessities of the island’s residents but also to enable the continued viability of Puerto Rico’s industries, commerce, and tourism. The only entity truly large enough to address this problem is the federal government, whether in terms of direct aid or by enacting measures that will facilitate and encourage the needed investment. Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million U.S. citizens do not have, however, a vote in the Congress. As a result, we rely on the goodwill and support of our fellow U.S. citizens who do have senators and congresspersons upon whom they can call.
The United States and its people have throughout their history assisted in a noble fashion countries and jurisdictions in critical need. We in Puerto Rico are witnessing those same noble efforts. The support and solidarity we have received already assure us and give us hope that the efforts will continue until both our urgent needs and the long-term, large scale action that are required for Puerto Rico to regain normality will be accomplished.
Mariano A. Mier-Romeu
Hon. Raymond L. Acosta Puerto Rico Chapter