PUERTO RICO—The morning that Hurricane María began destroying Puerto Rico, we thought that, instead of raindrops, rocks were falling from the sky. We thought that the wind would flatten our homes. We thought we had known what a category-five hurricane would sound like. We were wrong.
After Hurricane María, the Puerto Rico where I have lived for 23 years no longer exists. Telephone poles lie broken in the streets. Mountains on the island look as if a fire burned away their trees. Hurricane-force winds wiped out our electrical grid, as well as more than 85 percent of cellphone towers. More than a week after landfall, thousands have yet to discover if family members are safe and alive. They gather around battery-operated radios, hoping to learn something about their loved ones.
But first, let’s make something clear: This disaster began to unfold in Puerto Rico way before Hurricane María arrived.
It began when the austerity measures were imposed on our island last year, making serious cuts to infrastructure, health and housing.
It began with the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act, mandating that all goods and passengers must come to Puerto Rico on U.S. ships, a regulation that has been strangling our economy for decades.
It began in 1898, when the United States invaded our island but didn’t grant us representation in Congress, robbing us of a voice in times of catastrophe.
We’re told the federal government is sending help, but we don’t see it. And, in the meantime, Donald Trump, our president, is tweeting about football, reminding the world how Puerto Rico’s tragedy hurts Wall Street or castigating San Juan’s mayor as she tries to get relief for her people. If Hurricane María had landed in the U.S. mainland, I doubt Trump would be tweeting about football.