On October 4th, the American Security Project hosted an event on Build Back Better – Responding to Puerto Rico’s Crisis after Hurricane Maria. The panel included Dante Disparte, Chairman of American Security Project’s Business Council for American Security, and the founder and CEO of Risk Cooperative; Brigadier General Stephen A. Cheney, USMC (Ret.), Chief Executive Officer of American Security Project; and Andrew Holland American Security Project’s Director of Studies and Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate.
The panel discussed different strategies for addressing the unprecedented crisis taking place in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria. The discussions centered on the long-term causes for the disaster in Puerto Rico, best policies going forward, financing issues that need to be overcome, and investment opportunities for the island. All of the participants agreed that in the wake of such a disaster, now was the time to address the many intractable problems facing Puerto Rico and to rebuild and revitalize the island better than before.
As a native Puerto Rico and with many family members still on the island, Mr. Disparte had a very personal connection to the tragedy taking place. He explained how when he was a boy growing up in Puerto Rico he experienced firsthand the devastation of Hurricane Hugo. He pointed out that Puerto Rico was already facing numerous problems; the territory is poorer than any U.S. state with an average of $20k per house hold, goods cost 30 percent more than they do in the U.S. due to the Jones Act, and average electricity prices are 4 times as high as Florida due to antiquated electricity regulations, which is the highest in the Caribbean. He said that, “It’s almost as if we are deliberately strangling Puerto Rico.” He pointed out that Puerto Rico is already the site of the largest non-violence driven mass migration in the world, with over 500,000 people leaving in the last decade. The lack of effective action after this disaster could drive much of the rest of the population to migrate and seek refuge in the continental U.S. He recommended that the U.S. provide every source of relief at its disposal and to turn this crisis into an opportunity to showcase how to rebuild in a resilient manner after such a massive disaster.