Long before Hurricanes Irma and Maria delivered their knockout blow to Puerto Rico and many islands in the Caribbean, the U.S. territory was suffering a long-standing economic malaise. The human and economic costs of restoring Puerto Rico’s luster are proving far too great for the scarce resources on the island and far too complex and long-term for an increasingly myopic U.S. Both on and off the island, the lack of political will and leadership has left millions of American citizens of Puerto Rico to fend for themselves. Those who can have left the island in an accelerating mass exodus exceeding 300,000 people since Hurricane Maria struck in September of 2017 – adding to the 600,000 or more who have abandoned paradise in the last decade. How can we stop this senseless death spiral and gain much needed political action from Washington?
Calls to build back better will continue to ring hollow unless and until serious long-term financial commitments are made to Puerto Rico and its people. Puerto Rico’s Governor, Ricardo Roselló, has requested $94 billion in reconstruction money to help put the island back on its feet. This astonishing sum demonstrates that in the face of climate change, we are in an invest now or pay later world, but either way we are going to pay. The premium on building a resilient economy in the first place is paid back during these complex times by comparatively higher resilience. Puerto Rico’s “ask” comes at a time when the White House, increasingly distracted by the Russia probe and one scandal after another, has requested $33 billion for border security and to build a wall (or at least part of it). The equivalency between security and reconstruction when so many vulnerable communities, from Puerto Rico to Flint Michigan, have fallen through the cracks, speaks to the deleterious effects of fear-based domestic policies.