Six months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, what many of us suspected at the time has now been confirmed by government data: President Trump directed much more assistance to victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas than to those in the Spanish-speaking U.S. territory, even though Puerto Rico suffered far greater losses.
Shortly after Maria hit Puerto Rico, I got a lot of criticism from Trump supporters for writing that his slow and unenthusiastic response to the humanitarian crisis facing Puerto Rico was “astonishing.” I added that, “He seems oblivious to the fact that the 3.4 million people living there are Americans.”
I based that column on, among other things, the fact that Trump visited Texas twice during the first eight days after Hurricane Harvey, and Florida five days after Hurricane Irma, while it took him almost two weeks to set foot in Puerto Rico.
While Trump was tweeting furiously in support of hurricane victims in the U.S. mainland, he barely did so about those in Puerto Rico. Instead, while most of Puerto Rico was in the dark, and even hospitals lacked electricity, Trump started an insensitive debate over NFL players kneeling for the national anthem.
And when Trump finally visited Puerto Rico, he offended many victims by playfully tossing paper towels to the crowd, as if he were an NBA player or a rock star throwing T-shirts to the fans.
But now, six months later, Politico.com has published an in-depth report confirming the Trump administration’s double standard when dealing with the hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico. Among the U.S. government data cited in the Politico story:
— Nine days after the respective hurricanes, FEMA had approved $141.8 million in individual assistance for the victims in Texas, but only $6.2 million for the victims in Puerto Rico.
— During the first nine days after each of the hurricanes, FEMA had delivered 5.1 million meals to Houston, but only 1.6 million to Puerto Rico.
— Nine days after each of the hurricanes, the federal government had sent 30,000 workers to the Houston region, but only 10,000 to Puerto Rico.
— Seventy-eight days after each hurricane, FEMA had OK’d 39 percent of federal applications from Texas hurricane victims, while approving only 28 percent from Puerto Rico’s hurricane victims.
— Six months after the two hurricanes, Texas was getting federal funds from FEMA for more than a dozen projects to repair schools and roads. In Puerto Rico, FEMA had not yet funded one single permanent work project.
FEMA said in a statement that it “categorically rejects the idea that Puerto Rico was treated differently.”
The statement added that, “There were real challenges in Puerto Rico that had to be overcome — including aging infrastructure, a decayed power grid and liquidity issues.”
“Every disaster is different,” FEMA spokesman William Booher told me. “Resources are much easier to get to a disaster area in Texas than to an island 1,000 miles away from the mainland.”
Granted, there may be mitigating circumstances. But these circumstances would be much more credible if it weren’t for the fact that Puerto Ricans can’t vote in U.S. elections, or that Trump has proved time and again to have an aversion to Hispanics.
This is the president whose main campaign theme was to build a wall along our border with Mexico; who falsely claimed that most Mexican undocumented immigrants are criminals and rapists; who said a U.S.-born judge was unfit to rule over a case “because he’s Mexican;” and who reportedly claimed that El Salvador and Haiti and African nations are “****hole countries.”
And he’s the same president who has directed the U.S. census to ask people whether they are U.S. citizens, which would drive millions of legal residents in multi-citizenship households to refuse to talk to census takers. That will result in an undercount for Hispanics, reducing funds for their schools and hospitals and diminishing their congressional representation.
Coming from this administration, it’s hard to ignore ethnic disdain as a key cause behind the delayed response to Puerto Rico’s tragedy. If something looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.
Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.