Puerto Ricans were not crazy after Hurricane María. It’s the federal government that’s crazy. The crisis over COVID-19, otherwise known as the coronavirus, has proven it beyond a doubt.
The thread tying the two disasters together is the horrendous response of the federal government in the face of a catastrophe. But we kinda, sorta doubted what we were seeing or hearing out of Puerto Rico after Hurricane María hit in September 2017.
Blaming the victim was vogue: Why can’t Puerto Ricans get their act together? Why can’t Puerto Ricans recuperate after the hurricane or, more recently, after the earthquakes? Why is everyone so incompetent?
To paraphrase political operative James Carville, it’s the federal government, stupid. More accurately, it’s Donald Trump and his totally incompetent response to bad news.
The same president who tossed paper towels at Puerto Ricans who were still mopping up after the worse hurricane to hit the island in 100 years is the same president who has botched the response to the coronavirus, especially the creation and dissemination of testing kits to detect the virus so we can know who is infected. It’s the same president who does not want to know what he does not want to know.
And what he doesn’t want to know is that people are sick and dying – anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 people died in Puerto Rico, and the U.S. coronavirus death count now stands at 47, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The growing fatalities and the federal government’s striking propensity to make things worse by not providing appropriate aid when needed are testaments to the fact that disasters are both natural and manmade, that what comes after a disaster is just as important as the disaster itself.
The theory is not unique to me. It was first articulated by historian Stuart Schwartz who studied the San Ciriaco Hurricane that tore through Puerto Rico in 1899, a year after the United States took over Puerto Rico.
Schwartz wrote, “Natural disasters are never natural. They are always the result of what people and governments do before and after an event.”
I make this point in Tossed to the Wind: Stories of Hurricane Maria Survivors, my book in collaboration with Nancy Rosado published this month by the University Press of Florida. And I have never forgotten it.
Trump finally declared a national emergency Friday, allowing the federal government to reach much deeper into the coronavirus crisis to try to contain it, including access to $50 billion in emergency funds. He should have done this a month ago.
Because the stark choice the United States faces is, are we going to be South Korea or Italy? Two countries with similar populations and dissimilar responses to COVID-19 – and the results or lack thereof to show for it.
Italy, with 60 million people, is closing in on 18,000 cases of coronavirus with nearly 1,300 deaths. It has carried out 3,000 tests a day, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, South Korea, with 50 million people or 20 percent fewer people than Italy, is testing 15,000 people per day for a total of 241,000 people tested thus far versus 98,000 in Italy. South Korea is able to diagnose patients in six hours. It has reported 8,100 cases but only 72 deaths.
The testing numbers in the United States are absolutely dismal. Nearly 2,180 people have tested positive for coronavirus and nearly 50 have died, according to Johns Hopkins. The nation’s supply of tests and testing products is dwindling, and the U.S. still doesn’t have a reliable test (the FDA gave Roche Holding AG emergency clearance to rush a test). Infectious disease experts state that COVID-19 will not crest in the United States until after May. The clock is ticking.
So, no, Puerto Ricans were not crazy then and are not crazy now. The Trump administration made things significantly worse for Puerto Ricans after Hurricane María with an extremely slow response and by withholding aid. What’s more, it continues to do so.
And the Trump administration has done the exact same stupid thing with the coronavirus. As in Puerto Rico, the people will pay the price for the administration’s lumbering, stumbling and incompetent response to COVID-19.
María Padilla – Editor
Coronavirus Cases in Florida as of March 14