Puerto Rico is still a victim of colonial neglect

 In U.S.
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It took almost a week after Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico for the U.S. territory’s plight to take center stage in the American news cycle. That was partly due to President Trump, who used his Twitter account and public statements to wage a battle with the National Football League and its protesting athletes, rather than focusing national attention on the storm-battered island. When he did mention Puerto Rico over the weekend, he did so with a curious stream of tweets that appeared to blame Puerto Rico’s woes on internal dysfunctions and “massive debt” owed to Wall Street financiers.

Despite the Trump administration’s insistence that it is on top of the crisis, some 3.4 million Puerto Ricans — basically the entire population — remain without regular electricity. An estimated 1.5 million are without access to clean drinking water. It is a remarkable, shocking state of affairs for an island inhabited by more American citizens than 21 individual states on the U.S. mainland. Countless residents are cut off by collapsed physical infrastructure and the failure of communications systems on the island.

President Trump on Sept. 26 said his administration has received “tremendous reviews from government officials” in Puerto Rico for its response to Hurricane Maria. (Reuters)

My colleague Samantha Schmidt reported from one corner of Puerto Rico, where residents despaired at the lack of outside aid. “In the five days since Maria battered the city of Morovis, 37 miles southwest of San Juan, residents and local officials said they had received no help from Puerto Rico officials and had no contact with federal agencies,” Schmidt wrote. “Puerto Ricans across the island have echoed those frustrations as advocates off the island began to put pressure on the Trump administration to speed up help to U.S. citizens who have long felt disconnected from the mainland but perhaps have never felt so alone.”

On Tuesday, Trump defended the pace of relief efforts with the simple excuse that Puerto Rico is “on an island in the middle of the ocean,” where “you can’t just drive your trucks there from other states.” But the deeper reality is that Puerto Rico is also stranded in a faraway place in the American imagination.

It just so happens that this year marked the 100th anniversary of Washington’s decision to confer U.S. citizenship on the inhabitants of Puerto Rico, an island wrestled away from Spain in an earlier war at a time when a burgeoning American empire ran roughshod across the Caribbean. Yet, even a century later and amid a barrage of news reports on the two consecutive hurricanes that battered Puerto Rico, the island still seems a distant relic of forgotten imperium for many Americans.

Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow to Puerto Rico has renewed interest in how the island’s relationship with the U.S. functions. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

A new Morning Consult poll of 2,200 U.S. adults found that only 54 percent of Americans knew that people born in Puerto Rico were American citizens. Tellingly, the majority of those who were not aware of their compatriots’ status did not approve of sending aid to the island.

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