Opinion: Puerto Rico is a territory ignored

Matthew Olienechak

Matthew Olienechak

Puerto Rico still bleeds.

More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged the already impoverished territory, the island still struggles to restore electricity to its populace. Food and medicine remain scarce. The local government remains in a state of emergency.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump golfs.

In this case, the lack of concern is really nothing new. Puerto Rico has always been the neglected stepchild of our nation, with many Americans not even realizing that its citizens possess American citizenship. Certainly, it is possible that Trump himself does not know.

But this ignorance and neglect only serves to further condemn our government’s current reaction to the disaster. You would think that, even if we had mistreated them in the past, we would be able to at least come to their aid when they needed it most.

It’s not like the government has proven averse to aid. Congress rallied to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Although to be fair, Houston is predominantly white. It would not do to keep them suffering for long.

Am I making this about race? No. I’m not changing any facts or reshaping the narrative. I am not implying they would have already received aid if their skin had a lighter tone; that is just the reality in which we find ourselves.

Puerto Rico remains without support because the rest of the country sees them as foreign and second-class citizens, somehow removed from the rest of America.

At the start of this crisis, I hoped this event might shed some light on the horrible conditions they endure. Perhaps it would make America aware of the incredible debt they have been saddled with and the neglect they deal with daily. Perhaps it would convince the general populace to reach out to their representatives and demand they do something.

Instead, the federal government stalls.

Trump blames their inability to deal with the devastation on their local governance and the situation the federal government has put them in through years of abuse. He insults their leaders, the ones putting their lives on the line to serve their people. Instead of authorizing a mass mobilization of our resources to help the island, he dedicates a golfing trophy to its people.

Reality borders on parody.

His callousness has never been more apparent.

I hope that Puerto Rico will receive the aid it so desperately requires. I hope their people will rebuild, better than ever, and find themselves able to achieve the statehood they deserve.

But my hope falters as I read the daily news. While individual citizens have banded together to provide whatever help they can give, the federal government remains frustratingly indifferent. Puerto Rico remains in peril.

I can only pray they find relief.

Matthew Olienechak is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].