WASHINGTON. In our previous article in this series, we examine the way in which the blame for the ongoing Puerto Rican disaster, whose direct cause was Hurricane Maria, continues to be placed on President Trump.
In the time since, U.S. lawmakers have appropriated $23 billion in direct aid to Puerto Rico. However, officials, like Ricardo Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico, are now charged with not being willing to work with FEMA and other Federal agencies. It is the inept and highly partisan government officials of Puerto Rico – not FEMA, the Federal disaster response or President Trump – that should be held responsible for the current, ongoing debacle on the island.
Instead of working with the current administration to help their own citizens, Puerto Rico’s top politicians chose to align with their fellow U.S. Democrats by boarding the #NeverTrump train. Their own suffering people are secondary to this effort. Much the same attitude is currently reflected in the U.S. Congress. Case in point: Senate Democrats have put partisan electoral politics above the wishes of American voters in their, disgraceful treatment of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Puerto Rican disaster and U.S. response: The prequel
Six months after the departure of Hurricane Maria, 58 U.S. legislators sent U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin the following demand that the agency be more forthcoming with the approved aid to Puerto Rico.
“At a time when people on the island are hurting, it is unconscionable to not provide maximum relief to American citizens at the hour of their greatest need.” Unfortunately, the Treasury Department seems more concerned with repayment of the loan than in providing emergency liquidity relief to an island battered by two hurricanes and 11 years of recession.”
“The loan” refers to the ongoing financial restructuring efforts in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as the Federal government attempts to extract the island from its politically self-caused bankruptcy. That bankruptcy and its aftermath was an ongoing fiscal crisis that pre-dated Hurricane Maria. Subsequently, it has further complicated the island’s post-hurricane reconstruction and recovery efforts.
Despite this ongoing issue, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has, in fact, spent some $6 billion for Puerto Rico from its standing emergency funds since the hurricane.
Death in Puerto Rico Statistics
With regard to the political firestorm described in our previous installment, confirmable statistics speak for themselves. That is particularly true when it comes to ever-changing reports on the number of deaths attributed to the ongoing Puerto Rican disaster.
According to frequently revised estimates, Puerto Rico’s purported deaths per 1,000 inhabitants had reportedly been increasing. Those estimated figures ranged from 7.29 per 1,000 to 8.5 per 1,00 at its highest point in 2014.
Researchers concluded that the original estimate of 64 excess deaths directly attributable to Hurricane Maria was likely a substantial underestimate. The study estimates a death rate of 14.3 deaths per thousand between September 20 [date of Hurricane Maria] and December 31, 2017.
That number marked a further increase from the rate of 8.8 deaths per thousand recorded at the same time in 2016. About one-third of the reported deaths in the households surveyed in the study were attributed to delayed or prevented access to medical care.
More gloomy statistics
The study just cited appeared online May 29, 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The increase in deaths was due to delayed or prevented access to medical care.
In addition to a significantly higher death toll, the study showed that the average household went approximately 41 days without cell phone service, 68 days without water, and 84 days without electricity following the storm. More than 30 percent of surveyed households reported interruptions to medical care. The most frequently cited challenges in this area included trouble accessing medications and powering respiratory equipment.
Notably, Puerto Rico suffers from the highest poverty rates, an aging population, and a youth population that routinely escapes to the mainland U.S. These young emigrés take with them essential skills and business expertise the island desperately need in order to recover.
In short, the devastation and cost of lives following Maria was a foregone conclusion long before the ill winds of Maria began to blow. Puerto Rico politics, including the grandstanding of mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto (Popular Democratic Party), gave a sense of false security in reporting the initially underreported death tolls.
When Maria hit, Puerto Rico was already beyond repair
The town of Loiza is just a twenty-minute drive from Puerto Rico’s international airport. Yet, the 29,000 people in this popular beachside area live in poverty, as they did before Maria’s devastating visit. In the weeks following the hurricane, the people of Loiza remained without water, food and electricity.
Worse, Loiza’s available water sources were contaminated with human waste. Mosquitoes and disease flourished. Those who had at least some cash on hand before the storm quickly ran out. Without electricity, banks remained shuttered and cash machines lacked paper money and the power to dispense it.
Loiza’s fate was not a one-off situation. The plight of this small town was replicated time and time again throughout the island. Prior to Maria, the infrastructure in a great many locales was already in Third World shape. In numerous ways, the hurricane simply brought decades of Commonwealth and local government neglect to its logical conclusion.
Poverty variables and poor local response factored into death totals
The following background facts and current observations concerning the Puerto Rican disaster response are derived from an article appearing in the island’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Dia (The New Day).
Puerto Rican communities exhibiting high percentages of excess deaths have a number of socio-economic conditions in common. For example, within this group, the people experiencing the lowest level of poverty are the residents of Loíza. In this town, 49.6 percent of the population has incomes below the federal poverty standard. On the opposite end of the scale, the town of Jayuya has the most poverty. Six out of every 10 Jayuya inhabitants have incomes below the federal poverty standard.
In addition, demographer Judith Rodríguez noted two additional factors may have an impact on post-Maria deaths.
- The median age of the population.
- The number of people with disabilities.
Rodriguez added the following observations.
“What I see here is that there are several variables that could affect these outcomes. The sectors that had the most risks are the sectors with an older age demographic. This demographic includes those that are below the poverty levels and those with some type of disability.”
Disabilities and death: Ongoing with or without Hurricane Maria
One example: Some of the towns whose mortality increased with the passage of Maria appear in the Census Community Survey are those with a high population of individuals with disabilities. As an example, the Census estimates that 29 percent of the population of Comerío has some type of disability. This percentage for San Sebastián is 26.3 percent and for Naranjito, 25.1 percent. These are just a few examples of a demographic with a high risk of mortality under nearly any conditions
The latest post-hurricane Puerto Rican death statistics continue to change. The numbers continue in an upward trafectory a full year after Maria hit the island. This is a major reason why the latest reported conjectural death toll has risen to over 3,000.
But how reliable is that ever-increasing number?
Many of these actual and conjectural deaths are occurring in a population that was already vulnerable before the storm arrived. In addition, statisticians do not agree on just how long after a catastrophic storm one can reasonably attribute deaths to that storm or its aftermath.
Blame it all on the GOP
Even so, Democrats and media partisan continue to blame President Trump for the over 3,000 real or estimated deaths resulting from the ongoing Puerto Rican disaster. The narrative seems to accuse the President of willfully sending Maria on her path of destruction. This manufactured narrative resembles the earlier rush to condemn President George W. Bush for the poor initial response by the Feds to Hurricane Katrina. Only later did the media “discover” it was the belated and poorly coordinated response of New Orleans and Louisiana officials that hampered those early Federal relief efforts.
The reality of the current situation is clear. Puerto Rico’s local government officials simply forgot about the island’s non-urban citizens a long time ago. This was a recipe for eventual disaster, given that more than 50 percent of the island’s population routinely lives in poverty without adequate food, housing or infrastructure.
Unfortunately, local governments continue to do little to ensure that Puerto Rico, a traditionally popular U.S. tourist destination, remains little better off than a Third World country for the majority of its inhabitants. #
—Headline image: Due to Maria’s violent winds, thousands of homes and large swaths of vegetation suffered damage. Aerial photo as seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk. Taken during a flyover of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria September 23, 2017. U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo by Kris Grogan.
Public domain, via Wikipedia entry on the storm.