Most thinking people know, either consciously or subconsciously, why the U.S. has been slow to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands brought on by Hurricane Maria. It is because the islanders aren’t considered Americans (despite their U.S. citizenship); they aren’t White and they are broke!
According to reports coming out of the islands, people are in crisis mode. In Puerto Rico, they have no power; the electrical grid has been knocked out. Gas is in short supply, making generators close to useless. They have little water. The little news we have received shows Puerto Ricans bathing in streams and getting water from creeks.
Food is still available but it is limited, and with no way to refrigerate anything it is limited to what folks can consume right away. Exacerbating the crisis, cell phone towers have been practically wiped out, making communication almost impossible.
Moreover, the slow response is consistent with the U.S. mainland’s “legal” relationship with the islands. Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories are not states because over 100 years ago the U.S. determined that they could not become incorporated as part of the United States because they belonged to alien races.
In 1901, a legal ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court led by Justice Henry Billings Brown declared that Puerto Rico and other territories the U.S. acquired from Spain at the time should not be given full citizenship rights because they were of alien races and would not be able to understand “Anglo Saxon principles.”(Read as “bourgeoisie, not working class, principles.”)
Justice Henry Billings Brown was the same avowed racist who wrote the Court’s majority decision that concluded that “separate was equal” in the Plessy vs. Ferguson case that legalized the racist caste system of segregation we know as Jim Crow.
Upon closer examination, the judge may have had a point. Who can understand “Anglo Saxon principles?” In fact, the term sounds like an oxymoron. Anglo Saxon (bourgeoisie) principles? What exactly would those be? “Grab em by the p—–,” “ F— you, pay me,” “Hands up m-f-r,” “Stop resisting,” “Oh you thought our signature on that treaty meant something?” “B— better have my money,” “Separate is equal,” “All people are created equal except us, we are superior”?
Consequently, none of the U.S. territories can participate in U.S. presidential elections, and none have official representation in the U.S. Congress. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have representatives in the Congress, but they have no voting rights. In other words, though they are officially citizens they have no representation and thus no political voice.
Right on cue, the U.S. government never misses an opportunity to show its true colors when disaster strikes populations that are unofficially considered second class or “other.” The slow response tells us all we need to know about this government. And despite the government’s denials, the response is indeed slow.
Incredibly, they have also refused to rescind the Jones Act that would allow other countries to send aid as well as allow the island to purchase necessities competitively. The Jones Act is a vestige of the colonial era that dictates only ships with a US flag and US crew can dock on the island.
The government knew that Hurricane Maria was going to hit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and they knew it was going to be catastrophic. Immediately after the storm hit, the government should have had Navy ships, helicopter carriers, streaming toward the island loaded with food, water, generators, fuel, and medical supplies. There was no excuse for the medical ship the, The USNS Comfort not to have already docked in Puerto Rico.
This is absolutely inexcusable!
Even the Big Business press has abandoned the cause of the little Brown island. The New York Times mentioned the disaster below the fold yesterday. There has been some news coverage by CNN and major news outlets, but not the continuous coverage that should be occurring.
The truth is that there is a pecking order in this society that brags about being the most advanced in the history of the world. But when it comes to simple human compassion and the ability to see humanity in all people, the U.S. government is as backwards as ever and it never misses an opportunity to make this clear.
Calling on all lovers of humanity to do what you can to aid our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico.
Justice, then peace
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.