Three Years After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico Becomes an Electoral Issue

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Photo courtesy of wsj.com

With only seven weeks to go before the presidential elections, Puerto Rico has taken center stage in the campaigns for the first time in history.

After the Biden-Harris campaign announced its plan for the island’s recovery, President Donald Trump has countered by announcing his decision to finally send an additional $13 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, according to Rolling Stone.

It took the U.S. president three years, multiple political and social crises, and an election race five points behind his opponent to turn his attention to a nation that he had once considered selling out.

“The President’s initial ideas were more of as a businessman, you know,” Elaine Duke, who was serving as DHS’ acting secretary when the hurricane hit the island in September 2017, told The New York Times back in July.

“‘Can we outsource the electricity? You know, or divest of that asset?'” Trump reportedly said, according to Duke, in the newspaper interview. “(She said the idea of selling Puerto Rico was never seriously considered or discussed after Trump raised it.)

Since the beginning of his administration, Trump has disparaged the island and blamed Puerto Rican officials for their mismanagement in recovering infrastructure destroyed by several natural disasters. Similarly, he has systematically denied any wrongdoing by his administration.

Now, while polls place him within five percentage points of his opponent, the U.S. president has left everyone with their mouths hanging open by saying that “I’m the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.

According to CNN, the president’s statements at last Friday’s press conference indicate his determination to maintain Florida residents’ vote, many of whom are Puerto Ricans who relocated after the natural disasters.

To that end, the White House has announced a “federal share” of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s grants to the territory that totals $11.6 billion, with most money, $9.6 billion, going to the battered power authority, according to Reuters.

For its part, Democratic leadership said President Donald Trump had “delayed and withheld the aid for the last three years, stunting Puerto Rico’s ability to rebuild,” the media added.

As NBC explains, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans went to the mainland from Maria’s passage through the island. Between political crises, an overwhelmed health care system, and growing citizen frustration, the island seems to be at a dead end.

Maria caused some $90 billion in damage, making it the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history; Puerto Rico was then hit by several earthquakes last December that destroyed hundreds of homes and schools. With the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, the island struggles to emerge from what NBC calls “the biggest municipal bankruptcy” in its history.