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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/24/17

As Trump Preens, Puerto Rico Still Suffers

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Ongoing flooding in Puerto Rico
Ongoing flooding in Puerto Rico
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Last Thursday, President Trump gave his administration a "10 out of 10" for its handling of the hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico, However, even as Trump was patting himself and his team on the back, the power grid in San Juan went down again throwing the city into darkness.

More than a month after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, many Puerto Ricans remained in dire straits, especially those needing electricity for respirators or dialysis machines to treat medical conditions. Some back-up generators were burning out due to overuse.

Meanwhile, those living in more remotes areas of Puerto Rico like Vieques and Culebra were still living without any resources, often left to fend for themselves, forced to drink highly polluted water from rivers, or other sources, including those directly connected to superfund sites.

Given Puerto Rico's ongoing crisis, some officials of the U.S. territory have tried to avoid angering the President. At one point during the meeting in the Oval Office, Trump turned to Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello and asked, "Did we do a great job?" Rossello finessed the President's question: "You responded immediately, Sir."

But San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz quipped that Trump was right about giving his administration a "10" if it was out of 100. "If it is a 10 out of a scale of 100, of course, it is still a failing grade," she said on CNN's "New Day" on Friday.

In an interview late Thursday, I spoke with Flashpoints contributor Judith Berkan in San Juan, whose electricity had again failed, along with millions of other Puerto Ricans. Berkan is a human rights activist and attorney who deals with land rights, and has been a resident on the U.S.' island colony for the last 40 years.

Dennis Bernstein: What's the latest regarding the situation on the ground? Is the situation beginning to improve?

Judith Berkan: In some ways, the situation keeps getting worse. For example, just a half an hour ago most, if not all, of the San Juan area lost electricity. The power comes and goes. You get it for a couple days and you get a sense of some routine in your life and then it disappears again. So the San Juan metropolitan area, which in some ways is the economic motor of the country, is still in the dark. I live in an apartment building which has generators. There has been a fire sale of generators here at very exorbitant prices. People are being gouged.

Dennis Bernstein: Talk about the situation in terms of power at medical facilities.

Judith Berkan: I just spoke with a friend of mine who spent all day waiting for ambulatory surgery and then the lights went out. About three-quarters of the hospitals on the island are working but most of those are working on generators. Generators cause all sorts of other problems. The air contamination is frightening and we are seeing more respiratory diseases.

Because of the uncertainty of power, hospitals are limiting their operations and sending people who can afford it off the island to have operations. Because doctor's offices are closed by and large, emergency rooms have become, in effect, doctor's offices.

There has been a propagation of contagious diseases. Pneumonia is showing up quite a bit. We have had torrential rains this past week. In October, so far, we have had over six inches of rain, which has resulted in huge floods. The water is still contaminated by animal carcasses and rodent urine and that kind of thing. We are seeing scabies, which is one of those diseases that can pass from an animal to a human being.

We also have a devastating situation with the tarps. Something like 250,000 homes have totally lost their roofs and many more have lost part of their roofs. The FEMA director here was saying that the only tarps that have been distributed were some 45,000 that were on stock here in Puerto Rico. When the request was made for more tarps to the States, they said that none were available. So now they are being manufactured and they estimate that next week 500,000 will arrive.

As far as the job that the US is doing, they are not offering enough aid, they are offering us loans at a time when Puerto Rico's indebtedness is extraordinary to begin with. There are still communities, 29 days after the storm, who have not been reached by a single governmental agent. Only about 10 percent of roads are passable and there is still debris all over the streets.

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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