Hurricane Maria has completely devastated Puerto Rico, a U.S. Colony, leaving the island largely without electricity or water. And while Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, millions have been left stranded because the U.S. is either unable or unwilling to help them, LawNewz reports.
Puerto Rico Is A Humanitarian Disaster
But this news is even worse: A number of foreign countries are offering to send aid in the form of food, water, medicine, and manpower, but the Trump administration has so far yelled “No!”
The administration simply isn’t allowing the countries to send aid and is placing particular pressure on Cuba and Venezuela, Telesur reports.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro wants to enact a “special plan of support and solidarity” for the suffering victims on the Caribbean island. And Cuban Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra pledged to send a team of 39 doctors “to help our brother people.”
But the Trump administration has been ratcheting up the pressure on both leftist countries, and Trump said he wants to strengthen the illegal U.S. blockade against Cuba and has also stepped up sanctions against Venezuela, Telesur reports.
Food, water, electricity, fuel, and telecommunications within Puerto Rico are currently almost non-existent and authorities are calling this a “humanitarian crisis.” U.S. aid is trickling in at a snail’s pace — far too slowly to be of use for the island’s suffering citizens.
Case Harrity, a local representative for Save The Children had this to say:
“The situation here in Puerto Rico is dire. This is a major disaster and recovery will take months, if not years. Families in Puerto Rico need more help, and they need it urgently.”
It’s horrible that the Trump administration is doing this. Really, it’s despicable. Unfortunately, it’s not without legal representation.
Colin Kalmbacher, writing for LawNewz, asks:
“Such refusal and incompetence is ethically suspect in the extreme, but is it legal?”
Section 27 of this act is relevant here, and it states:
“No merchandise…shall be transported by water, or by land and water, on penalty of forfeiture of the merchandise (or a monetary amount up to the value thereof as determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, or the actual cost of the transportation, whichever is greater…), between the points in the United States, including Districts, Territories and possessions embraced within the coastwise laws, either directly or via a foreign port, or for any part of the transportation, in any other vessel than a vessel built in and documented under the laws of the United States and owned by persons who are citizens of the United States, or vessels to which the privilege of engaging in the coastwise trade is extended…”
It’s been nearly 100 years since this law was passed, but it has recently been re-codified and is still the law today. The provisions of the Jones Act are tightly wound, so Kalmbach looked to the Maritime Law Center to give a basic explanation of what the Jones Act signifies:
“The Jones Act…is the act that controls coastwise trade within the United States and determines which ships may lawfully engage in that trade and the rules under which they must operate. Generally, the Jones Act prohibits any foreign built or foreign-flagged vessel from engaging in coastwise trade within the United States.”
The phrase “coastwise trade” clouds the issue, however. This term has been interpreted broadly, spawning numerous lawsuits.
But What Does This Have To Do With Puerto Rico?
Well, it turns out, this:
The Jones Act doesn’t completely ban foreign ships from the Puerto Rican shoreline. Instead, it simply imposes humongous fees on those shipping from foreign countries. It’s also a bureaucratic mess that wastes time and money for foreign ships that are trying to deliver goods to the island colony. Naturally this means prices are ridiculously high, and of course, this has done a bang-up job of preventing crucial supplies and aid from reaching Puerto Rico. So, while officials in Cuba and Venezuela are trying to help, other countries are holding back.
Because the Trump administration is getting in the way.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security can easily issue waivers to circumvent the restrictions placed on foreign built and foreign-flagged vessels, Kalmbach notes. But it hasn’t been doing this. Even though members of Congress on both sides have been repeatedly asking for the waivers. New York Democratic Representative Nydia Velasquez has been asking and so has Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.). Both have been asking Homeland Security Director Elaine Duke to issue the waivers, but she’s turned a deaf ear.
And McCain is pissed. So he fired off a letter, writing:
“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster.”
What makes the Trump administration’s refusal even worse is this: Jones Act Waivers are routinely handed out. They were even issued in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
And it took Trump a full five days to respond to the crisis, which he did in an unempathetic yet somehow chirpy tweet:
Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
A number of political observers have chalked up Trump’s indifference to Puerto Rico as an attempt to get back at the island colony because people here largely voted for Hillary Clinton — in a big way. Some 72 percent of Puerto Rican voters preferred Clinton over Trump.
Who really knows why his administration did this. But one thing is certain — he is an extremely selfish and self-centered man who thinks the world revolves around him.
And unfortunately, right now it does.
Featured image by CBS This Morning via YouTube Video