Puerto Ricans are human. That ought to be enough for us to help them after a natural disaster. People who live in the U.S. Virgin Islands, who I never hear about, are also human beings. They, too, deserve help if they need it. In addition to that, of course, they are our human beings. Is it better to neglect a child who doesn’t cry or one who does? Both are unconscionable if they are your family.
I say “child” not because the Puerto Rican people are “babies”, but because they are –for better or worse — dependents. We have a moral imperative to help them if they are equals, we have more than that if they are our dependents. We have still more ethical crisis if we made them dependent.
Before all of this, I knew nothing of Puerto Rican history, but a fair amount Puerto Rico today from clients over the last 10 years. As I understood it, Puerto Rico is loved by people who live there. I gather it was busy, teeming with life, but often hard to make a living in. People come to Massachusetts because there is work and education on the mainland, but they frequently travelled back home to see relatives. They are proud of both lives. There are long, white beaches there.and houses with tin roofs and crime and gangs.
Among White people here, there is a legend that there is a sign at the San Juan airport that says, “Fly to Holyoke, Mass. They give out the most in Welfare payments” (“I seen it!” Or “My cousin’s uncle saw it once!” is always added, just to make sure you believe it). I have heard that story hundreds of times in my life, but, amazingly, never from my Puerto Rican clients. I tend to trust experience over “knowledge”, so I’m going to guess that there isn’t really a sign there… I say this, because I bet Donald Trump has heard this story all of his life as well, probably replacing “Holyoke” with the words “New York City”.
Prior to the hurricane last year, the above was all I knew about the island off our shores. That, and I knew there was a controversy over statehood vs. independence, but I didn’t know much about why.
Since the hurricane, I have learned that many people don’t think of Puerto Rico as American because of that messy status of “not really a colony but not really a state”. I have also learned that there is an arcane shipping rule that makes it difficult to get aid or other things shipped there. Regarding tax policy, we once made it almost tax free for corporations to move there, and that Big Pharma did. When that tax break was removed, many of the businesses immediately left at the prospect of having to pay any taxes to be there. They used the resources of the labor but gave little or nothing to the country/state (though, to be fair, I bet Puerto Ricans pay income taxes to the island, so it wasn’t totally unfair to the island). To make matters worse, when the money dried up, big banks restructured their loans to make it nearly impossible for the government there to get out of debt. This is colonialism at its worst.
We say we own them, we mess with their laws, and our own, to bankrupt their economy, and once that’s in place, we claim no responsibility for them until they can pay their debt. We told them they are dependent on us, we made them dependent on us, and now when they want us to be dependable, we refuse. This is a chapter in U.S. history to be ashamed of. The country of Puerto Rico would have been better off if we had never claimed them in the first place.
So, months after a natural disaster hit the island, 1/3 of the Place still has no power, and our government blames it on them. Then there was a scandal about who we gave a contract to fix things. (Yes, we tried to screw them once again — when they were down). Their debt is more important to our government than the lives of their people. This is unconscionable. This is not how we are supposed to treat human beings!
Let us live up to our responsibilities. Let us live up to the morals that allow us to believe we’re a Christian Nation. At least two churches, the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Churches,USA have made long-term commitments to be their with them, and bring aid. That’s the difference between a moral view rather than an economic view. We need, as a country, to fix this whole mess, and I hope we will. In the meantime, though, people die and get illnesses that will read havoc there. If ever there was a way to make gangs powerful, this is the way to do it. We raise crime, while ending lives, through our actions. This must change!
Resisting with Peace,
A special shout-out to Bruce MacCullagh for reminding me of this moral crisis.