Trump’s Emergency Response In Puerto Rico Is A Massive Moral Failure

The following post, written by The Rev. Robert A. Franek, is a part of Politicus Policy Discussion, in which writers draw connections between real lives and public policy.

It’s been a month since Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico and the lives of the 3.4 million American citizens who live there. The response of the federal government has been as been as disastrous as the category five hurricane that left most of the island without power, drinkable water, medicine, and medical treatment.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said, “There’s a moral imperative of the federal government to commit to the people of Puerto Rico. That moral imperative has not been fulfilled in the manner that it should be fulfilled.”

Watch here as NBC News recaps the steadfast leadership of Mayor Cruz interwoven with President Donald Trump’s out of touch tweets and comments:

'Moral Imperative' of Government Not Met in Puerto Rico

"There's a moral imperative of the federal government to commit to the people of Puerto Rico. That moral imperative has not been fulfilled in the manner that it should be fulfilled." One month after Hurricane Maria, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz remains unsatisfied with the federal response to the island.

Posted by NBC News on Friday, October 27, 2017

As Mayor Cruz says she has one goal to save lives.

However, the federal government has demonstrated a despicable failure to meet even this basic goal.

In a report from Vox The nation’s largest nurses union condemned the federal government’s emergency response in Puerto Rico on Thursday for “delaying necessary humanitarian aide to its own citizens and leaving them to die.”

Nurses who have recently returned from Puerto Rico described doctors performing surgery in hospitals with light from their cellphones, children screaming from hunger, elderly residents suffering from severe dehydration, and black mold spreading throughout entire communities. 

“We cannot be silent while millions of people continue to endure these conditions,” said Bonnie Castillo, associate executive director of National Nurses United.

More from the report:

Here is what most concerned them from their experience on the ground:

  • People standing in line for hours in the sun for food and water, with federal workers giving them paperwork instead of distributing supplies
  • Residents living in soaked homes without roofs, where dangerous black mold is spreading and leading to respiratory problems
  • Rural towns that have never gotten food and water supplies, and yet have no running water and no electricity
  • An outbreak of leptospirosis, a dangerous bacterial disease that has already claimed lives; as of Thursday, four deaths have been attributed to this outbreak
  • Multiple communities without clean water that are at risk of the outbreak of water-borne illness epidemics

It is utterly disgraceful that the federal government has not only delayed getting necessary humanitarian aid to it’s own citizens, but is now letting people die from having to live in such dangerous conditions. The report from the nurses who were on the ground in Puerto Rico is heartbreaking and demands immediate action to address these life-threatening conditions.

The emergency response to this humanitarian crisis is now further complicated by the scandal surrounding the Whitefish energy contract.

Donald Trump has not only made insensitive and offensive comments regarding the crisis, he was slow to get necessary supplies to the island along with an organized system of distribution, and now is in way over his head with an epic energy scandal that more than its ethical and legal problems finally fails the citizens of Puerto Rico who are in desperate need of their power grid being restored. Notwithstanding, the fact that FEMA has required seemingly endless forms to be filled out online when there is very limited access to power.

This past week Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) joined Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in finding his moral voice to call out the danger Trump is to our democracy as well as the indecency of much of Trump’s behavior. Both senators have have been praised for their courage in speaking out albeit after announcing their retirement not needing to face voters or perhaps even more importantly their donors. Still they were rightly blasted by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) for not having the courage of their newly found moral voice to vote against Trump and for the middle-class. Speeches are great. They can even be cathartic, inspiring, and hope inducing as senators finally say publicly what needed to be said long ago. However, it is the votes that finally matter. It is the votes that ultimately affect people’s lives.

While Senators Flake and Corker voted with Trump, Wells Fargo, and other big banks last week, the people of Puerto Rico, citizens to whom Trump and the Congress are accountable, are crying out in desperation for help. The American citizens who live on this small island are dying, not from the hurricane but from the effects of delayed and mismanaged emergency response efforts like leptospirosis.

This is nothing less than a massive moral failure that demands Republicans in Congress show leadership in addressing the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. It would be good if Senators Corker and Flake used their newly found public moral voices in showing outrage against President Donald Trump to not only call out his failure and offensiveness in responding to the aftermath of a category five hurricane that devastated and American Territory, but also to demand immediate action in addressing the life-threatening conditions facing the citizens of Puerto Rico and by supporting legislation that increases federal disaster aid and prioritizes spending on fixing the power grid (with and ethically and legally responsible contract).

Congressional Republicans are quick to scream religious freedom when they think respecting pluralism is infringing on the practice of their faith. However, where is the religious responsibility that comes with faith? Where is the treatment of every human being as one created in the image of God? Where is the love your neighbor ethic rooted in Leviticus and made new by Jesus? Certainly, the American citizens of Puerto Rico would like to know. That is if they don’t die waiting.