It's been 9 months since Hurricane Maria, and we are just now finding out that over 4,600 people died from the storm. That death toll is dramatically higher than what lawmakers first told us -- including President Trump who, in the aftermath of the storm, said that only 17 people died. How did U.S. and Puerto Rican authorities get the death toll number so wrong?
Join with concerned citizens and demand that Congress create a special commission to investigate how thousands of deaths happened and went unreported by our government.
On July 4th, Americans celebrate U.S. independence from the powers of the British King. The U.S. gained its independence from regulations that exploited the colonies while economically benefiting the home country of England. Many of these regulations came in the form of Navigation Acts. The Navigation Acts required all European goods heading to America to be shipped through England first. Through these Acts, the English placed extremely high shipping costs on the colonies. Yet, the colonists had no representatives in Parliament to vote on against these laws.
Like the Navigation Acts imposed by the British, the Jones Act imposed transport costs to benefit Federal interests. It requires all imports and exports on the island to be steered with US vessels and crews. Under this law, Puerto Rico disproportionately suffers from the effect of high transportation costs when compared to other remote islands. Yet, Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the United States Congress.
According to New York Federal Reserve 2012 study, Puerto Rico pays twice as much for shipping as other islands, like the Dominican Republic. A 2010 study at the University of Puerto Rico concluded that the island lost $537 million per year as a result of the Jones Act(1).
While we celebrate American independence from the exploitative laws of colonization, we should consider abolishing the shipping provisions of the Jones Act. These provisions exploit the island's relationship to the mainland and impose high costs of goods to every Patriotic American in Puerto Rico.
In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico will need all the help it can get to rebuild the island and fund efforts to protect its residents from a dysfunctional emergency response. An underfunded local government and limited Federal assistance simply cannot sustain the needs of Puerto Ricans, and each hurricane season, the lives of thousands of American lives are at risk.
The act of signing a petition is inherently American. It suggests that your voice has power to influence your representatives in government. You boldly exercise this protected right, and do so in the spirit of American democratic values: justice, liberty and prosperity. With unmistakable resolve, more than 500,000 of you repeatedly expressed the same plea to our Nation: Puerto Ricans are Americans, and right now they need our help.
But what does being an American citizen mean to the roughly 3.5 million people currently overcoming tremendous challenges in Puerto Rico? You may be surprised to learn that, under current law, American citizens in Puerto Rico share the same status as enemy combatants in Guantanamo Bay. That’s because they’re both unincorporated territories of the U.S., and under the Constitution, citizens there can be legally discriminated against by congress.
Yet, we know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a living person in Puerto Rico who can recall a time when the American flag did not wave over the island. Since 1917, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. military in every conflict since World War I. Thousands have died to protect our freedoms. Yet, despite our more than a century-long courtship, Puerto Rico remains a literal legal “possession” of the U.S. and American citizens there have little influence on the laws that govern them.
Simply put, an American who leaves their residence in Puerto Rico and moves to any State on the mainland, would benefit from every “civil, social and political right” provided under the Constitution. (1) If that same American citizen moved to Puerto Rico, suddenly the federal government could lawfully obstruct their rights “so long as there existed a rational basis for such action.” (2) This unequal treatment under the law was based on the perception of Puerto Ricans as being culturally primitive and intellectually inferior. (3) For example, in 1922 the Supreme court held it was lawful to deny Jesus M. Balzac a jury trial, a Constitutional right under the Sixth Amendment, because this right was not guaranteed to unincorporated territories. In his opinion, Chief Justice Taft reasoned that this was fair because Puerto Ricans would find it too difficult to grasp the concept of a fair trial by jury:
“The jury system postulates a conscious duty of participation in the machinery of justice which it is hard for people not brought up in fundamentally popular government at once to acquire.” (3)
I point this out, not perpetuate racial divisions, but to highlight the tremendous gap between the rights of Americans on the mainland and in Puerto Rico, and the antiquated views upon which this disparity is based.
While the scope of this petition remains limited to a request for DHS and the President to extend the waiver of Jones Act provisions, the core of the issue rests with offering Puerto Rico an equal opportunity to recover and rebuild. For principles of fairness to prevail, our federal government must acknowledge Puerto Rico’s current legal status is inconsistent with our fundamental democratic values -- and make efforts to change it.
(1) Consejo de Salud Playa de Ponce v. Rullan, 586 F. Supp. 2d 22, 26–45 (D.P.R. 2008).
(2) Califano v. Torres, 435 U.S. 1 (1978) (referring to the denial of supplemental social security benefits to an American citizen who relocated from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico)
(3) Balzac v. Porto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 312 (1922).
This petition asked for a 12-month waiver of shipping provisions of the Jones Act to help Puerto Rico rebuild its infrastructure and economy. Over 500,000 of you answered this call. We focused, not on politics, but on policy and the facts. Puerto Rico loses $537 million annually under the Jones Act. The Jones Act set the stage for Puerto Rico’s economic crisis. Puerto Rico was forced to implement austerity measures that stripped down public services to the bone. The island was already vulnerable under the Jones Act before Hurricane Maria hit. Now calls for help made to the President have been met with claims that the island is unwilling to help itself. The POTUS cites “10,000 federal workers” on the island as proof he’s doing everything he can. In contrast, 33 U.S. military ships, 300 military helicopters, and 22,000 troops were sent to deliver aid to Haiti in 2010. When hurricanes hit Texas and Florida, the President immediately declared his unwavering support to help recover and rebuild. When Maria hit Puerto Rico, he said he’d need to think about the cost of rebuilding.
If Puerto Rico is facing this much resistance to save lives, imagine the uphill battle our congressional leaders will have fighting to change the Jones Act and helping Puerto Rico rebuild. You can help. Please continue to share this petition with everyone you know, and explain that more must be done to help the American people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild.
Here is how you can connect with me for the cause on Facebook and help share valuable information about the needs of people on the island now who have limited means of communication. https://www.facebook.com/RealTitle46/
Today the Trump administration announced a waiver of the Jones Act. While some were quick to celebrate, their bubbles were promptly burst upon reading the fine print: the waiver would only be in effect for 10 days.
That's not what the nearly 500,000 supporters of this petition signed up for. While I realize 12 months is more than what the shipping industry would want our President to agree to, it's not even a fair compromise. It's a public relations strategy, and you shouldn't be celebrating.
At least a million people lost power during Hurricane Irma, nearly a month ago. Many never had power restored. Power is not expected to return for six months after Maria made all of Puerto Rico go dark more than a week ago. Ports are clogged with shipments that cannot be delivered because there are no drivers. Drivers cannot volunteer because the phones are out of service. We're 8 days into this thing and we have barely made a dent of progress in restoring basic necessities for the island.
The people of Florida should be especially disturbed. We know the fear a hurricane brings. In Tampa, Grocery store shelves were bare. Bottled water was nowhere to be found. Gas stations bagged up their pumps one by one. People were fist fighting in store parking lots over limited resources. This was all before the storm even hit, and clean running water was still completely and abundantly available pretty much everywhere. Don't get me wrong, Florida suffered. Especially in areas like Key West. But most Americans on the mainland have NO IDEA what our fellow citizens are going through in Puerto Rico right now. We cannot fathom to endure the struggle they are currently living in. Intolerable heat. No fuel. No electricity. No food. No water. No medical or emergency services in some areas, like Aguadilla. People cannot connect with their loved ones, like my friend Brijit Martinez, who has not been able to contact her father Kelvin Martinez in Aguadilla since the storm hit.
Puerto Rico needs help, and there shouldn't be an asterisk next to our commitment to them. No one should profit from their suffering. There has to be a reasonable way to waive the Jones Act so that Puerto Rico can heal. Allowing it to spin into chaos will only make matters worse. This doesn't have to be a zero sum game. But it's not going to happen in 10 days.
You can help: please visit www.title46.com to receive updates, help find loved ones in Puerto Rico who are missing and get informed on ways to help.
Yesterday, CBS News reported that “food, water and medicine were just sitting at the port [ in San Juan, Puerto Rico] waiting to be delivered” but there were no truck drivers to deliver the resources. (1)
Today, a Morovis, PR Facebook page posted a photo of a trucker refusing to deliver fuel and supplies to people on the island. The page claims the man is Victor Rodriguez, the "President of a shipping union" in Puerto Rico. The photo caption indicated that Rodriguez instructed his men not to provide assistance. It is believed the dispute arose because the union was not contracted to provide Hurricane Irma relief earlier this month.
Past coverage of trucking unions' tenuous relationship with the government indicates that strikes have been an ongoing problem on the island.
In July 2005, Workers.org reported one of many public union-government conflicts in San Juan involving the strain skyrocketing fuel prices placed on the trucking industry. In that conflict, it was reported the government resorted to the used of high-tech police helicopters in an attempt to identify strikers blocking access to ports. In that article, trucking union leader Victor Rodríguez was quoted as saying on behalf of fellow strikers, “’we cannot be obligated to work. ... We will not permit the National Guard to remove our trucks. ... We have a democratic right to free speech and assembly. ... We are not blocking anyone´s access to the docks, and we are declaring ourselves in permanent assembly. ... Does the government want a civil war?’”(2)
In November 2005, Trucking Industry News reported an incident involving a trucking union leader holding a similar protest due to "’the neoliberal policies’ of business leaders seeking … reduced tariffs.”(3)
If this is true, it raises questions as to the ongoing issues affecting the local governments ability to deliver critical assistance to those in need, as well as the foreseeability that a trucker’s strike would recur when Puerto Rico’s citizens were at their most vulnerable. If a protest was likely to occur, could something have been done to prevent the delay? Was the federal government informed of potential risks union disputes would place on the reliability of transportation?
Adding to these concerns are fuel shortages that threaten the lives of sick and elderly people in Puerto Rico hospitals relying on gas generators, and access to a reliable means of resource distribution is critical to public safety.
(1) CBS Evening News (https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/delivering-supplies-to-people-in-need-close-to-impossible-in-puerto-rico/) September 27, 2017
(2) Truck drivers’ strike, force gas stations to close. Soto, Tom. (https://www.workers.org/2005/world/puerto-rico-0804/ ) July 26, 2005.
(3) Truckers Protest Plan to Reduce Government-Set Tariffs in Puerto Rico. (https://clients.layover.com/news/article/truckers-protest-plan-to-reduce-government-set-tar-8911.html) November 3, 2005
The Trump administration and DHS Secretary Elaine Duke announced on September 25, 2017 that it denied a waiver of federal shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico to help the island recover from the catastrophic Hurricane Maria. The Trump administration issued a similar waiver to Florida and Texas in the wake of Hurricane Irma. I reached out to the DHS about the tremendous urgency expressed by a quarter of a million supporters who have signed the Jones Act Waiver petition. Their reply was a canned response, likely copied and pasted from their press release. I've included an excerpt from the department's email below:
“Based on consultation with other Federal agencies, DHS’s current assessment is that there is [sic] sufficient numbers of US-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico.”
“After Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the rationale for a Jones Act waiver was to facilitate movement of petroleum to numerous places along the east coast, and making up for the loss of very high capacity pipelines. The situation in Puerto Rico is much different.The limitation is going to be port capacity to offload and transfer cargo, not vessel availability.”
"Also, DHS waiver authority is actually quite limited and there are significant hurdles. Under current law, DHS can only waive the Jones Act for "national defense" purposes."
While port issues have been widely reported, DHS claims about limited discretionary authority seem somewhat misleading. The Trump administration claims to have limited power, yet the DHS Secretary is empowered to grant a Jones Act waiver under § 501(b) at her discretion by law. Not only does the statute clearly say she can make a decision, it also says she would make her decision in light of the "interests of national defense." The DHS Secretary may carry out this power on a discretionary basis. The Supreme Court has highlighted the power of agency discretion by historically refusing to mettle in similar agency decisions.(1) If the highest court in the U.S. won't touch agency discretion, are there really "significant hurdles" to granting a limited Jones Act waiver?
After DHS avoided the core issue with Puerto Rico's Jones Act grievances, and claimed to have their hands tied, Senator John McCain issued a letter demanding answers. In his letter, Senator McCain asked why the DHS Secretary found it within her discretion (a/k/a within the "interests of the national defense") to waive the Jones Act for Texas and Florida, while allowing the waiver to expire as flood waters and scarce resources threatened the lives of countless Americans in Puerto Rico.
Read Senator McCain's letter here.
(From Huffington Post)
The Jones Act waiver movement has another congressional supporter. On September 25, Slate reported:
"Nydia Velázquez, the Puerto Rico–born congresswoman who represents parts of New York City, has said she will ask Congress for a one-year waiver to Jones Act requirements for the territory. It’s a good example of a policy question that will test Washington’s willingness to change its approach to Puerto Rico wholesale—to reconsider, in other words, whether Puerto Ricans’ status as citizens without full rights is really working."
For every set back, there are many more glimmers of hope. Thank you for continuing to keep Puerto Rico in your thoughts, signing, and sharing this petition with influencers around the world.
I also want to share with you another avenue through which I will be posting updates and communicating with supporters. I started Title46.com as a way to track Puerto Rico's progress toward recovery without cluttering your inbox.
Puerto Rico se levanta!
(1) Lincoln v. Vigil, 508 U.S. 182, 191, 113 S. Ct. 2024, 124 L. Ed. 2d 101 (1993).