Although Hurricanes Irma and Harvey were less costly regarding death toll and damage thanks to the preparedness of the Trump administration, Puerto Rico wasn’t as fortunate. Instead of blaming themselves, however, some of the leadership of the devastated territory is playing politics instead.
Despite the mayor of San Juan criticizing President Trump for ignoring the suffering of his people, the truth seems to be quite the opposite. American aid is sitting in shipping containers at the San Juan port, unused and rotting. The leaders in Puerto Rico are so inept that they can’t even get workers to the ports to pick up the supplies. The everyday workers aren’t to be blamed. Rather, it’s the managers, leaders, and politicians who should be carrying the responsibility on their shoulders.
Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz had issued an emotional plea for help on Friday, while criticizing Trump’s response to the situation, saying that, “you are killing us with the inefficiency” of the distribution process.
However, it appears the real source of the problem lies at the local level, rather than federal. Over 9,500 containers filled with aid haven’t been moved since they arrived due to only 20 percent of truck drivers showing up to work. Fuel shortages have interfered with citizens’ commute to work, and fueling the trucks needed to transport the supply containers. Additionally, poor reception has prevented communication for distribution and transportation workers.
Colonel Michael A. Valle, the leader of the Hurricane Maria relief efforts, discussed the problem with local distribution in Puerto Rico. “It’s a lack of drivers for the transport trucks, the 18 wheelers. Supplies we have. Trucks we have. There are ships full of supplies, backed up in the ports, waiting to have a vehicle to unload into,” he said.
The distribution crisis has resulted in labor unions stepping up to get involved.
The Teamsters and the AFL-CIO have collaborated in sending hundreds of workers and volunteers for disaster relief, in addition to recruiting further workers and truck drivers to move supplies. In a statement calling for qualified truck driver volunteers, the Teamsters admitted, “it is unclear if there are trucks available to move the containers, fuel to operate the trucks or road access to the distribution centers. However, the labor movement is working on the ground in Puerto Rico to bring volunteers to meet specific needs.”
“However, only 20% of the truck drivers show up to work. These are private citizens in Puerto Rico, paid by companies that are contracted by the government,” Valle concluded. Despite there being great need for these goods, there is such a stark deficiency in the logistical support that it’s almost impossible for these goods to get into the hands of those who need them most.
In addition to the shortage of drivers, a diesel crisis is plaguing the island as well. At the moment, distributing fuel across Puerto Rico is FEMA’s number one priority to help relieve the supply bottleneck issue.
Conservative commentator Curt Schilling also acknowledged this fact. “I’ve talked to politicians in both [Texas and Florida] and the governor of Puerto Rico. All have said that the president did everything in a pace that they’ve never seen before as far as him releasing money and releasing assets into these theaters. The execution on the ground has been horrifying in some cases,” he said.
In contrast to the San Juan mayor’s comments, the governor of Puerto Rico ended up praising Trump as well, saying, “every time we’ve asked them to execute, they’ve executed quickly.”
As is usually the case, the mainstream media’s depiction is in contrast to the reality of the situation. The Trump administration has done all it can to alleviate the situation; the blame instead rests on the mid and upper-level leaders within the island whose response has been less than stellar.