Scores of local and foreign activists have called on Washington to end its “colonial occupation” of Puerto Rico, bashing the US President for his lackluster and “insulting” response to last year’s deadly Maria and Irma hurricanes.
In its annual resolution on Puerto Rico, the UN Special Committee on Decolonization demanded the US allow its Caribbean territory, still reeling in the aftermath of the devastating Maria and Irma hurricanes that ravaged the island last September, to decide for itself if it wants to stay or leave the US.
Over 40 Puerto Rican rights advocates, as well as the representatives of Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador and other nations, voiced their outrage over what they labelled “the colonial occupation” and “economic terrorism” enforced by the US, through multi-national companies, on the island.
The resolution, approved by the committee on Monday, became the 37th of its kind in support of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination. However, this year its focus shifted from the island’s ambiguous status to the failure of the Trump administration to tackle the social and economic crises that ensued from the series of natural calamities.
Trump drew public wrath back in October, when he visited a devastated Puerto Rico for the first time after the hurricane. While the visit was intended as a show of support, Trump found himself in the middle of firestorm after throwing paper towels into a crowd at a disaster relief distribution center in Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan. At the time, city mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz denounced this odd stunt as “terrible and abominable,” blasting Trump as “miscommunicator-in-chief.”
Some activists, as cited by the UN press service, went as far as to suggest that the Trump administration was intentionally letting Puerto Ricans down with insufficient support “in order to displace the island’s population and pave the way for gentrification.”
“While Trump is tossing out paper towels to my people, mocking their plight and insulting them, we were coming together and rising up,” Walter Alomar, of the Organization for Culture of Hispanic Origins was cited as saying.
Darlene Elias, National Co-Chair of the Green Party of the United States, argued that the hardships of Puerto Ricans had been “multiplied tenfold,” with Washington’s distancing itself from the tragedy and refusing to accept or allow humanitarian assistance from Cuba and Venezuela.
Ahead of his trip to the island, Trump drew a barrage of criticism for a Twitter post in which he appeared to suggest that Puerto Ricans were not taking enough responsibility for disaster relief. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” Trump wrote.
Other activists slammed the US laws, in particular the Jones Act, for impeding cost-efficient deliveries of goods to Puerto Rico. Describing the impact of the hurricane on healthcare, Judy Sheridan-González of the New York State Nurses Association argued that, given the US government’s inadequate response to the calamity, the already dire situation has turned into a full-fledged genocide.
“We cared for families who suffered the trauma of helplessly watching ill relatives die before their eyes, unable to get to the few functioning hospitals,” Sheridan-González said.
The official US government count for the victims claimed by Hurricane Maria stands at 64, which, its critics argue, is an egregious understatement. A recent study conducted by Harvard University, estimated that the real death toll stands at over 4,600 people. A third of the victims died due to lack of medical care caused by power blackouts and crippled infrastructure, the study estimated.