Puerto Rico, this year’s Place of the Year, has been in the media spotlight in the last year for several reasons. First, the island is undergoing its most severe and prolonged economic recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s. Between 2006 and 2016, Puerto Rico’s economy shrank by nearly 16 percent, and its public debt reached more than 73 billion dollars in 2017. Second, the island is experiencing a substantial population loss, largely due to emigration. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants decreased by 10.6 percent, from 3.8 to 3.4 million people. Third, in June 2016, the US Congress approved the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Act (PROMESA), which effectively placed the island’s government under direct federal control. Finally, in September 2017, two major hurricanes, Irma and Maria, struck the island, wreaking havoc in a country already ravaged by economic misfortunes. Below are ten things that have occurred in the aftermath of the hurricanes.
- On 20 September 2017, Puerto Rico suffered its worst natural disaster since 1928. Category 4 Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic damages on the island, including more than 94 billion US dollars in estimated property losses, hundreds of deaths, the virtual destruction of the electrical power grid, the elimination of thousands of housing structures, and the collapse of most telephone lines and cell networks.
- On 28 September, the Trump administration temporarily waived the 1920 Jones Act for Puerto Rico, which requires that all merchandise be shipped to the island on US-owned and operated vessels, thus doubling the price of imported goods on the island. The Jones Act was reinstated ten days later.
- On 3 October, President Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico to survey the damages caused by hurricane Maria. The president warned that federal emergency aid to the island could not be extended forever; he congratulated federal agencies for their rapid response to the disaster; and quipped that Puerto Rico’s public debt would have to be “wiped out” in the aftermath of Maria.
- Puerto Rican communities throughout the United States—from Florida to New York—quickly organized themselves to raise funds and collect food, water, batteries, and other supplies for Puerto Rico. Several Puerto Rican and Latino celebrities, including Ricky Martin, Jennifer López, Marc Anthony, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daddy Yankee, Gloria Estefan, and Pitbull joined forces to help the relief effort.
- Many US universities and colleges, including several in Florida, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Louisiana, Texas, and California, have offered in-state tuition rates, scholarships, and other financial assistance to students displaced from Puerto Rico. On 1 December, the University of Puerto Rico reported it had lost 1,561 students after hurricane Maria, most of whom transferred to mainland institutions of higher learning.
- Forty-five days after hurricane Maria made landfall, 59 percent of all households in Puerto Rico still did not have electricity and approximately 17 percent did not have access to drinking water. As of 4 December, sixteen of 78 municipalities continued to be without power.
- Poverty increased from 44.3 percent of the island’s population before the hurricane to 52.7 percent afterwards. The unemployment rate rose from 10.1 percent in August to 11.9 percent in November.
- In the aftermath of hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is facing increasing public health risks. Among them are possible outbreaks of mosquito-related diseases, such as Zika, Chikungunya, and dengue, as well as leptospirosis, a disease caused by drinking water contaminated by urine from infected rats and other rodents.
- One of the most tangible effects of the post-Maria situation has been the substantial increase in migration from Puerto Rico to one of the fifty states of the American union, particularly to Florida. Between 3 October and 4 December, more than 212,000 Puerto Ricans had traveled to Florida, and most of the newcomers are expected to remain living stateside.
- The recent tax bill approved by the US Congress will deal another serious blow to the Puerto Rican economy, by imposing a 20 percent tax on goods made on the island and shipped to the United States.
Featured image credit: Puerto Rican Day Parade by Ricardo Dominguez. CC0 public domain via Unsplash.