Puerto Rico Back to Normal?

Actor Benicio Del Toro said in an interview with Steve Colbert that things are getting “back to normal” in Puerto Rico.

“It’s taking time,” he said, and that has been a common theme in discussions of Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, the most severe natural disaster ever to hit the U.S. territory.

But Del Toro went on to say that “the bottom line” is something else.

“Every American citizen in Puerto Rico — if they don’t get a right to vote or to have representation in Congress, nothing will really change.”

Puerto Rico will get a right to vote or to have representation in Congress only with statehood.

Governor’s Report

Meanwhile, Governor Rossello has submitted his government’s fourth monthly report to Mitch McConnel (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader; Paul Ryan (R-WI), Speaker of the House; Charles SchumerSenate Minority Leader; and Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader.

The governor reports that a final count of the damages and costs of Hurricane Maria will not be available until the fourth quarter of 2019, more than two years after the hurricane. It is expected that it will take until October 2019 for stock holders to reach agreement on the figures.

In support of this, Rossello shared his vision of “back to normal” for Puerto Rico:

“To build the new Puerto Rico to meet the current and future needs of the people through sustainable economic development; social transformation; transparent and innovative approaches to governance; resilient, modern, and state-of-the-art infrastructure; and a safe, educated, healthy, and sustainable society.” (the “Vision Statement”).

Many residents of Puerto Rico are still living under tarps or in shelters, and electricity and safe drinking water have not yet been returned to all residents. The 2018 hurricane season has officially begun, but Puerto Rico’s infrastructure has not been rebuilt to a standard that will withstand this year’s storms.

The report gives a list of goals and makes it clear that the costs must depend on the goals:

  • Ensure rebuilding and restoration efforts to promote sustainable economic growth and social transformation through a more vibrant and competitive economy that can provide opportunities for job growth, enhancement of the visitor’s economy, and personal advancement that results in benefits for Puerto Rico’s residents for generations to come.
  • Optimize Puerto Rico’s critical infrastructure by rethinking its design and reconstruction to be innovative, resilient and supportive of the people, industry, and economy;
  • Promote an educated, healthy, and sustainable society;
  • Increase the capacity of Puerto Rico to withstand and recover from future disaster events through redundant systems, highly developed continuity of operations planning, and improved codes and standards.

“These goals guide the development of strategic objectives,” the report says, “which provide a mechanism for articulating how recovery funding will be invested.”

The current efforts are focused not on determining the property damage across the Island, but on identifying hundreds of COAs (courses of action) that might lead to the new Puerto Rico. ” In general,” the report says, “COA costs should be viewed as rough order-of-magnitude estimates that support high-level planning and informed decision making.”

The report includes intentions to “transform” and “reimagine” many aspects of Puerto Rico, from infrastructure to industries.

Uncertainty

Hurricane Maria’s death toll is still highly controversial. The number of residents who have left the Island since the hurricanes is uncertain, as is the number likely to return. Without knowing what back to normal will look like, it is hard to put a price on it.

There are certainly those who want to limit “back to normal” to rebuilding what was already in Puerto Rico before the 2017 hurricane season. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney was quoted as saying, “We are not going to deal with the fundamental difficulties Puerto Rico had before the storm.” The Stafford Act does not allow for building better, only for restoring systems to their condition before the disaster.

But millions of dollars have been put into Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, with full knowledge that the repairs will not be able to survive another hurricane.

Funds intended to help the University of Puerto Rico reopen have gone to schools in the States which accepted Puerto Rican students to finish the 2017-2018 academic year.

More than 10,000 of Puerto Rico’s local businesses (20%) are still closed. With fewer jobs and a dwindling labor force, plans resting on growing the economy lack realism.

As Del Toro said, attempting to put Puerto Rico back together again without addressing the problems created by the territorial status of the Island may not lead to change.

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