Puerto Rico was a catastrophe of corruption, mismanagement, incompetence, and ignorance long before the added misery wrought by Hurricane Maria. The hurricane exposed to the world what was there to be seen all along — an island as ill prepared for a sunny day or a stormy one.
For at least a decade the media has been sounding the alarm about the crumbling infrastructure and financial mismanagement of Puerto Rico. But, it fell on deaf ears.
Flashback to August of 2014 — Reuters reported in an article, "Puerto Rico Keeps the Lights on But Debt Crisis Far from Over." In that account, reporter Luciana Lopez sets forth facts showing the electric utility — Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority — was on the brink of insolvency. The power company was over-reliant on expensive oil, plagued by aging infrastructure — much of it dating back to the 1960’s — a bloated workforce and a billing system that was both arbitrary and difficult to justify.
As a result of the failing infrastructure, rolling blackouts, high unemployment, and fleeing manufacturing human resources were fleeing Puerto Rico prior to 2014. The island lost over 200,000 citizens since 2000. In 2014, Puerto Rico faced a $72 billion dollar debt. That works out to about $20,000 dollars for every man, woman, and child on the island where the median income at that time was about 20,000 dollars.
Puerto Rico’s roads, bridges, dams, ports, hospitals, water treatment plants, and more have been decaying for years. It's only gotten worse.
In August of 2015, CNBC again warned of the dangers to the citizens of Puerto Rico of inferior and dangerous critical infrastructure in an article, "Infrastructure: Another Problem Puerto Rico Doesn’t Need." Fred Imbert reported that the real problem facing the people of Puerto Rico is the lack of infrastructure maintenance.
And, in May of last year just a year and a few months before Hurricane Maria struck the island, the Atlantic published this article, "Will Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis Spark a Humanitarian Disaster?" Reporter Vann R. Newark II alleged that even absent damages caused by hurricanes or storms Puerto Rico was heading for crisis with a huge human toll rooted in manmade causes.
Newark cites again the issue of the electric grid being on the brink of collapse and schools with dangerous wiring and unstable construction. He also outlined the public health of the island and its inferior healthcare facilities. He set forth that San Juan’s Centro Medico Hospital had to delay payments on debt to provide basic healthcare to patients. The medical director was quoted as saying, "We are hanging by a thread."
It is important to understand that Puerto Rico was destined for humanitarian crisis and was in crisis long before Hurricane Maria. It was only a matter of time before it became evident to those on the U.S. mainland, and to others globally.
During its eight years, the Obama administration allowed Puerto Rico to slip into decay, putting its residents at grave risk.
Now, people point fingers at the Trump administration, that somehow they are to blame for the plight that is the harm that has come to Puerto Rico, when it is years of neglect and incompetence by the federal government as well as local officials.
Today, the people of Puerto Rico need help on a scale that our nation has rarely ever seen before. Never in modern times have so many Americans suffered from what amounts to total devastation — of their homes, businesses, neighborhoods, and infrastructure.
As nation, we must make every effort to provide all the help we can muster to provide the necessary support to the people of that island, as well as the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands. But, we must manage expectations and not blame the current administration for the gross incompetence of others who created the crisis the people now face. This remediation will take a decade or more, costing tens of billions of dollars.
The plight of our fellow citizens should be a wake-up call for the United States. There are lessons to be learned — and heeded. We kick the can down road all the time. There are no solutions only Band-Aids or neglect. We are 20 Trillion dollars in debt. Our nation's critical infrastructure is in dire need of repair, replacement — and maintenance. Our national healthcare and entitlements teeter on insolvency. Our states and cities face their own financial challenges. Puerto Rico’s collapse could be our future if we do not turn our attention to solving problems before crises.
A hurricane was the straw that broke the camel's back in Puerto Rico, but that camel’s back was destined to be broken by the rider eventually.
The main job of government is to prevent a crisis not merely respond to it. It is time to fix things, making sacrifices for the greater good.
Bradley Blakeman was a member of President George W. Bush's senior White House staff from 2001 to 2004. He is also a frequent contributor to Fox News and Fox Business Channel. He currently is a Principal with the 1600group.com a consulting company. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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