Trump, Puerto Rico and colonialism

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After days of dragging his feet, US President Trump finally authorised a temporary waiver of a century-old shipping law on 28 September to allow aid to be sent to the US colony Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The Category 4 storm destroyed the island’s power grid and 80% of its agriculture. About 50% of the island is without clean water, food supplies are running low and hospital generators are failing. Infrastructure is severely damaged and the Guajataca Dam in the northwest of the island is at risk of failing.

Yet the Jones Act, a colonial maritime law, restricts Puerto Rico from receiving aid by requiring that all goods shipped between US ports be carried by US-owned and operated ships. Foreign ships must either pay extremely high tariffs to reach Puerto Rico or offload goods destined for the island to Jacksonville, Florida.

Not only does this delay urgently-needed aid from getting in, it doubles the cost of getting it on to the island. Countries like Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela have offered tons of aid and medical support but have either been turned away by the US or deterred.

Trump shamelessly placed responsibility for the crisis on Puerto Rico and the ‘billions of dollars it owes Wall Street’, a debt that has resulted from 120 years of US colonial rule and violations of federal securities law. He then blamed delays on the logistics of reaching ‘an island in the middle of the ocean’.

His callous actions are costing lives. At the time of writing he had lifted the Jones Act for only 10 days.

Barnaby Philips

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 260 October/November 2017