Things That Matter

Puerto Rico Is Entering Hurricane Season Still Recovering But Trump Has Money For A 4th Of July Parade

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Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico in 2017. Nearly two years later and infrastructure is still in planning mode. That’s because, even though Congress allocated $20 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico, very little has been released to Puerto Rico.

As campaign season for 2020 is in full swing, Trump has ordered the largest, most expensive parade in U.S. history. Military tanks will line the National Mall. Warplanes will fly over the Washington Monument, and he’ll have his own televised address. Celebrating America’s Independence Day will cost $92 million, and it leaves behind Puerto Ricans.

On July 1, The House Oversight Committee sent a letter demanding the White House release sealed documents surrounding Hurricane Maria.

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A similar letter was sent on May 6th with no response. Democrats are now seeking a “compulsory process” that would legally require the administration to hand over the documents. The Bush administration released 18,000 documents related to Hurricane Katrina when asked.

The Trump administration has come under fire for its lack of response to the disaster. What is it hiding?

In October 2017, Trump visited a Puerto Rican church and tossed paper towels.

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Given that nearly 3,000 people lost their lives, critics point to this moment as an example of the lack of empathy shown by the President of the United States for U.S. citizens in the midst of a worsening tragedy.

At the time, he painted the death toll of 16 people as a victory.

Trump argued that Maria wasn’t “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”

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In an attempt to downplay the impacts of Maria, Trump used the false death count toll as a symbol of victory. He later refused to acknowledge the official death toll of nearly 3,000 deaths.

The death toll rose in the six months following the storm as a result of the lack of electricity, clean water, and weakened healthcare.

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San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz blames the Trump administration for “neglect.” “I screamed, literally, out at the top of my lungs to say ‘We’re dying here’ and the bureaucracy and the inefficiency of the federal government was killing us,” she told BBC news.

The Puerto Ricans who used FEMA’s hotel vouchers on the mainland are now largely homeless.

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Netflix’s documentary After Maria depicts a total lack of strategy for Puerto Ricans whose homes were destroyed by Maria. They were granted a fixed amount of time in hotels on the mainland, without any support to rebuild their home. When the time ran out, they were transferred to homeless shelters.

The state of Georgia has implemented a ‘Puerto Rican interview’ for those applying for a driver’s license.

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After Georgia’s Department of Driver’s Services refused to return Puerto Rican Kenneth Cabán’s identity documents, Cabán is suing the department for “unlawful and discriminatory treatment of American citizens from Puerto Rico.” The agency claims Puerto Rican documentation is cause for “fraud review.”

All this making it clearer that Puerto Ricans are second class citizens.

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Twitter user Carlos Centeno thinks that “too many white folks, we Puerto Ricans are undocumented immigrants until we prove otherwise. What Georgia is doing is not only racist, it’s economically debilitating to these U.S.-born citizens and their families.”

In After Maria, we witness how these experiences lead displaced Puerto Ricans to conclude that they’re not wanted.

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As devastating as Hurricane Maria was to the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, what After Maria shows is the psychological effects of what happened after. We see a young pre-teenaged girl fall into a depression as she’s bullied by her new peers in New York. We see how the system failed Puerto Ricans and how there could be no other reasonable conclusion for the survivors.

There’s the trauma of experiencing that hurricane and surviving, while so many didn’t.

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Folks are already tweeting about the stress of the power going out already, in July. Puerto Rico isn’t ready for another hurricane season. It’s still recovering from 2017.

And the trauma of prepping for another season.

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Many Puerto Ricans want to be granted statehood. They want the same treatment and respect offered to victims of Hurricane Harvey. They do pay taxes, but they don’t benefit like other taxpayers.

Largely, Puerto Ricans have taken it upon themselves to cope and recover.

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These are volunteers at a retirement community in Rio Piedras. They’re helping to train its residents on how to cope and deal with the stress and depression that persists years after Hurricane Maria. Given that those communities were at much higher risk of mortality after the hurricane, the fear is credible.

With news that Trump’s Fourth Parade might get washed out, this Puerto Rican has one thing to say:

@MAGGIEHALOWELL / Twitter

Hope it helps. Happy 4th of July.

READ: Bad Bunny And Ricky Martin Killed A ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill In Puerto Rico Furthering LGBTQ+ Rights In The Caribbean

Puerto Rican Art Groups Are Getting A Leg Up Thanks To This Foundation Created By The ‘Hamilton’ Family

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Puerto Rican Art Groups Are Getting A Leg Up Thanks To This Foundation Created By The ‘Hamilton’ Family

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Maintaining funding for the arts is a challenging enough task during the best of times. For Puerto Ricans, those “best of times” have long been gone. A backlog of corruption scandals coupled with the most devastating natural disaster in the island’s history has exacerbated the arts organizations resources. Two years after Hurricane Maria’s landfall on Puerto Rico, hope for maintaining the culture and arts of Boricuas has arrived.

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeffrey Seller, the play’s producer, have partnered with the Flamboyan Foundation to establish an art fund for struggling arts organizations in Puerto Rico.

The Flamboyan Foundation was established just earlier this year, funded by ticket sales from “Hamilton.”

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Even better, the $14.7 million that was raised for the fund were all raised by Puerto Ricans. The “Hamilton” cast and crew up and went to Puerto Rico for a 17-day run. The Flamboyan Foundation, named after the flamboyán tree native to Puerto Rico, established the arts fund in 2018. “The Flamboyan Arts Fund is an extension of our deep commitment to ensuring that Puerto Rico is thriving economically and socially,” Flamboyan Puerto Rico Executive Director Carlos J. Rodríguez-Silvestre said in a statement. “We cannot be more excited to partners with our 12 inaugural grant recipients as well as the new grantees that we will welcome following this round of applications.  This is just the beginning!”

So far, at least 12 grant recipients have been named.

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“It’s the first time that we have funds guaranteed for the beginning of the year so it’s been very important, Lolita Villanúa, executive director of Andanza told NBC News. Andanza is a dance company and school that has been giving back to Puerto Rico since 1998, but not without struggles. “The search for funds has always been very difficult,” she said. One year, the government gave Andanza just $8,000 for a full year of operations.

Villanúa felt the grant “was like a big prize on our 20th anniversary because we [have been] working tirelessly and intensely for the country.”

The trickle-down effect goes to benefit young scholarship students.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

One Andanza dance student, Paola Morales López is just 15 years old and wants to make a career out of dancing. “I feel super grateful because I see that they support me and that they believe in me,” Morales López told NBC News. “Andanza is like my second family.” Another 18-year-old ballet student, Gabriela Arroyo, said that, “Dance has helped me. It’s a form to escape reality, and it’s also a way to stay healthy.”

Of course, the “Hamilton” funds will also go to help local theaters stay open.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

Another grant went to a collective of seven artists who started the San Juan theater company, Y No Había Luz (“And There Was No Light”) when they were just students at the University of Puerto Rico. For the last 15 years, the group has continued to stay open, using their literal theater platform to advocate for social change and to humanize Boricuas.

Without the grant, Puerto Ricans may have never witnessed a play centered around an ancient tree that fell during Hurricane Maria.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

Y No Había Luz created the play “Centinela de Mangó,” which retells the experience of the town of Orocovis, which survived Hurricane Maria only to find the tree that symbolized the island’s identity had fallen. The company has been able to bring the play to New York City, as well, where many Hurricane Maria victims were directed by FEMA. The company wants to turn the story into a children’s book, forever immortalizing the tree’s meaning into words that will be passed down for generations.

With rent paid, the art grant recipients can dream even bigger.

@ynohabialuz / Twitter

“For three years I can plan and create a healthier structure for my team. I can make dreams more long-term,” Yari Helfeld of Y No Había Luz told NBC News. She added, “My dad always told us that we should do what we wanted and not let anyone tell you what to do.” Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda and the “Hamilton” family, dreams are being made a reality for art directors and young children alike. The arts will have a safe home in Puerto Rico for the foreseeable future.

READ: Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

Things That Matter

Puerto Rico, Still Recovering From Hurricane Maria, Is Losing Recovery Dollars To Fund Part Of The Border Wall

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When Donald Trump began his campaign for president, one — if not the most important — promise he made was that Mexico would pay for the border wall. Trump’s border wall, which would extend throughout the south as a barrier between the U.S. and Mexico, has been his No. 1 mission as president of the United States. Now, four years after making this promise, Mexico has still not paid a single cent for the construction of any such barrier that has been built or will be built. 

In order for Trump’s border wall to get constructed, he’s still very short on funds, and since Mexico is obviously not going to pay, the president is taking money away from Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery budget. 

Credit: @Nicolemarie_A / Twitter

Trump has allocated $400 million to go toward building the wall and will take it directly from funds that were intended to help Puerto Rico and their hurricane recovery. The Department of Defense announced that several hurricane-related projects in Puerto Rico would be halted because their funding would be diverted to building the border wall. Some of those projects include a National Guard Readiness Center, a Power Substation/Switching Station Building, and an Aircraft Maintenance Hangar in San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

According to NBC News, a senior Defense official said that people shouldn’t worry because these projects in Puerto Rico will get done, eventually. “We don’t see ourselves delaying those projects. We’re fully committed to that recovery,” the official said since many of them wouldn’t begin until 2020.

The president still needs billions more for the wall, at least $25 billion more, so he’s taking money from various military sources in the U.S. and its territories. The total amount he’s diverting is $3.6 billion.

Credit: @ChrisLu44 / Twitter

Aside from Puerto Rico, 117 other military construction projects will be halted and/or delayed now because of funds. People might assume diverting funds away from Puerto Rico’s recovery or other sources isn’t a big deal because it doesn’t seem like tangible needs. However, people familiar with the military centers and operations know that it is a huge deal and almost appears like robbery by the highest level office. 

“I visited the current RPA training facility at Holloman earlier this year. The building is falling apart, with some equipment being held together with duct tape. To say this facility, which supports training for 100 percent of the Air Force’s MQ-9 crews, urgently needs to be replaced would be an understatement,” Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said in a statement, according to NBC News. 

Other projects losing funds include $160 million of construction projects at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; $85 million operations facility at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico;  $40 million for an information systems facility at White Sands Missile Facility, and much more. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is planning to file a lawsuit to prohibit Trump from taking $3.6 billion away from Puerto Rico and the rest of the country and territories. 

Credit: @ACLU / Twitter

“The fact that the government sat on these so-called ’emergency funds’ for seven months further confirms that this is nothing but an unlawful power grab,” ACLU attorney Dror Ladin said in a statement, according to The Hill. “We’ll be back in court very soon to block Trump’s latest effort to raid military funds for his xenophobic wall,” he added.

Despite claiming that Mexico would pay for the wall for years, Trump already said that he didn’t mean that literally. 

Credit: @realDonaldTrump / Twitter

In January, the president tried to backtrack four years of declarations that Mexico would pay for the wall by insisting that he wasn’t speaking in direct terms but indirectly. We know, it makes no sense.

“When — during the campaign, I would say, ‘Mexico is going to pay for it.’ Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check. I said, ‘They’re going to pay for it.’ They are. They are paying for it with the incredible deal we made, called the United States, Mexico, and Canada USMCA deal.”

Yes, the president said he never said what he said. We feel a headache coming on. To illustrate how many times Trump said Mexico would pay for the wall, Factbase Inc. listed each of them. He has referenced the border wall at least 456 times

READ: New Border Wall Is Being Constructed In California But It Is Not The Same Border Wall Trump Promised His Voters