1250 Broadway, 27th Floor New York, NY 10001


Puerto Rican Crisis Update

The NiLP Report

Trump's "10" on Puerto Rico.

On Thursday, the Governor of Puerto Rico went to the White House to meet with Trump. "I am confident that, with your commitment and with your support, Mr. President ... we will be able to come out of this in the long haul together with Puerto Rico and give the U.S. citizens the adequate resources," Rosselló said. "Treat us the same as citizens in Texas, in Florida, and elsewhere." For his part, Trump lauded the disaster response in Puerto Rico, giving the effort 10 out of 10 when asked by a reporter to grade his administration's work. "I'd say it was a 10," Trump said. "I'd say it was probably the most difficult - when you talk about relief, when you talk about search, when you talk about all of the different levels, and even when you talk about lives saved. If you look at the number, I mean this was, I think, it was worse than Katrina. It was in many ways worse than anything people have ever seen."

Trump put Rossello in an awkward position, basically forcing him to be as complimentary of Trump's response to the crisis as he could, despite knowing the federal response had been insufficient. This incident was widely criticized in the Puerto Rican community as an act of bullying by Trump and his continued efforts to make himself look good despite the realities on the ground in Puerto Rico.

Schumer's Response. Sen. Charles Schumer, charging that the federal response to Hurricane Maria has been mismanaged, is urging the White House to appoint a chief executive in charge of helping Puerto Rico recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria. He said that this "chief executive of response and recovery" would have a direct line to Republican President Donald Trump and other federal and Puerto Rican officials.

Status.PR. The Government of Puerto Rico set up a website, status.pr that presents the latest information on the metrics of Puerto Rico's recovery efforts. As of today, here are some:

  • 20.2% have had electricity restored
  • 63.0% have had telecommunications restored
  • 53.4% cell towers rebuilt
  • 92 shelters open with 4,154 occupants
  • 39% businesses processing PAN
  • 51.9% of hotels and 77.8% of casinos in operation

The Diaspora Strikes Back.There is a Unity March for Puerto Rico being planned to take place on Sunday, November 19th in Washington, DC. Being organized by Evelyn "Eve" Mejil. It will be held from 10am-2pm at the National Mall. She describes it as "a declaration that WE THE PEOPLE take a stand and unite our voices in solidarity against laws that do not serve the people of Puerto Rico. The mission of Unity March for Puerto Rico is to unite all people with one voice against the unjust law that has been systematically oppressive and crippling to the people and the socio-economic growth and sustainability of the island. We are asking that our leaders make the necessary legislative changes to the Jones Act to uplift the people of Puerto Rico and hearten, support and sustain the economic growth of the island.

There is also a proposal circulating to mobilize a visible demonstration at the United Nations holding global communities accountable for their silence on the human rights violation of the people in Puerto Rico. For further information, contact Marta Moreno Vega at mmvega@cccadi.org.

On Saturday, October 28, 2017, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies will hold a Rebuild Puerto Rico conference in New York City that will focus on rebuilding Puerto Rico and the role of stateside communities supporting such efforts. Click here for further information.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists recently launched an initiative to set up "communication stations" throughout all regions of the island. They point out that "It is important for us as an association, that our journalists on the ground are able to use the technology provided to help people connect with their families, news, and relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastation from Hurricane Maria." Click here for further information.

Silicon Island? A glimpse at what the future of a rebuilt Puerto Rico will hold is that the big tech companies are exploring the chance to build a new tech infrastructure from scratch in Puerto Rico. The following tech firms are working in Puerto Rico right now: Facebook, Cisco, and Google are all there both trying to assist in the rebuilding as well as in the emergency response efforts so far. There is a group called NetHope that is the tech arm their charities that is pulling volunteers from all these different firms. They have rented three houses in Puerto Rico where people from those companies are living and working side by side. The parent company of Google, Alphabet, has this idea called Project Loon, to use high-altitude balloons to connect the cell phones in areas where the infrastructure is down. Let see where this all leads.

Mass Exodus. The Center for Puerto Rican Studies (CUNY) issued a research brief that found the following:

Hurricane Maria's impact on Puerto Rico and its population are unprecedented. Though it is difficult to find comparable situations, we estimate that between 114,000 and 213,000 Puerto Rico residents will leave the island annually in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. From 2017 to 2019, we estimate that Puerto Rico may lose up to 470,335 residents or 14% of the population. In other words, Puerto Rico will lose the same population in a couple of years after Hurricane Maria as the island lost during a prior decade of economic stagnation. Our projections indicate that Florida is the state most likely to be affected by the exodus - with an estimated annual flow of between 40,000 and 82,000 people.

Foundation Support. Because Puerto Rico is not a state nor a sovereign nation, sometimes it falls between the cracks in foundation funding. There was a concern that philanthropy would not be as responsive to the crisis on the Island as it should be. However, although with a slow start, some foundations have been meeting in emergency sessions to discuss ways to help Puerto Rico. These include, among others, the Open Society Foundations, Ford, Rockefeller, and the Rockefeller Family Fund. Including a national group, Funders for Justice. Some foundation Rockefeller foundation made one of their Resilient Cities grants in San Juan, and so they are very invested there. In New York, Philanthropy New York is holding a forum on "From Hurricane Sandy to Hurricane Maria: Can Disaster Philanthropy Be More Strategic? " For more info and to register, click here.

On October 13th, the Neighborhoods Funders Group (NFG) and Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) held a conference call, "Puerto Rico: From Relief to Equitable Recovery." Karina Claudio Betancourt, Program Officer at OSF, opened the call presenting the on-the-ground realities in Puerto Rico, citing that 19 days since the Hurricane, 85 percent of the island remains without electricity, less than half of telecommunications is up, and many lack access to clean water. The island's infrastructure is still in disarray. She pointed out that the political situation before the storm was complicated and the precarity of the government situation, its commonwealth status, and financial insolvency made it difficult for philanthropy to engage on the island. OSF has provided significant funds for immediate relief and offered a 5:1 match for employee donations to Puerto Rico.

Also on this call, speakers cited some of the greatest needs at the moment: supporting nonprofits on the island, connecting leaders, and experts with people who have been harmed and helping integrate community input and the island's distinct culture into approaches to recovery. As very few organizations on the island are working on public policy directly, the call further elicited conversation on the need for capacity-building investments in civil society groups in Puerto Rico to support federal policy reform. Other policy issues discussed included economic development, workforce, and child welfare, as well as the potential migration of hundreds of thousands of island residents in the coming years.

Omnibus Bankruptcy Hearings.Omnibus hearings on Puerto Rico's bankruptcy cases under Title III of the PROMESA law have been going forward. The federal court authorized these hearings on August 9, 2017, designating Laura Taylor Swain as the presiding judge. During these hearings, the court addresses pending motions, petitions, and actions ahead of the hearing date that is related to the commonwealth's Title III cases. To date, the fiscal control board has initiated Title III cases for the central government, the Sales Tax Financing Corp. (Cofina by its Spanish acronym), the Employees Retirement System (ERS), Highways & Transportation Authority (HTA) and the Electric Power Authority. The next hearings will be held on November 15th and December 20th, and in 2018 they are scheduled for February. 7 March 7, April 25, June 6, July 25 and Sept. 12. There is a possibility of holding a protest on the day of their November 15th hearing; for further information, contact Armando Santiago Pintado <APintado@seiu32bj.org> of VAMOS4PR.


The NiLP Report on Latino Policy & Politics is an online information service provided by the National Institute for Latino Policy. For further information, visit www.latinopolicy. org. Send comments to editor@latinopolicy.org.