Puerto Rico is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. The entire island is without power. 70 percent of hospitals have stopped operating. Officially, 16 people have died from Hurricane Maria; however, experts are claiming the numbers are larger, and rising.
Compare the reaction to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, which most would correctly recognize as a woefully inadequate. Congress passed an aid package worth over $10 billion within four days of Katrina’s landfall in Louisiana, while no similar aid package has emerged to help the victims of Hurricane Maria after almost two weeks.
Ultimately, the delayed, underwhelming response to the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico is emblematic of the way Puerto Rico has always been treated.
Ever since its colonization by Spain, the people of Puerto Rico have had very little power over their own destinies. The invasion and occupation of the island by the United States government in 1898, motivated by a desire to grow the nation’s naval power and create a colonial empire in the Caribbean, did very little to change this. A semi-representative government with limited autonomy had already been created by the time Puerto Rico became another territory contested in the Spanish-American war. The same government structure largely remained in place under American rule.
As one would expect, the people of Puerto Rico have attempted to mount resistance against colonial rule. In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously for independence from the United States, only for the federal government to deny them. In 1937, a peaceful march by supporters of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party would turn into a brutal tragedy known as the Ponce massacre. Police under the command of the appointed governor would murder 19 civilians and injure hundreds while firing on the marchers. Most of the dead were found to have been shot in the back repeatedly. Only after uprisings led by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1950, which was put down by federal troops, and after an assassination attempt on the life of Harry Truman, was Puerto Rico able to gain the option of becoming a “commonwealth” of the United States, rather than a directly controlled territory.