Months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, many Puerto Ricans continue to live without power, food, or clean water. While establishment news reports focused on how President Trump sought to minimize the disaster (asserting that it was not a “real catastrophe like Katrina”), independent news accounts document how conditions in Puerto Rico have worsened.
Before the hurricanes, Puerto Rico already suffered from enormous debt, with nearly half of its population living in poverty. According to an article from WhoWhatWhy, Puerto Rico, a US territory, already owed over $70 billion to bondholders and $50 billion in public employee pensions. Irma and Maria deepened the country’s problems, with some experts estimating that the country would need an influx $94 billion to recover. On November 28, 2017, Telesur reported on a University of Puerto Rico in Cayey study found that the nation’s poverty had increased by eight percent, from 44.3% to 52.3%, since Hurricane Maria hit the island. More than half of the population continues to live without clean water.
A previous Telesur article reported that Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Roselló, had downplayed the magnitude of the disaster by refusing to raise the official death count from 55 to over 500, as CNN and other news outlets had documented. Despite claims by Roselló, President Trump, and other prominent newsmakers, the island shows little trace of recovery. Corporate news coverage has not addressed how Puerto Rico’s debt, and the poverty levels associated with it, multiply the hurricanes’ devastating impacts. For example, an October, 2017, a brief report by the Los Angeles Times did not address the economic complexities of disaster relief loans.
Brent Gregston, “’Big Decision’: Will the US Spend What It Takes to Save Puerto Rico?” WhoWhatWhy, October 10, 2017, https://whowhatwhy.org/2017/10/09/big-decision-will-us-spend-takes-save-puerto-rico/.
“Poverty for Post-Maria Puerto Rico Up By 8%,” teleSUR English, November 28, 2017, www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Poverty-for-Post-Maria-Puerto-Rico-Up-By-8-20171128-0023.html.
“Puerto Rico Governor Says recovery in Full Swing, Rejects Death Toll Purported by CNN,” teleSUR English, November 27, 2017, https://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Puerto-Rico-Governor-Says-Recovery-In-Full-Swing-Rejects-Death-Toll-Purported-by-CNN–20171127-0023.html.
Student Researcher: Edgardo Velazquez (Syracuse University)
Faculty Evaluator: Ellen Fallon (Syracuse University)