By Sam Burnham
While the mainland was either taking a knee or cussing about the people taking a knee, the people of Puerto Rico were running around int the dark try to find something to feed their kids.I was blindsided today by stories of American citizens sitting in a sweltering airport waiting on relief flights to arrive. They were too scared to go outside where it was noticeably cooler because they might miss out on the relief flight. There are also stories of people lined up at depleted gas stations, just waiting for a tanker to arrive to fill up the empty storage tanks. This is not some random third-world country were talking about. These are American citizens.
Without going into a major history lesson, Puerto Rico, like our federal government, is loaded down with debt. With a struggling economy and crumbling infrastructure, they weren't really ready for the lesser impact of the season's earlier storms. They we most definitely not ready for Maria.
But I read an article from the New York Times Monday night and it just slapped me. I was sitting there staring at all the things ABG stands for lying in crumbles on the ground in Puerto Rico. I knew it was rough. I knew the storm had hit them and their electrical grid was struggling. But when I saw this quote by Jose A. Rivera, a farmer in Puerto Rico, it hurt my heart, made me feel just terrible. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.” I'm sitting here looking at a Spanish-speaking version of South Georgia that has just been decimated in a matter of hours.
Puerto Rico has a four century history of agriculture. They industrialized after World War II, just like the rest of America. That industrial economy collapsed, just like the rest of America. But Puerto Ricans went back to the farms. They were having a bit of a farm-to-table renaissance and agriculture was becoming a way of life for many people once again. While the island still has to import 85% of its food, they were on a track to lessen that. If their food production allowed them to begin to sell that food (plantains, bananas, sugar, coffee, etc) to the mainland, it could help offset the cost of the food they have to have shipped in. This could become a major industry for the island.
But the storm leveled all the agriculture they had, Trees are gone and their produce with them. Even if they started back today, which they can't, they would still be months, perhaps years, from being back on the right track. They have got to get the storm and the destruction behind them so they can begin to rebuild. With their economy as it is, they can't do that alone. They are going to have to completely rebuild their electric and telecommunications grid. They are going to have to rebuild the majority of homes and businesses. Most of the island is starting from scratch.
The government is sending aid and that's great but 1) it's the government and 2) it's the government. So here are some handy-dandy links to reputable charities working on relief to Puerto Rico if you'd like to help these folks get some more help getting on their feet. I think they want to walk on their own, let's just help them stand back up:
United for Puerto Rico (led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico)
Hispanic Federation "Unidos"
Catholic Relief Services
Save the Children focuses relief on families with children
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire