How has Puerto Rico’s Economy Fared Since the Impact of the Natural Disasters?

House with a blue tarp photographed after Hurricane Maria hit Dorado, Puerto Rico.

On September 16, 2017, one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history thrashed the American commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Causing 2,975 Puerto Rican casualties and counting, Hurricane Maria destroyed homes, crucial infrastructure,  and caused the longest blackout in US history. Unsurprisingly, this natural disaster has left long-lasting effects on Puerto Rico’s economy ever since the hurricane first hit nearly three years ago.

On paper, the damage Hurricane Maria ravaged on Puerto Rico—long called “Island of Enchantment”—was incredibly destructive. The exact economic impact of Hurricane Maria on both Puerto Rico and the United States has not yet been exactly determined. However, according to USA Today, estimates vary from anywhere between 139 billion and 159 billion US dollars. The costly hurricane decreased Puerto Rico’s GDP by an enormous 8%, close to 43 billion dollars, and “40 percent of the residents had lost their job or were earning less money a year after Maria” (USA Today).

According to the Washington Post, the island’s agriculture industry took a massive hit, losing 780 million dollars from Maria’s destruction of farmland. Many businesses promptly closed and many jobs were lost. Crops such as plantains, which take long periods of time to grow, were demolished, leaving their owners profitless until new trees grew and could produce plantains to bring in a profit. According to the New York Times, roughly 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s crop value was decimated, making a huge dent in one of the biggest contributing industries towards the commonwealth’s economy. 

Recently, many smaller earthquakes have begun to impact  the island as well. Municipalities near the epicenter, such as Guánica, have been completely obliterated, with much of the infrastructure and construction being destroyed. Approximately 66 percent of the island does not have electricity and power, and residents are once again beginning to panic. Further reparations will be costly, and the earthquakes could cost the island up to $3.1 billion in economic losses, according to Chuck Watson, an analyst with the disaster research group Enki. Many residents have looked to refugees and homeless shelters across the island to provide them  with the power, water, food, and other necessities that have been lost in the earthquakes. 

Despite Puerto Rico’s current situation of  economic turmoil, the United States government, specifically President Donald J. Trump, have not yet responded to the matter. According to the Miami Herald, US aid has been close to non-existent with the recent earthquakes, the only response is a set of tweets from Florida representatives who claimed that they were asking the government for urgent aid to Puerto Rico. However, anything concrete has yet to be done. In fact, the average American remains largely uninformed of the current precarious situation Puerto Rico, despite the fact that Puerto Rico exists as a commonwealth of the United States. .

Puerto Ricans are infuriated by this  economic crisis, especially by the United States’s unwillingness to help the island rebuild its economy after such a detrimental natural disaster such as Maria. They fear that the only solution to the crisis is that a more left-leaning politician be elected president in the 2020 United States election, claiming President Trump is indifferent to, and even racist towards, Puerto Rico. A popular consensus between leftists in the States and Puerto Rican residents is that if this occurs, there will be a greater sense of urgency and empathy towards the economic turmoil in Puerto Rico, and that there will be a push for aiding the commonwealth’s economy. There has also long been the question of whether or not Puerto Rico deserves to be considered for US statehood; supporters in Puerto Rico hope that this possibility will also be addressed in the 2020 Presidential election.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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