Senators return to report on ‘humanitarian crisis’ in Puerto Rico

Connecticut's two U.S. senators returned from Puerto Rico and reported signs of neglect and despair. Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media

Connecticut's U.S. senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, have returned from Puerto Rico and are urging more aid for the island.

The $81 billion in disaster relief funds being considered for Florida, Texas, California, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is not enough, they told WSHU.

Blumenthal says Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands alone need double that amount. In fact, he's co-sponsoring a bill that does just that.

Murphy says they also found that money that has been allocated to Puerto Rico is not getting there. This state of affairs would be unacceptable on the U.S. mainland, he said.

Blumenthal said he was “furious and heartbroken to see Americans treated with such abysmal, abject neglect.”

Nearly half of the island’s residents are still without electricity or drinkable water. Many schools remain closed.

“We walked through a neighborhood in San Juan and it was completely dark,” he recalled.

“You can’t run an island on generators,” Blumenthal added, reporting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is relying on generators to restore power.

Blumenthal called the situation “a humanitarian crisis.”

“The economy is declining rapidly and tourism is sinking, 106 days since the hurricane,” Blumenthal reported. “They need support from the federal government, and that support has been abysmally inadequate.”

“It’s just unacceptable that this is happening in the United States of America,” Murphy said.

The senators spoke to a receptive audience of about 60 at the library of Fair Haven School in New Haven, where Mayor Toni Harp joined them.

On a hopeful note, Blumenthal said he and Murphy were told repeatedly during their island tour that its residents appreciate the aid provided by the people of Connecticut.

“You really are making a difference,” he told the people in the library.

The senators were introduced to two Puerto Ricans, Nina Marrero, and her husband, Vicente Bayron Laracuente, who have been separated because they didn’t want her to have her baby under the grim conditions on the island.

She came to New Haven while he remained in Puerto Rico, where he has a job. He is now visiting his wife and their baby before he goes back next week.

Through an interpreter, he said that in his town of Maricao, “We lost everything. The streets, the bridges are gone. There is no water, no electricity. People are coming down with diseases. They’re washing their clothes in the street and taking showers in the street. There is still very little food in the market.”

Some Democratic senators have announced a bill that would send billions of dollars to Puerto Rico to rebuild the island, just as the Marshall Plan helped Europe recover after World War II.

Murphy and Blumenthal are also trying to roll back a provision of the new federal tax restructuring law so Puerto Rico’s manufacturers won’t be hit even harder. Blumenthal said the tax law unfairly “treats Puerto Rico like a foreign country, as if it were China.”

The senators called for a bipartisanship.

“We need some Republicans to really raise their voices in the next 30 days,” Murphy said.

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