free puerto rico: how a stupid law prevented the population from getting the help they needed

September 28, 2017
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Last week, Hurricane Maria charted a path through the Caribbean and directly over Puerto Rico. It was the most damage a storm has done to the island in more than 80 years. It left Puerto Rico entirely without electricity, with only the most urgent buildings (hospitals etc.) running on generators, and experts say it could take six months to restore power.

After the storm, President Trump acknowledged that the island was “absolutely obliterated” during a federal disaster declaration. But until this morning, he did nothing to alleviate on of the most blatant shake-down policies against Puerto Rico that impedes the help necessary to the island in times like these: The Jones Act.

As The New York Times reports:

“After World War I, America was worried about German U-boats, which had sunk nearly 5,000 ships during the war. Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, to ensure that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. Section 27 of this law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another. In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens.

Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy.”

Under The Jones Act, foreign registry vessel entering Puerto Rico must pay punitive tariffs and fees. After intense pressure, Trump waived some of these fees after initially refusing to do so and straining the already devastated island. Still, when the waiver expires, the effects of the law which helped put Puerto Rico in such a precarious position in the first place will still be in affect.

The law ensures that prices are double what they are in neighboring islands, while according to The Guardian the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13 percent higher than in 325 other urban areas in the United States, while per capita income in Puerto Rico is about $18,000, nearly half that of Mississippi, the poorest American state. These are the conditions that have left the island’s economy in shambles, the population underemployed, and the infrastructure unable to weather even small storms, to speak of direct hits from hurricanes.

It’s way past time to repeal the Jones Act completely.


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