$43 Billion in Hurricane Relief for Puerto Rico Stalled After US Officials Miss Deadline

Photo: Aerial view of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, destroyed by Hurricane Maria, neglected by US imperialism.

By Larisa Shepitko

On October 17, senior officials of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee confirmed that they stalled sending hurricane relief funding to Puerto Rico to the tune of $43 billion by missing a legally required deadline to do so.

At the hearing, David Woll, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for community planning and development, doubled down and defended the intentional sabotaging of funding to the devastated island, citing concerns about the Puerto Rican government’s ability to manage funds. Many of these “corruption” concerns have been talking points of HUD secretary Ben Carson and the Trump administration. For example, Woll pointed to the resignation of Ricardo Rosselló as governor amid a flurry of protests prompted by political scandals.

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Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson speaks before Congress committee in 2017 after Hurricane Maria.

The elephant in the room was the irony of these alleged concerns. Despite criticizing Puerto Rico of financial mismanagement, HUD is now finding itself in the midst of its own financial scandal. Irv Dennis, HUD’s chief financial officer, and Woll could not explain why the 17 other states that received relief funds were any more qualified than Puerto Rico.

There is no way to know how much of that money, if it had been properly sent, would have even reached the Puerto Rican people who need it most. US companies, particularly in the Pharmaceutical industry, have ruthlessly exploited the colony for decades, making use of the natural resources and cheap labor. However, Puerto Rico’s restricted trade options and minimum wage laws (imposed by the US) have recently caused some imperialist ventures to lose interest in favor of other Third World countries, which has sent Puerto Rico spiraling into an economic depression.

The natural disaster of Hurricane Maria was made all the more devastating by the man-made disaster of US imperialism’s intentional neglect and underdevelopment of the oppressed nation which it refuses to relinquish from its control. Tragically, the only time the island seems to experience independence from the US is when it is in crisis and its imperialist occupier withholds aid, treating it as if it were a separate country.

Puerto Rico has a history of national liberation struggles for independence and secession. The Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña, a Marxist Leninist party, was active from 1974-1983 and propagated fighting “US colonial forces” via armed struggle. They were responsible for at least 130 bombings in a 9-year period, resulting in a slew of arrests for crimes such as robbery and sedition.

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Aftermath of 1975 Fraunces Tavern bombing which targeted “reactionary corporate executives,” according to a FALN Communique, in retaliation for a CIA assassination of two Puerto Rican workers.

There are many Americans in the coastal South and the Gulf coast regions that are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after multiple hurricanes and intense tropical storms over the past few years. As exemplified by this squandering of $43 billion in disaster relief to Puerto Rico, the bureaucracy of the bourgeois state forces it to neglect the needs of the people, especially those among the oppressed nations, as was also seen during Hurricane Katrina.

Everyone who has suffered from these so-called natural disasters must learn to see the bourgeois state as the common enemy which is truly responsible for the suffering of the people in the wake of these storms. All those subjected to this neglect must be organized into the tempest of people’s war; its trajectory, plotted out by the history of class struggle, is barreling towards US imperialism.