Americans Have Never Cared About Puerto Rico

The indifference toward the recent earthquake swarm devastating the island is the latest in a long list of indignities

Andrea González-Ramírez
GEN
Published in
7 min readJan 16, 2020

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Tents on a baseball field in Guanica, Puerto Rico after a powerful earthquake hit the island. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

Puerto Rico is convulsing, and I’m witnessing from thousands of miles away how Americans are once again turning a blind eye.

Nearly 1,300 earthquakes have hit the island’s southern region in a swarm that began on December 28, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. More than two dozen of the quakes have been magnitude 4.5 or greater. Just Wednesday, there was a 5.2 magnitude tremor followed by dozens of aftershocks. The situation for Puerto Ricans, who have been facing a financial crisis and are still recovering from Hurricane Maria, is dire. At least one person has died and several have been hurt since the earthquake swarm began. Hundreds have called the island’s suicide prevention hotline, and there are concerns that some recent suicides have been connected to the tremors. (Natural disasters have an outsized impact on mental health difficulties; we saw these struggles after Maria in 2017.) Thousands have been sleeping outside their homes or in makeshift camps out of fear their houses will collapse. That anxiety is not misplaced: An estimated 2,200 people lost their homes in the aftermath of the 6.4 quake — the largest one so far — that hit the island on January 7. Authorities in Guayanilla, one of the commonwealth’s hardest-hit towns, expect there could be up to 2,300 displaced residents taking refuge in outdoor government shelters, including a tent city. Estimated damages in five of the most impacted towns have reached $460 million.

As Puerto Ricans face down yet another crisis, there has been a deafening silence coming from the White House. It has taken more than a week for President Trump to issue a major disaster declaration, which would allow the island to receive much-needed earthquake relief aid. His political opponents have not been any better — most issued an empty call to help “our fellow Americans” and quickly moved on. The Democratic primary debate on Tuesday was a glaring example. Moderators didn’t ask about how the Trump administration had been slow to approve Puerto Rico’s request for a major disaster declaration, and none of the candidates on stage chose to bring that fact up. Media…

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Andrea González-Ramírez
GEN
Writer for

Award-winning Puerto Rican journalist. Senior Writer at New York Magazine’s The Cut. Formerly GEN, Refinery29, and more. Read my work: https://www.thecut.com/