Puerto Rico was a catastrophe of corruption, mismanagement, incompetence and ignorance long before the added misery wrought by Hurricane Maria, which exposed to the world what was there to be seen all along: an island ill-prepared for a sunny day, much less a stormy one. For at least a decade, the media has been sounding the alarm about the crumbling infrastructure and financial mismanagement of Puerto Rico.
But it all fell on deaf ears. Let’s flashback to August 2014, when Reuters reporter Luciana Lopez showed that Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority was teetering on insolvency. The power company relied too heavily on expensive oil and was plagued by aging infrastructure dating back to the 1960s, a bloated workforce, and a billing system that was arbitrary and difficult to justify.
Puerto Rico’s roads, bridges, dams, ports, hospitals, water treatment plants and more have been decaying for years. And it has only gotten worse. In August 2015, CNBC again warned of the dangers to the citizens of Puerto Rico of inferior and dangerous critical infrastructure. Fred Imbert reported that the real problem facing the people of Puerto Rico is the lack of maintenance of infrastructure.
In May 2016, just more than a year before Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the Atlantic published an article alleging that even without damages caused by hurricanes or storms Puerto Rico was heading for crisis with a huge human toll of man-made causes. Reporter Vann Newkirk cited the electric grid on the brink of collapse and schools with dangerous wiring and unstable construction. He also wrote about the island’s public health and its inferior healthcare facilities, noting that San Juan’s Centro Medico Hospital had to delay payments on debt to provide basic healthcare to patients. The medical director was quoted as saying, “We are hanging by a thread.”
It is important to understand that Puerto Rico was destined for humanitarian crisis and was in crisis long before Hurricane Maria. It was only a matter of time before it became evident to the mainland of the United States and the world. The Obama administration had years, but it let Puerto Rico slip into decay and put the people residing there at grave risk. Now, people are pointing fingers at the Trump administration that somehow the president is to blame for the harm that has come to Puerto Rico, when it is really years of neglect and incompetence by the federal government as well as local officials.
Today, the people of Puerto Rico need help on a scale that our nation has rarely seen before. Never in modern times have so many Americans suffered from what amounts to total devastation of their homes, businesses, neighborhoods and infrastructure. We as a nation must make every effort to provide all the help we can muster to provide the necessary support to the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But we must also manage expectations and not blame the current administration for the gross incompetence of others who created the crisis the people now face. This remediation will take a decade or more and cost tens of billions of dollars.
The plight of our fellow citizens should be a wake-up call for our nation. There are lessons to be learned and heeded. Policymakers kick the can down road all the time, believing there are no solutions, only band-aids or neglect. America is $20 trillion in debt. Our nation’s critical infrastructure is in dire needs of repair, replacement and maintenance. Our national health care and entitlement programs are teetering on insolvency. Our states and cities face their own financial challenges.
Puerto Rico’s collapse could be our future if we do not turn our attention to solving problems before crisis. A hurricane was the straw that broke the camel’s back in Puerto Rico, but the camel’s back was destined to be broken by the rider at some point. The main job of government is to prevent crises, not merely respond to them. It is time to fix things and make sacrifices for the greater good.
Bradley A. Blakeman is a political consultant who served as a member of President George W. Bush’s senior White House staff from 2001 to 2004. He is a frequent contributor to Fox News and Fox Business.