Recently I read on Facebook a poorly researched story on Condé Nast Traveler magazine singing the praises of Chef Jose Andrés and his efforts to feed Puerto Rico. As a journalist and a communications strategist, I could tell immediately that it was a public relations effort after his heated controversy with FEMA over what was paid to his foundation.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that he came in early and feed thousands, but, as we all know by now, the story is more complex than that.
I wrote to the magazine stating: “As a journalist in Puerto Rico and a long-time reader of Condé Nast I find this fluff story appalling. Yes, he came, yes, he produced a lot of meals. And he was reimbursed (millions) for them. A little journalistic digging anyone? Oh, how far you have fallen from those “’truth in travel’ times.”
But bad journalism aside, what happened next was amazing. People started writing back to me asking for details of what really is going on here, why the help is not reaching people fast enough and the what was the role of both the local and the federal government in this disaster (by disaster I don’t mean Hurricane María, but the complete ineptitude and disorganization of the recovery and rescue efforts.)
Many wanted to how to help and be sure that their help actually reached people. I answered all their questions to the best of my capabilities but sadly, had to warn them to stay far and away from putting supplies of any form of help in the hands of either the local of federal governments or organizations such as “Unidos por Puerto Rico,” who create a lot of noise but very little help trickles down from their coffers to those in need.
By now it should be clear to all of us that Hurricane María was not the real tragedy. After all, hurricanes in the Caribbean are part of life. The real unbelievable tragedy was that in the midst of this debacle, the corruption operators were up and running in a matter of days.
The corruption stories linked to FEMA, and to U.S. former Congressmen (Ryan Zinke) procuring contracts in Puerto Rico for their friends and supporters (Whitefish Energy) and the lack of resolve from the local government to resist and repel this corruption has created another perfect storm in the island.
Too many organizations and government “friends” are looking to profit from this tragedy instead of showing a modicum of compassion, and therein lies the real tragedy of María. The fact that we just keep taking it simply adds insult to injury.
While people were literally dying here, Zinke, Secretary of the Department of the Interior, a former Montana congressman, who knows Whitefish CEO Andrew Techmanski, (Zinke’s son also had a summer job at a Whitefish construction site) set out to help his friend.
He knocked on doors here and in Washington and so it came to pass that a small Montana firm landed its biggest contract to get the power back on in Puerto Rico, which of course they never did.
We had to watch in horror and shame as Gov. Ricardo Rosselló was scolded in Congress like a little boy for his complete lack of capability to manage funds transparently (never mind that this scheme traveled from the U.S. here, not the other way around; it takes two to tango.)
But one thing is tragically undeniable: this government has zero credibility, zero capacity to deal with a disaster of this or any magnitude and its only success has been in destroying the goodwill of people all over the world toward Puerto Rico, who now see the island as a nest of corruption. There must be a special place in hell for the people who have inflicted all this on us.
On top of all this, economists in Puerto Rico agree that we will have the biggest drop in our economic index, from 8 percent to 15 percent, which will wipe out what little economic activity we have, as thousands keeps fleeing from this nightmare.
Puerto Rico is ‘painted into a corner’
Puerto Rico is really painted into a corner, and what comes next is scary to even consider. We simply don’t have the tools (legal or economic) to engineer a mayor change in the harebrained way we do things.
We cannot solve this chaos with press conferences, empty promises and contradictory messages. Not even the “resignation” of PREPA’s Executive Director Ricardo Ramos will change anything because the root of the cancer is still there.
I do believe in my heart that we, as the people of Puerto Rico, can create something new and long-lasting, but to do so we cannot keep electing the same people from the same two parties that do the same things with a different colored flag.
I don’t think our politicians, from all three major parties, are remotely capable of leading us in a new direction, because they all think alike, and they are all scared of change.
Well, guess what? The Puerto Rico we knew no longer exists. We can put some patches on it and keep doing things as always (until the next hurricane, and then start all over again,) or we can dare to dream that we can build something better.
María has exposed our very fragile and artificial underbelly. Are we going to take a long, hard look at ourselves and our useless leadership, or will we bury our heads back into the sand? The clock is ticking.