Roger Hernandez distributing aid packages to members of the Cheverez clan in Morovis, Puerto Rico. Photo credit: Nichole Bodin
Published February 11, 2018
BORIKEN, PUERTO RICO – Over four months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Borikén (Puerto Rico), close to 40 percent of the citizens of the U.S. island territory are still without power. Experts are unsure when service will be fully restored. Several reports have noted that without modernization of the energy grid, Puerto Rico’s energy future will remain in serious jeopardy. These reports come as criticism of the U.S Governments disaster response continues and island residents, including Taíno people are still in a critical recovery phase.
An investigation by the New York Times, for instance, discovered that Tiffany Brown and Tribute Contracting, LLC had their $156 Million contract terminated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after failure to meet the requirements set by the agency to provide meals for people in Puerto Rico. The company was contracted by FEMA to deliver 30 million meals ordered by the disaster aid agency, but when 18.5 million meals of those meals were due, only 50,000 were delivered.
Additionally, after mounting criticism from the public and of lawmakers from both political parties who responded to reports that FEMA would soon cut off food and water deliveries to the island, the agency recently announced it would continue to provide aid to island residents for now.
“These reports are extremely disturbing” noted Roger Hernandez, a governing board member of the United Confederation of Taíno People (UCTP). “The Confederation is aware that there are still so many people in the archipelago that are in serious need.”
Hernadez continued stating “This is why grass-roots initiatives are so important and need to continue. While local and national government are busy placing blame on each other, people on the island, including Taíno community members, are still suffering from their overall lack of leadership.”
The UCTP launched its own grass-roots recovery effort in October as the number of requests from community members needing assistance increased in the aftermath of the storm.
“Our people are certainly concerned with the power loss, but they are also concerned with water quality and the danger of mosquito-borne illnesses, among other issues.” stated Hernandez.
The Confederation continues to deliver aid packages that include solar lights, mosquito netting for beds, personal water filters, and other materials that are requested by people on the ground. Community volunteers have so far delivered aid packages to residents in Vieques, Utuado, Morovis, Mayaguez, Dorado, Farjardo, Bayamon, San Juan, Camuy, Vega Alta, and Hato Ray. In addition, some cash disbursements for elders and others in serious need have also been distributed or supported by the UCTP. Many island residents are still without work and now have additional cost of fuel-powered powering generators and home repairs. Donations to the UCTP have been made online and via grants.
A fundraiser to support the UCTP Hurricane Relief Project entitled “Healing Boriken” is scheduled for March 22 in Lowell, Massachusetts and is being organized by community member Patricia Chali’naru Dones.
Roberto Múkaro Borrero is a Programs and Communications Coordinator for the International Indian Treaty Council.