The end of 2017 was marked with devastating natural disasters ranging from hurricanes in the East Coast to wildfires in the West Coast. Puerto Rico especially received heavy blows due to Hurricane Maria, which ravaged through the Carribean island with 155 mph winds and more than 30 inches of rain. The long term effects of natural disaster has been carried over to 2018 and still persists to this day as thousands are still without basic necessities, such as food, water, and electricity.
Along with the problem of lack of aid in bringing recovery to the island, the suicide rates have taken a toll. According to a recent report released by Puerto Rico’s Commission for the Prevention of Suicide, the rate of suicide has increased to nearly a suicide a day. Furthermore, there has been a 16% increase in the suicide rate in 2017, compared to the previous year. Health specialists and doctors have linked the increase in suicides to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Alicia Schwartz is a New York home care nurse who volunteered at Puerto Rico to help its people from the devastation of the natural disaster. According to her interview with Newsweek, there is a general “stigma around seeking help for mental health problems in the Latino community”. She continued that there is also the issue of “access to mental health” and that “those who don’t live in populated cities are unreachable to this day”.
To add to Puerto Rico’s troubles, they have recently been notified of a tsunami advisory, due the the 7.6 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Honduras. They have yet to fully recover from last year’s natural disaster and further damage in their dire situation could have detrimental effects to the already-delayed recovery of the Caribbean island.
In response, Puerto Ricans have started to stand up for their rights as American citizens. The statehood advocates have demanded representation in the union and if achieved, the citizens of Puerto Rico will finally be able to reap economic and political benefits of US citizenship. Mr. Alfonso Aguilar, a recently named member to the Puerto Rico Statehood Commission, emphasizes that to solidify “the long-term recovery of Puerto Rico, [one has] to support statehood” and that as a nation, they “have reached the bottom” and that “there is only one answer”.
The failure of the United States to bring aid to Puerto Rico during its time of recovery can still be seen today as its citizens continue to suffer the lasting consequences of Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans must gain statehood and raise their voices; they cannot and will not remain silent any longer. The United States must realize their previous shortcoming and join in the effort to finally bring recovery to the Caribbean island.