Washington Square News

The Forgotten 3.4 Million Americans

By Paola Nagovitch, Staff Writer

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The crisis in Puerto Rico continues to be dominated by political quarrels. The miscommunication between the mainland United States government and the Puerto Rican government during the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria has hit a new low. Now, five weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, around 69 percent of Puerto Rico remains without electricity. On Oct. 19, Whitefish Energy Holdings, a two-year-old tiny electric company from Montana, announced that it had been given a $300 million contract by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to rebuild some of the island’s electrical infrastructure. The contract has proved to be problematic, which caused its cancellation after protests from both the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The company is based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown Whitefish, Montana, and Zinke is responsible for supervising the U.S. federal government’s relationship with its territories, such as Puerto Rico. In other words, there was a conflict of interest. The company was failing to live up to their agreement to help Puerto Rico, and the White House — that could be linked directly to the company — was not holding the company accountable. However, this conflict of interest was denied by the White House as it distanced itself from the growing concern of the Puerto Rican people and government officials regarding this unusual arrangement. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed the federal government was not involved in the establishment of the contract, and Zinke renounced any connections to the contract. Even Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, amid all the controversy regarding Whitefish’s ties to the President Donald Trump’s administration and campaign, demanded the U.S. Inspector General to review the matter, and on Oct. 29 he moved to cancel the controversial contract. Moreover, eight Congressional Democrats also wrote to the Inspector General, calling for an investigation specifically into Whitefish, Zinke and the Trump administration. The White House placed the responsibility on the Puerto Rican government and PREPA, distancing itself from the growing backlash and welcoming any investigations.

While the White House and Zinke denied that anyone would dare associate them with the ridiculous contract, an alarmed San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz urged officials to void the unethical contract and called for transparency. Unsurprisingly, the mayor’s concerns were discredited by Whitefish officials who expressed their disappointment with the mayor and viciously threatened to specifically pull the workmen who were working in the city of San Juan. While Whitefish apologized for its comments, the company’s willingness to withhold life-saving services from people who have endured over a month of life-threatening conditions raises questions about its motivations to say the least. A tiny and relatively young company like Whitefish does not have the experience nor the capability to tackle such a massive project adequately

Puerto Ricans should be shown more respect than what the White House has provided thus far. Their concerns should be directly addressed instead of diminished, ignored or abused. A transparent plan must be established to restore Puerto Rico, and officials should recognize that desultory attempts further hinder the island. Bickering aside, the U.S. and Puerto Rican governments need to prioritize the wellbeing of Puerto Ricans. The region must stop being politicized — 3.4 million U.S. citizens are suffering.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them. Email Paola Nagovitch at [email protected]

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