A Tale of Two Territories
While the year is hardly over, 2017 has been a turbulent ride for two of the United States “unincorporated territories,” Guam has been the target in a Nuclear Chicken war and Puerto Rico has been devastated by Hurricane Maria where much of the Island is still without utilities. While Nuclear Disarmament and Cutting Greenhouse gases have been globally accepted humane policies, The United States has regressed on this position, freely playing the nuclear card and reversing clean air policies implemented in Obama’s presidency.
While these are two tragic and heartfelt examples, Guam and Puerto Rico, two islands on opposites of the globe have been making world headlines at the expense of being the butt of remarks from President Donald P. Trump. And the kicker on top here is that while these two territories may have representation, they have no say in choosing the executive branch, a powerful wing that includes the Commander-In-Chief.
While current events, and people, link them, Guam and Puerto Rico share similar history in their introduction into American rule. They were both ceded to the US in 1898 after the Spanish American War. In 1920, a law was passed that was supposed to protect US Maritime Industry, a law called the Jones Act.
Relic Protectionism at its Worst
Making recent headlines as Puerto Rico was begging the U.S. government to waive the Act, which they did eventually, The Jones Act is a law that states , “shipping between ports in the United States must be done by U.S.-owned, U.S.-flagged, and U.S.-built ships operated by U.S. citizens.” On the surface, it is a law to protect U.S. business and commerce, ok. However, this law has plagued Guam and Puerto Rico for decades. While being far from continental United States, where an excellent truck and rail system have developed because of this law, these Islands must rely on import. According to a 2013-2014 Congressional Research Service report, the cost of using a U.S. vessel compared to foreign is “2x the cost” and to build one is “4x the cost.” Neighboring countries have cheaper food options because they can access to Asian or South American markets, but Guam and Puerto Rico have these imposed rules that force the cost of living to be much higher comparably to the mainland.
While emergency relief supplies have thankfully been able to get their freely, during times of non-emergency, the cost of high goods and services have led to a road of debt.
Devastation in Puerto Rico
While we get typhoons in the Pacific, in the Atlantic they get hurricanes. Hurricane Maria brought destruction to the Island home of many. Island wide power was down for days, hospitals lost medicine and patients, and food supply was running out. While the question of the damage that was done was never disputed, the response of the U.S. government has been rather dicey thanks to the President. Puerto Rico is an island 70 billion dollars in debt due to the government borrowing money from federal lenders. When Trump is tweeting comments such as [(Puerto Rico’s…] “Electric and infrastructure was disaster before hurricane,” it rubs salt into the wound into an Island that has been in economic turmoil decades now due to U.S. Government policies. If territories had the same financial securities as states, like the ability to declare bankruptcy, Puerto Rico would have been able to recover. But they do not, and we see the US President taking “shots” at an island that needs help, not a social media scolding.
This issue of debt has been brought into the political discussion of Guam, as these same bonds Puerto Rico borrowed are the ones GovGuam is using to pay GMH and tax refunds. For many people, this is a cautionary sign for Guam going down that road.
We are with you 1,000 percent
While natural disaster hit Puerto Rico, man-made disasters, or nuclear missiles, have been discussed in the national stage. As the President hit record setting disapproval ratings during the middle of the year, the White House used the George W. Bush playbook of using a war to distract the public. The target? North Korea and Kim Jong-un. The sabre rattling between both sides have been very public, and Guam is caught in the middle. Any scenario here that is being discussed usually involves Guam being blown up by retaliation or provocation. Even though Guam Governor Calvo feels like he has “never felt safer with President Trump in Command,” the fact that the Commander-in-Chief is ready ok to use Guam in a conversation that involves our destruction is a saddening scenario.
President Trump also declared that the world knows Guam now, and the world will flock to our island. Tourism will “increase 10x fold.” He couldn’t have been more wrong as, Guam arrivals from Asia has declined as Guam Visitor’s Bureau reported back in August, citing safety concerns as the reason for the cancellations.
What does it mean for Guam?
Puerto Rico deserves help from all Americans, and the majority in our nation agree, but the irony is the one who has the most power and responsibility to influence this is the one lacking the most empathy. Being a citizen on a territory, and, *knock on wood,* a typhoon of great intensity comes our way and we need federal help for amenities and supplies. Will Trump answer with the same animosity and dismay that he did with Puerto Rico? Will he say we can’t afford to help, it's not in the budget? If Puerto Rico is surrounded by “big water,” is Guam a place that is surrounded by the “big, big, big water.” All the Trumpisms in the world can be tossed around but once you get down to the core, and look at the complete dehumanization he has towards Americans, it is not a far-fetched reality to imagine him saying about Guam after a potential storm hit, “ Guam? They voted for Crooked, Hillary, let them suffer for a few days, then send help.”