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Yes, 3,000 did die in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria. My father was one of them: Victor Ruiz

September 19, 2018

Yes, 3,000 did die in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria. My father was one of them: Victor Ruiz

CLEVELAND -- Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the worst natural disaster that has ever hit Puerto Rico. This was the “nail in the coffin” for an island that had been suffering for centuries under colonial rule.

Hurricane Maria followed a financial disaster that had crippled the island and ceded remaining power to a “committee” that viewed the recovery the way that hedge funds view any corporate takeover: Chip away at what is left; sell its assets; run;  and let those who remain fend for themselves.

What hit was unexpected, but the impact was not a surprise: Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was hanging on by a thread for decades and Hurricane Maria cut what was left. Some people fled, many died, all suffered.  

The Puerto Rican diaspora in the rest of the world waited for a text, a call, or a message. Once we heard from our families, we mobilized and organized. Our communities, including in Cleveland, came through in ways that we’ve never seen before.

And while people worked, we waited for our government and country to respond, a country that has benefited tremendously off the backs of Puerto Rico and its people. And what did we get? I’m reminded of the Bob Marley lyrics, “Hate is your reward for our love,” because what Puerto Rico received was abominable: inadequate funding; corrupt business dealings; and paper towels. To Puerto Ricans and the diaspora this was, and still is, a seminal moment: What does it mean to be an American?

On Sept. 27, 2017, my father died in the aftermath of the hurricane. He waited in line for 35 hours for gasoline, which he needed to run his generator. While in line, a tank exploded and he inhaled the fumes and smoke. He made it to his front door, collapsed, and died.

My father was not part of the original list of the dead. Recently, he and 3,000 others were counted and added to that list, a list that has been disputed by our president (“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico”- President Donald Trump). Like everything else, he sees “this list” as a ploy to make him look bad.

3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 13, 2018

I invite our president, and anyone else who doubts, to look at the list of the dead and tell their loved ones that their lives did not count.

We all know that Puerto Rico’s recovery would have been different under a different president. However, we have a man in the White House who views us as commodities and business transactions. And even worse, who sees himself and his people as superior. The paper towel incident was appropriate: I am your overseer and here is your entitlement.

We can substitute Puerto Ricans for any other group (African-Americans, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, etc.), but the beliefs are the same: You are inferior to me, your lives mean nothing, and your deaths mean less.

As we approach the mid-term elections, let’s keep the memory of Puerto Rico and the 3,000-plus who lost their lives, as well all those who continue to suffer under this current administration. And let’s remind all that hate has no place in our country, and that America means prosperity, liberty, and justice for all. And let us choose leaders who truly reflect our values.

Victor Ruiz, executive director of the nonprofit Esperanza, which assists young Latinos and Latinas in the Cleveland area with high school and post-secondary educational attainment, is a community member of the editorial board of The Plain Dealer and cleveland.com.

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