When New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo arrived in a Maria-devastated Puerto Rico Friday, he brought with him a half-dozen electrical generators – coveted assistance for an island that officials estimate could be without power for months.
Yet as appreciated as Mr. Cuomo’s material aid was, his visit underscored the Caribbean island’s precarious status as a United States territory – whose 3.4 million residents are American citizens – yet one with very little clout in Washington.
If New York’s governor saw fit to demonstrate solidarity with Puerto Rico, it is because of the sizable and well-established Puerto Rican population in New York – one that continues to grow as young people with US passports abandon the poverty-stricken and financially strapped island.
But Cuomo’s visit was also a reminder of how nearly invisible Puerto Rico has become in the American political picture, with neither the heft of states like Texas and Florida – also ravaged by storms this hurricane season – nor the room to maneuver of an independent country. Nor does it enjoy the same level of grass-roots support that Americans show states, since, according to a recent poll, nearly half of Americans do not know that Puerto Ricans are fellow citizens.
Yet if there is any silver lining at all to the clouds left hovering over Puerto Rico by hurricane Maria, it might be that a Caribbean jewel held in American hands for a century could now in the wake of such devastation be treated as more than an afterthought, some experts in the island say.
“The status question has long been the albatross around Puerto Rico’s neck, as it has had neither the political power of a state nor the advantages of an independent country,” says Dante Disparte, chairman of the American Security Project’s Business Council for American Security in Washington.
“But it’s at times like these that being a commonwealth of the US can make a tremendous difference and present major advantages,” adds Mr. Disparte, who is Puerto Rican. “Imagine if this had been in Haiti. The loss of life would have been far greater and the assistance resulting from our relationship with the US would not have been forthcoming,” he says.
Beyond that, others hold out hope that an island long held back by outdated and crumbling infrastructure – and by bankruptcy proceedings initiated this year and earlier financial restructuring efforts that…