The body count is continuing to climb in Puerto Rico, with funeral homes reporting “dozens” of bodies, despite the official death count remaining at only 36. The vast majority of the island remains without power, the infrastructure is destroyed, and rebuilding is expected to take months. Supplies via ship are the only way to repair and restock the island. Yet, the Trump administration just made a move that shows they don’t care about any of that.
News broke this afternoon that Donald Trump will not be renewing the waiver of the Jones Act. The waiver expired last night. The Jones Act, which prevents foreign-built ships from delivering cargo between American ports, is nearly always waived in times of disaster. It’s intended to prevent foreign commercial shipping and to ensure a large American shipping fleet, not to stop other nations from helping with a disaster or disaster recovery. The only reason to refuse the waiver renewal is to put a bunch of extra cash in the pockets of, in the words of Donald Trump, his “friends in the shipping industry” who were opposed to lifting the ban in the first place. He is literally costing money and lives so that he can give a kickback to folks who like him.
‘Velazquez, a Democrat from New York and a native of Puerto Rico, asked Trump in a letter for an extension of at least a year.
‘“If the Jones Act is reinstated, building supplies will cost significantly more in Puerto Rico, compared to costs on the mainland,“ Velazquez said in a statement. ”With the long road to recovery just beginning, I am asking that the Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico be extended.”
‘Other lawmakers, including Republican Senator John McCain, have called for the Jones Act to be put on hold given the severe damage caused to the island by Hurricane Maria.
‘On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said extending the Jones Act waiver was not needed to support relief efforts for the U.S. territory.’
It’s not “necessary” in that supplies will indeed arrive without a waiver, albeit more slowly, and at a higher price. What really happened here is simple: Trump caved to political pressure, hoping that a 10 day waiver would be enough to take the heat off him. Now that the 10 days is up, he’s betting it will go unnoticed enough for him to listen to friends in the shipping industry who want to pad their pockets with relief funds.
When he previously explained his reasoning, Trump was remarkably candid:
‘We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people… who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.’
Why is that relevant? They’re going to ship things regardless. Why does it matter what they want? The “shipping industry” doesn’t make decisions about what is and isn’t appropriate for disaster response. They move goods over water from point A to point B. The fact they want less competition and more money for doing so is not relevant; this is a disaster situation, not regular commercial shipping. There is no moral or economic justification for the refusal to waive the Jones Act for the duration of the crisis. Puerto Ricans are dying because they don’t have electricity, and the administration is continuing to put profit over people.
Featured image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images