NEW YORK – The Democratic representative in the United States Congress, Nydia Velázquez, sent a letter to the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, to temporarily rescind the provisions of the Jones Act that limit the entry of foreign ships with supplies to Puerto Rico, this in order to expedite humanitarian work on the island after the scourge of Hurricane Fiona.
In the letter dated September 22, the legislator of Puerto Rican origin states that the emergency in the island deserves that the federal authorities suspend the application of the law for a year to facilitate the flow of water, food, fuel and other essential products.
“A significant number of Puerto Ricans have not only lost electricity service, but have been displaced and are experiencing insecurity due to lack of food and water. The island was already experiencing financial difficulties when Hurricane Fiona dealt another crippling blow to the people and economy that have long tried to recover,” reads the letter signed by six other Democratic representatives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ritchie Torres and Adriano Espaillat, all from New York.
“With the long road to recovery just beginning, we are requesting a one-year exemption from the Jones Act for Puerto Rico. The island now faces an unprecedented uphill battle to rebuild homes, businesses and communities. Temporarily relaxing these requirements – for the express purpose of disaster recovery – will allow Puerto Rico to have greater access to the fuel they need for power generation plants, food, medicine, clothing, and construction supplies,” the politicians added.
“As members of Congress, we believe it is our responsibility to ensure that the federal government promotes the economic development and security of every community across the country. The people of Puerto Rico have long been denied the same benefits provided to US citizens. Right now, too much is at stake. Therefore, we request the Department of Homeland Security to provide a one-year exemption from the requirements of the Jones Act in Puerto Rico…”, the representatives pointed out.
Mayorkas has not publicly responded to the request of the New York congressmen. However, on September 21, through her official account, she reported that she was in Puerto Rico accompanying personnel from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in response and recovery efforts.
“Today I spent time with our @FEMA team. I received critical updates on @DHSgov about the ongoing response to #Fiona. It’s all hands on deck for our team. They are doing amazing work alongside our interagency partners to support the people of Puerto Rico. #WeAreDHS”, reads the message on the social network.
It is not the first time that the congresswoman of Puerto Rican origin has referred to this issue.
In September 2017, shortly after the impact of Hurricane María in Puerto Rico, Velázquez considered that the 10-day period in the exemption approved by then President Donald Trump was not enough to respond to the needs of the Puerto Rican victims.
“A 10-day waiver as the Administration has announced is far from enough considering the scope of this tragedy. Furthermore, as Puerto Rico begins the long road to rebuilding, it will be difficult to do so if the supplies to rebuild cost twice as much as on the mainland. To that end, I insist on my previous call for a one-year exemption to the Jones Act…”, the Democrat placed.
For those dates, foreign ships and organizations were unable to send supplies to the island since they could not dock on the island due to the scope of the law, which delayed the humanitarian response for Puerto Ricans.
However, journalistic reports revealed that the exemption to the law did not have a great impact since no foreign vessels arrived on the Island as a result of the concession.
A 1920 law against German submarines
The Congress passed in 1920, after World War I, the Merchant Marine Actalso known as the Jones Act, in response to the situation with German submarines that sank almost 5,000 ships during the armed conflict.
Through the statute, the Government sought to control and strengthen the country’s naval industry in the face of this danger.
Section 27 of the establishes that only US ships can transport goods and passengers between Puerto Rican ports. Not only this, but it establishes that only US citizens can build, work on or own the ships.
Despite the fact that currently no submarine threatens the coast of the Caribbean island, this law, for some obsolete, is still in force.
Under the statute, Vessels that want to enter Puerto Rico with foreign registration must pay protectionist tariffs, fees, and taxes.which ends up being reflected in consumer spending on the island.
Some ships choose to change routes and arrive in Jacksonville, Florida
Another alternative is for the ships to change course and head for Jacksonville, Floridawhere they can transfer all your merchandise to a US vessel to send it to Puerto Rico.
In short, all aid to Puerto Rico must first reach the continental United States before being transported on US-flagged ships to the island.
A report published in 2012 by two economists from the University of Puerto Rico revealed that the Jones Act caused losses of about $17 billion in the island’s economy between 1990 and 2010.
Another report by the Cato Institute released in July of this year revealed that the cost of goods coming from the continental United States skyrockets at least twice as much as in neighboring islands, including the Virgin Islands where the law does not apply. The report further notes that the cost of living in Puerto Rico is 13% higher than in 325 urban areas in the rest of the US.This despite a per capita income of about $18,000, nearly half that of Mississippi, the poorest of the 50 states.
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