Devastated Puerto Rico gets $18.5bn from US

The US government will give its battered territory of Puerto Rico a record $18.5bn to help it rebuild homes and infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September last year.

The announcement on 10 April was welcomed by Governor Ricardo Rosselló, even though the grant is less than half the $46bn he had requested in November.

The eye of the hurricane passed over the impoverished Caribbean archipelago, wiping out its electricity grid and leaving many of its 3.4 million citizens homeless.

Four months later, in February this year, nearly 40% of Puerto Ricans were still without power.

The vulnerability of infrastructure in the territory, which was declared bankrupt months before the hurricane struck, was highlighted yesterday when a single tree falling on a transmission line left 840,000 people without power.

The $18.5bn, provided by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is part of a $28bn disbursement to nine states, plus Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, all of which have been hit by recent hurricanes and fires.

The total grant is the largest ever given in the department’s history.

There has been tension between Governor Rosselló and President Donald Trump over the plight of the territory, where poverty is rife.

In December Rosselló threatened to mobilise 5.3 million Puerto Ricans living on the US mainland into a voting bloc to pressure Trump. That threat was prompted by the president’s new tax policy, which removed tax advantages enjoyed by manufacturers in Puerto Rico.

Governor Rosselló is expected to use the grant, by far the largest in HUD’s tranche of grants, to establish positive economic projections as he negotiates new terms with the territory’s creditors.

In terms of homes, the rebuilding effort has been complicated by the fact that up to half of Puerto Ricans’ homes are informal squats, held without legal title, or are on illegally subdivided land, notes Reuters.

Image: A helicopter-borne rescue crew photographed these homesteaders in the mountains of Puerto Rico, signalling for assistance in the days after Hurricane Maria, which devastated the archipelago on 20 September 2017 (US Customs and Border Protection/Wikimedia Commons)

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