Lin-Manuel Miranda Returns to Hamilton for Puerto Rico: How to Win Airfare & Tickets!

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Lin-Manuel Miranda is revisiting the part that made him a household name to help the arts in Puerto Rico.

For the first time since leaving the original Broadway cast of the Tony award-winning musical Hamilton in 2016, Miranda, 38, will reprise the role of Alexander Hamilton for 24 performances at the University of Puerto Rico that aim to uplift in the area ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

To coincide with the show, Miranda has co-launched The Flamboyan Arts Fund, dedicated to preserving, amplifying, and sustaining the arts in Puerto Rico. All profits from Hamilton‘s Puerto Rico performances will go towards the fund.

RELATED: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton Might Be Headed to the Big Screen — Just Not As You Think

“Time is of the essence,” Miranda says in a video — exclusive to PEOPLE — about the fund.

“It’s a struggle to be an arts organization anywhere, particularly on an island that’s been hurt by one of the worst hurricanes in history.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

“I believe art helps us survive. We can’t wait for Puerto Rico to recover to then support the arts because there is no telling when that will be. We need to support the artists who are out there now. We need to have their backs.”

PEOPLE can exclusively reveal that starting Monday, for a $10 donation to the Flamboyan Arts Fund at Prizeo.com/Ham4PR, one winner and a guest will win VIP tickets to opening night of Hamilton in Puerto Rico. Also included are tickets to the opening night after-party with Miranda and the cast, and a signed and framed photo with him, in addition to roundtrip airfare and hotel accommodations in San Juan.

Multiple other surprise rewards will also be announced throughout the duration of the campaign, which runs until Oct. 29.

Puerto Rico One Year Later: We’re Fighting for Justice and Prosperity

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One year ago, I lived the scariest day of my life.

As the wind blew I could hear things falling and breaking outside. The walls of my (concrete-built) home were vibrating and water was coming in through every single window and door. At the moment I could only think of how to prepare for the worst and to be ready to seek refuge inside a closet or a bathroom.

On September 20, 2017, I was fighting to keep my home and family safe during those long 24 hours that we endured Hurricane Maria. I would have never imagined what the next year would look like.

It has been a year since the impact of Maria, and here in Puerto Rico, there are still families living in the dark, homes without a roof, people who haven’t been able to find a new job after their businesses were destroyed, and people mourning their lost loved ones.

Recovery has been extremely slow — and on other parts of the island, there has been barely any recovery at all. With our communities all but abandoned by the federal government, enduring the past year has done lasting harm to the physical and mental health of thousands of Puerto Ricans.

Some of us are hopeful about this just being a phase that we will soon get through, but many others lose more and more hope daily.

Day After Hurricane Maria. Taken in Bayamón, Puerto Rico

What scares me the most is knowing that Hurricane Maria was just a glimpse of how climate change is affecting the Caribbean, and a warning of what’s to come. Larger and stronger hurricanes will continue to cause deaths, destroy property and displace people, separating families and slowly destroying our culture.

Climate disasters are also an opportunity for disaster capitalism to continue enforcing the colonization dynamics that are already occurring in Puerto Rico. And as if there were not enough issues already, neither the government of Puerto Rico nor the U.S federal government are taking any action to mitigate climate change or prepare for future disasters. This is due in part to a lack of funding and to no initiative whatsoever, in addition to the climate denialism, from the US federal government to protect its colonies — all of them vulnerable islands — from climate change effects.

For the more than 100 years that Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States, the federal government has imposed unjust laws and systems of colonization that have helped create the island’s current debt crisis. That debt crisis has been used to put in place policies that targeted worker and students’ rights and put their well being in the hands of an unelected Financial Oversight and Management Board known as “La Junta.”

With the local government under pressure to pay off its debts to the US, La Junta and the government continue to push brutal austerity measures — slashing funding for our schools, cutting workers’ benefits, and gutting dozens more public programs essential for our island’s recovery — instead of working for the people. And austerity has only gotten more punishing since the hurricane.

September 23, 2017. Bayamón, Puerto Rico

More areas from the public sector are up for sale, more laws are imposed that harm workers and benefit foreign investment, and more resources have been shifted to help the private sector instead of the people needing support most. All of these measures will continue to affect the quality of life of millions of Puerto Ricans if we find ourselves facing another hurricane in the coming years.

And as climate change makes hurricanes like Maria stronger and more frequent, I know that the next hurricane isn’t a question of if, but of when.

There is still a lot to be done in Puerto Rico — not only to recover from the hurricane, but also to free the country of the colonial systems that have long prevented people and our environment from thriving.

Destroyed Apartment Building. Bayamón, Puerto Rico

A year after Maria, we still need to do the long, hard work of building a power grid that relies on renewable energy, making sure people have safe homes, reopening businesses, making safe food and water accessible and making adaptation and mitigation of climate change one of our local priorities.

It is urgent that the US takes real action for Puerto Rico, do its part to fix the problems that it has caused, and treat with equality the millions of people who pay taxes and live in one of the colonies that the US invaded without consulting or being invited.

Puerto Rico deserves a prosperous future and safety, not leftovers from Congress and paper towels being thrown at us.

My family, our neighbors, and our people deserve more than this.

This article originally appeared on 350.org

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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About author Amira Odeh is a geographer and water resource specialist from Puerto Rico. She is an environmental activist and has worked to reduce plastic pollution, train people into becoming organizers and is helping to reforest Puerto Rico after the hurricanes of 2017. She is an organizer for 350.org‘s Fossil Free campaign.

Utilities Helped Puerto Rico Fix Its Power Grid. Now They Face Hefty Tax Bills.

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Utilities Helped Puerto Rico Fix Its Power Grid. Now They Face Hefty Tax Bills.

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A line crew from the mainland worked to repair power lines near Arecibo, P.R., in February.CreditCreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times

By James Glanz and Alejandra Rosa

When nearly the entire power grid of Puerto Rico was knocked out by a pair of ferocious hurricanes last year, utility companies from across the United States sent crews and equipment to help.

It was a power emergency on a scale rarely seen before, and companies spent tens of millions of dollars to mobilize. The utility in Sacramento, Calif., sent 30 workers and a dozen trucks. Ameren, which serves over two million customers in Missouri and Illinois, sent 225 workers. New York dispatched workers on at least five deployments to repair power lines and assess damaged substations. Florida Power & Light sent more than 100 trucks, several tons of equipment and 800 employees, many of whom spent Thanksgiving and the winter holidays working 16-hour days.

Though their costs are expected to be reimbursed by the federal government, the companies were not earning a profit. So it was with astonishment that, over the summer, some of the utility companies that had sent aid crews opened letters from the towns where they had worked in Puerto Rico: bills demanding millions of dollars in license and construction taxes.

Florida Power & Light was given five days to pay the first $2 million, and 30 days for $333,000 more in taxes, fees, penalties and interest. Ameren and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District received bills for nearly $3 million.

“The honor and humanity of your city’s people stands in striking contrast to the inappropriate monetary demands,” the Florida utility’s chief executive, Eric Silagy, wrote in a letter to the mayor of Bayamón.

The Florida executive was not alone in his chagrin. The utilities “each fronted tens of millions of dollars for personnel, equipment, and materials to help restore power in Puerto Rico on a not-for-profit basis,” said Emily Fisher, vice president for law at the Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade group which helped coordinate the agreements under which power companies joined the emergency response. “And the thanks we got from some mayors came in the form of municipal tax bills and punitive fines.”

A year after Hurricane Maria, many homeowners are still living in ruins

So far, about eight cities have forwarded tax notices, including the municipalities of Bayamón, Río Grande and Carolina, near the capital of San Juan. City officials said such assessments are a normal part of doing business in Puerto Rico. In most cases, however, they are charged to companies engaged in profit-making business activity, not utilities making emergency repairs after a natural disaster.

Such taxes are seldom levied on the mainland after an emergency. When the issue came up in New York for companies that provided relief after Hurricane Sandy, the state waived the taxes.

“During Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Nate and Florence, no other local jurisdiction sought to impose local taxes and fees directly on the workers and crews who traveled to make emergency repairs to the grid,” Ms. Fisher said. “It just doesn’t normally happen.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to reimburse mainland power companies for their work in Puerto Rico. Donald Caetano, a spokesman for the agency, said that companies that were “savvy enough” to include the taxes in their original contract language could also have the tax bills reimbursed by FEMA by submitting those expenses to Puerto Rico’s public utility, Prepa.

But that would leave federal taxpayers responsible for millions of dollars flowing into municipal coffers in Puerto Rico beyond the repair costs the federal government is already paying.

“The short answer is yes, FEMA could pay that municipal tax,” Mr. Caetano said.

Companies that did not make provisions in their contracts could be “on the hook” for paying the taxes themselves, Mr. Caetano said.

Prepa’s chief financial officer, Nelson Morales, said that further bills could be on the way from any of the 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico.

“It’s possible that a great amount of them will be requesting payment of taxes,” Mr. Morales said. “They are entitled to taxes for services or constructions performed in their jurisdictions.”

Randall Hakes, a senior lawyer at the Sacramento utility, whose crews were in Puerto Rico from January to March, said the work was intended to render aid to millions of Puerto Ricans who in many cases spent months without electricity after Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck in September 2017. “We are happy we were able to help, and loved seeing their joy when power was restored,” he said. “It’s unbelievable how they now seek to take advantage of our willingness to lend a hand.”

Both Prepa and FEMA were criticized for waiting more than a month after the hurricanes hit before requesting help from the utilities. Such mutual aid agreements had been struck as a matter of course after recent hurricanes on the mainland, including Harvey, Florence and Sandy.

Adding to their frustration with the taxes, a number of the utilities have not been reimbursed by FEMA for sending their workers and equipment to Puerto Rico in the first place. That will only take place once a careful review of the invoices is concluded, officials said. Mr. Caetano said that about $940 million of $1.8 billion invoiced for the electrical work has been reimbursed so far.

How storms, missteps and an ailing grid left Puerto Rico in the dark

Some analysts with long experience in the substantial economic, legal and cultural differences between Puerto Rico and the mainland said the tax laws on the island should not be taken as an affront, and that negotiations may yield positive results.

The 15-year recession in Puerto Rico has left municipalities eager to collect taxes, said Tómas J. Torres, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Sustainable Economy, a nonprofit in San Juan. He said that linemen from the mainland making much more than their Prepa counterparts could not help but produce an impression that the utilities could easily pay the tax — whether they made profits in Puerto Rico or not.

“They should not be mad,” Mr. Torres said. “This is an issue of communication and understanding Puerto Rican law more than anything else.” He added, “It’s a matter of sitting down at the table and sorting out any argument that they have.”

Omar J. Marrero Díaz, Puerto Rico’s chief recovery officer, appointed by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, said he knew of “seven or eight” municipalities that had sent tax bills. Part of the reason they are desperate for money, he said, is that like the utilities themselves, they are still waiting for FEMA to disburse funds — in this case, most of the $3.7 billion allocated for disaster relief.

“We have been trying to serve as a mediator between the companies and the municipalities,” said Mr. Marrero, adding that some mayors have indicated a willingness to compromise or waive the taxes. “That’s the way we feel, even though we have been complying with the overly bureaucratic process” at FEMA, he said.

On the time frame for payments, Mr. Caetano said, “We trust but verify. The speed of disbursement is driven in a large part by the quickness by which we receive accurate and required paperwork from our partners.”

The New York Times posed queries to several of the cities that sent tax bills and received widely varying responses. The mayor of Carolina was either unavailable or simply refused to comment on the matter. Asked whether the municipality was denying a request for an interview with the mayor, Lourdes Vázquez, the media chief in Carolina, said, “You can phrase it however you want.”

Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera of Bayamón, though, abruptly released a statement with good news for Florida Power & Light. The municipality had determined that companies operating on a nonprofit basis were not subject to the tax, the statement said.

“That’s the case of Florida Power, which is why we’re sending them a notification indicating they should send a copy of the signed contract,” the statement said. “That will automatically exempt them from the payment.”

Ángel B. González Damudt, mayor of Río Grande, said he believes the Sacramento utility profited from its emergency work and was still liable for taxes — an assertion the company’s lawyer, Mr. Hakes, rejected immediately.

“This is ridiculous that they continue to assert we’ve profited in any way by their misfortune,” he said. “We were there to help, and now they’re trying to make a ton of money off our assistance.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: For Their Help In Puerto Rico, They Got Taxed. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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Trump Says Puerto Rico Statehood Is an 'Absolute No'

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President Donald Trump said on Monday that he doesn’t support Puerto Rican statehood, harshly condemning the island’s current leadership.

“With the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is… Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” Trump said in a pre-recorded interview on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show, “Geraldo in Cleveland.”

Puerto Rico’s House representative, Jenniffer González-Colón, filed a bill earlier this summer that would turn the American territory into the nation’s 51st state by 2021, The Washington Post reports. Currently, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but do not have the right to vote in the general presidential election.

The island has held five non-binding referendums since becoming a U.S. territory in 1898 to determine if its citizens want statehood. The first three showed residents were evenly split while the more recent votes in 2012 and 2017 showed a majority support statehood, but voter-turnout was low in the latest election.

Trump, however, said he is “an absolute no” on statehood due to the current leadership, calling the mayor of San Juan (“whatever her name may be”) “a horror show.”

Hours after the president’s interview, the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, condemned Trump for rejecting the island’s proposed statehood “based on a personal feud with a local mayor.”

“This is an insensitive, disrespectful comment to over 3 million Americans who live in the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico,” said Rossello in a statement. “Equality for the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico is the biggest civil rights issue in the United States.”

Trump has been particularly critical of Puerto Rican leadership since Hurricane Maria devastated the island last year. He has denied that 3,000 people died due to the storm, as one study said, and argued that aid was “horribly handled” by local representatives. Trump repeated these claims on Monday’s show.

“The local representatives, in particular the mayor of San Juan, was incompetent, and they didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, however, has said the responsibility lies with Trump. On CNN Thursday, she called the administration’s response to Hurricane Maria “structured negligence” that “allowed Puerto Ricans to die.”

Trump defended his administration Monday, saying he “got things to Puerto Rico that nobody could’ve gotten.” He also claimed that the electricity on the island was “dead for years.”

With “good leadership,” Trump said statehood “certainly could be something they talk about.”

Disaster relief is about more than healing physical trauma. It's about emotional recovery too.

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Image: unicef usa

Disaster relief is most commonly thought of as providing food, water, and shelter to those affected by calamitous events beyond their control. 

But as communities in places like Texas and Puerto Rico are learning, disaster relief that only alleviates physical wants is not enough to put their communities back on their feet.

After first responders have done their jobs to secure personal safety, an emotional recovery has to begin as well. 

Organizations like UNICEF are acknowledging that the damage to communities can last long after the repairs to homes are completed.

Canned goods and other basic need items are given out in a disaster relief station in southeast Texas.

Canned goods and other basic need items are given out in a disaster relief station in southeast Texas.

Image: Getty Images

“When the reality of the disaster sets in, the emotional and psychological responses that are seen community-wide are tremendous and overwhelming,” Center for School Behavioral Health director Janet Pozmantier said. “People simply don’t have the wherewithal to cope effectively.”

That’s where organizations like UNICEF are stepping in. Called psychosocial disaster relief, this kind of help comes in the weeks and months after a disaster in order to help people recover emotionally.

If UNICEF can help it, these recovery efforts will be implemented after every storm. 

Psychosocial relief in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Harvey are currently ongoing, and UNICEF knows that the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas will also require this kind of help in the near future.

Other organizations like the Red Cross have also been championing psychological first aid measures for years, and with good reason.

Research suggests that those who have survived catastrophe tend to start showing signs of trauma roughly three months after the event took place. Those signs can look like anything from anxiety and depression to constant irritability and anger or even complete dissociation and inattention in both children and adults. 

In order to combat these symptoms, Pozmantier and other staff at the center working under Mental Health America in Greater Houston developed free workshops to teach others how to effectively help people struggling in the aftermath of traumatic disaster-related events. 

Damaged furniture and personal belongings sit on a flooded curb in Southeast Texas.

Damaged furniture and personal belongings sit on a flooded curb in Southeast Texas.

Image: Getty Images

The workshop focuses on helping educators identify signs and symptoms of trauma in children while also including other useful tools like mindfulness training and how to self-regulate emotions. 

After Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, UNICEF reached out to the center and offered to fund a Harvey-specific trauma training workshop, which the center named Hope for Harvey. 

In the months after Harvey made landfall in Texas, Pozmantier would drive through neighborhoods and see the entire contents of homes in a pile on the curb — family photos and clothing laying on top of piles of water damaged furniture — all ready to be collected by waste management. 

She said it was easy to understand why people would be traumatized. 

So when the center developed Hope for Harvey, aside from training people to deal with trauma in children, they also added some training on how to deal with adults. 

“Going through something like this, I realized more than ever that if we can take care of the adults, the kids are going to be okay for the most part too,” Pozmantier said. 

Nine months later, when UNICEF approached the center again to help Puerto Rico recover, the message was the same. 

The center developed a workshop, completely in Spanish, to help curb the emotional impact Hurricane Maria had on the people of Puerto Rico, focusing again on children — but also providing help to adults. 

First, UNICEF sent hygiene kits, water, and helped with shelter. But what UNICEF President Caryl Stern said she’s most proud of is the collaborative work that UNICEF and the Center for School Behavioral Health were able to put into action. 

A man and a child stand in front of a destoryed house in Puerto Rico a few days after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

A man and a child stand in front of a destoryed house in Puerto Rico a few days after Hurricane Maria hit the island.

Image: unicef usa

“Now classrooms are catastrophe stations the every time it rains in Puerto Rico. The children are worried that their home is destroyed. Or they’re wondering ‘Is my mother okay?’” Stern said. 

Even seeing adults in distress can trigger the children, Stern said. 

Once Stern experienced this, she said she know that the training workshops would be incredibly important. 

In addition to the workshops, UNICEF sent a few hundred college students from State University of New York and City University of New York to pair up with member of various Puerto Rican communities to help rebuild the Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico. 

Through this, people were able to come together and repair their communities themselves — something that can have a strong positive effect on the psyche.  

Stern says everyone who has ever dealt with disaster relief knows that the psychosocial recovery is the most import aspect of relief that is widely ignored by the public. 

Pozmantier agreed, adding that if she could, she would mandate that all educators go through training in mental health, trauma, mindfulness, and self-help strategies. 

“They are the first line of defense. It’s like any other kind of illness. You wouldn’t wait until you’re on your deathbed to try and strengthen your immune system,” Pozmantier said. 

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Puerto Rico marks 1 year since Maria with song and sadness

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Clapping and raising their hands to the sky, hundreds of people clad in white gathered at an 18th-century fort in the Puerto Rican capital on Thursday to remember the thousands who died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria as the U.S. territory struggles to recover one year after the Category 4 storm hit.

Religious leaders and government officials recalled how Puerto Rico was ravaged by the storm that killed an estimated 2,975 people and caused more than an estimated $100 billion in damage.

Tens of thousands remain without adequate shelter or reliable electrical power, a sad fact that Gov. Ricardo Rossello noted on Thursday.

“After that catastrophic experience, we acknowledge how complex and difficult it is to prepare for a hurricane of that magnitude and fury,” Rosello said. “The best tribute we can give these people, these brothers that we’ve lost, is to build a better Puerto Rico for their sons, their grandsons and their families.”

While the U.S. government has invested billions of dollars to help clean up and repair the U.S. territory, much work remains. Major power outages are still being reported, tens of thousands of insurance claims are still pending and nearly 60,000 homes still have temporary roofs unable to withstand a Category 1 hurricane.

“I think it’s inexplicable,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general, told The Associated Press during a visit to the island Thursday. “There’s no justifiable reason I can see for this gross level of negligence.”

Across the island, people marked the one-year anniversary with gatherings large and small, solemn and anger-tinged — and at times, even hopeful.

In the coastal fishing and farming village of Yabucoa, the strains of one of Puerto Rico’s most beloved songs filled the air at 6:15 a.m., the exact moment the storm made landfall there one year ago.

Tarps still covered many homes that have yet to be rebuilt in the town of 37,000, even as the nostalgic strains of “Amanecer Borincano” — “Puerto Rican Dawn” — resonated at the spot where Maria first unleashed its fury.

“I am the light of the morning that illuminates new paths,” a choir sang as dozens of local officials and residents gathered there. “I am the son of palm trees, of fields and rivers.”

In San Juan, the crowd of worshippers gathered at the 230-year-old San Cristobal fort sang and prayed along with pastors and musicians on stage, with music echoing through the fort’s heavy walls as the sun slowly sank into the sea behind them.

Pastor Elder Gonzalez said he and other volunteers who flew to Puerto Rico after the hurricane to help were shocked at what he saw from up high.

“To see the island of enchantment was a deep and painful experience,” he said. “No one on the plane said a word.”

Government officials argue that many changes have been made to better prepare Puerto Rico for future storms, but they acknowledge that significant obstacles remain.

Jose Ortiz, director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, told reporters that 20 percent of repairs made to the power grid need to be redone. He said crews didn’t have access to the best materials at the time or were forced to rely on temporary fixes, such as using trees as makeshift power polls after Maria destroyed up to 75 percent of transmission lines.

In addition, municipal officials have complained that reconstruction efforts are too slow. Ariel Soto, assistant to the mayor of the mountain town of Morovis, said that 220 families there remain without a proper roof.

“We’re still waiting for help,” he said. “This hit us hard.”

In San Juan, among those still living under a blue tarp during the peak of hurricane season was Sixta Gladys Pena, a 72-year-old community leader.

“You worry, because you think it’s going to fly off like it did before,” she said. “We’ve lost an entire year and nothing has been resolved. You feel powerless.”

On Thursday, Ben Carson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced in San Juan that $1.5 billion was being released to Puerto Rico as part of the overall $20 billion pledged for rebuilding, the largest in the agency’s history.

Officials said the priority is to help people still living under tarps, as well as those in low- and middle-income housing. The money will be used to repair and rebuild homes, relocate people and help them obtain property titles if needed.

“The path forward is challenging and will be measured not in months, but really in years,” Carson said.

In recent weeks, Puerto Ricans have become increasingly angry and frustrated as President Donald Trump touted what he said was a “fantastic” response to Hurricane Maria, calling it an “unsung success” as he denied the official death toll without presenting any evidence.

On Thursday, Trump issued a one-sentence statement on the one-year anniversary of Maria. “We stand with Puerto Rico, and we are helping them to rebuild stronger and better than ever before,” it said.

Nivia Rodriguez, a 60-year-old retiree whose uncle died a week after Maria, is among those disgruntled by Trump’s comments, as well as by videos of rescue crews responding to Hurricane Florence in North Carolina.

“They saved five dogs that were drowning,” she said of the rescue effort after Florence hit, adding that she feels Puerto Rico didn’t get the same treatment. “That hits you.”

Like many, Rodriguez hoped that after Thursday, she would no longer be bombarded by photos and videos that make her feel like she’s reliving Hurricane Maria.

“It’s too much,” she said.

But others felt that Maria’s tragic legacy still needs to be acknowledged, even long after the anniversary has passed. Among them was a group of artists unveiling an exhibition called simply, “6:15 A.M.”

Artist Omar Banuchi, who organized the exhibit, said he was reluctant at first, in part because he didn’t know how to approach the subject. “It’s something that affected all of us and keeps affecting us,” he said.

He said the exhibition walks a fine line, with some paintings showing beautiful landscapes alongside trailers set up by Puerto Rico’s forensics institute as part of the effort to try to identify the bodies of those who perished in the storm. There also will be live music that will incorporate sounds of the hurricane hitting the island.

“The point is for people to have a good time,” Banuchi said. “But there will be certain uncomfortable moments. … Maria is still a difficult topic.”

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One year later, an open wound: How the federal government failed Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

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At that point, Congress had only approved $6.2 million for Maria victims. It took another week to get 70 helicopters flying above Puerto Rico, and even then, the island’s residents received thousands of fewer tarps and millions less liters of water and meals compared to their Texan counterparts. The USNS Comfort, a Naval ship often sent to disaster zones, was deployed only after pressure and even then, it sat empty for days.

I'm not losing hope as Puerto Rico is rebuilt from the ground up. You shouldn't either.

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A scene from protests in New York City earlier this year. Participants demanded more aid and resources for Puerto Rico's recovery.A scene from protests in New York City earlier this year. Participants demanded more aid and resources for Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

This week marks one year since Hurricane Maria tore through the Caribbean islands. As president of the Hispanic Federation, I am marking this somber anniversary by helping to launch a new campaign called “Take Action for Puerto Rico!” to ensure the island and its people have the financial and moral support they need to thrive. What I’ve seen in my multiple visits to Puerto Rico over the last 12 months has convinced me that human resilience, optimism, and community organizing will always outlast tragedy, but more work needs to be done. 

SEE ALSO: How a lesbian union president and evangelical nonprofit leader teamed up to get Puerto Rico clean water

In Puerto Rico, the devastation was as wide as it was deep. Power lines snapped under ferocious winds and roads were washed away by torrential downpours and mudslides. Roofs were ripped off homes, aggravating an already deepening housing crisis. The island’s electrical grid, weakened by Hurricane Irma some weeks earlier and by years of neglect, was completely shattered, leaving millions to fend for themselves during what became the longest power outage in U.S. history.

Human resilience, optimism, and community organizing will always outlast tragedy

Words fail to describe the damage done to the island’s inhabitants. Businesses closed. Schools were shuttered. Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans, suddenly homeless and jobless, left the island for the mainland. Most heartbreaking of all, we know now that some 3,000 or more Puerto Ricans died as a direct result of the storm or its aftermath. Claims of “fake news” notwithstanding, the personal stories of those deaths and the tragedy that unfolded on the island in the storm’s wake are just now coming into focus.

Given the bleak landscape of post-Hurricane Maria Puerto Rico, it’s easy to fall into anguish and despondency. And yet, even if the challenges seem insurmountable, Puerto Ricans have displayed an almost superhuman level of resiliency that should inspire us all. Faced with a terrible natural disaster and with a patently insufficient federal response, Puerto Ricans have demonstrated that the future of the island will be led by local communities determined to build a new Puerto Rico. 

In February of this year, I traveled to Yauco, a town located in southwestern Puerto Rico. I was introduced to the work of the Centro Microempresas y Tecnologías Agrícolas Sustentables (CMTAS), a 70-acre education center for agricultural microenterprises that supports local communities and farmers through sustainable technology. 

The organization’s leaders understood that if Puerto Rico was ever to recover from the hurricane it would have to strengthen its agricultural sector. We were so impressed by CMTAS’ vision that they became one of our first grantees. The organization received emergency funds to provide furniture and appliances to over 30 small farmers and their families who lost their homes. It distributed solar lamps, water filters, mosquito nets, and food to thousands of families. The funding allowed the organization to construct a solarized well that will provide the community of Quebradas in Yauco and those in surrounding areas with clean water. They will be better prepared in the event of another disaster. 

Our support helped CMTAS restore pathways, fencing, and a hydroponic station on its model farm, replace livestock lost in the storm, and repair its teaching building so that it could reopen its school. Hispanic Federation is also helping install a pilot anaerobic bio-digester which will supply a free source of renewable, biogas energy to 15 nearby homes and the CMTAS school. Its goal is to develop an agro-tourism business that will help sustain these and other projects.

Volunteers from the United States and Spain help rebuild a home in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico.

Volunteers from the United States and Spain help rebuild a home in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico.

Image: Monica Tavares / hispanic federation

There are hundreds of other projects just like these across the island: Puerto Rican-led initiatives designed to strengthen Puerto Rico. Thanks to the generosity of more than 200,000 donors to our Unidos Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund, we were on the ground just a couple of days after the storm providing relief, coordinating with local groups to get aid to where it was needed most, and serving as a vital bridge between worried Puerto Ricans on the mainland and isolated Puerto Ricans on the island. 

We were able to deliver over 7 million pounds of food, water, and critical supplies to all of the island’s 78 municipalities. We coordinated 25 relief flights carrying medicine, first responders, and solar panels to aid those without electricity. We conducted medical evacuations and missions, bringing individuals in critical care to mainland U.S. hospitals and much-needed doctors and nurses to the people on the island. In less than a year we have committed $30 million dollars to community-based relief and reconstruction projects that are building a fairer and more resilient Puerto Rico. 

A farmer in Cayey, Puerto Rico, leading Hispanic Federation staff on a tour of land devastated by Hurricane Maria.

A farmer in Cayey, Puerto Rico, leading Hispanic Federation staff on a tour of land devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Image: Monica Tavares / hispanic federation

As much as I can be proud of Hispanic Federation’s efforts in Puerto Rico, and humbled by the solidarity of hundreds of thousands of people who gave time and treasure to support Puerto Ricans in their time of need, what makes me prouder still is to have witnessed the determination and creativity of Puerto Ricans who refuse to surrender their island to the storm.

Yet in order to see local initiatives and projects through to fruition, Puerto Rico needs help — a great deal of help. The kind of help that only a significant federal investment can provide. Unfortunately, the federal response to the crisis on the island has been inhumane and inadequate. 

That’s why this week we are joining with 250 organizations across the United States for the month-long “Take Action for Puerto Rico!” campaign. We are all coming together to demand a recovery plan for the island that is just and sustainable, and to call on the federal government to finally honor its responsibility and duty to the people of Puerto Rico. 

While the events taking place during the campaign will vary, all of the participating groups have committed to take action around four critical pillars for Puerto Rico’s recovery: empowered community, health care equity, climate change preparedness, and economic redevelopment.

So many of us want to help Puerto Rico get back on its feet, and to stand stronger than before. We can do that by supporting Puerto Rican recovery efforts that are grounded in local realities and local needs. Our campaign does that, with the aim of achieving maximum impact for Puerto Ricans living on the island. This moment, though born from catastrophe, has brought us an opportunity to fundamentally change Puerto Ricans’ lives for the better. Let’s not waste it. 

José Calderón is president of the Hispanic Federation. The mission of the Hispanic Federation is to empower and advance the Hispanic community. 

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