The tragedy that befell the United States territory of Puerto Rico has deepened in the months following the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, according to CBS News, with recent revelations coming to light showing that a large amount of the food aid sent by the federal government has gone to waste, rotting in shipping containers.
In addition to a large quantity of goods being subject to rot and infestation by vermin such as various rodents, 10 shipping containers laden with dry goods have also sat unused and undistributed for nearly a year, the news source reports.
The first indication that this particular cache had gone awry came in the form of a viral video posted by Puerto Rican broadcaster Radio Isla, with footage displaying a shocking and disgraceful treatment of the aid supplies covered in rat droppings and gone largely to waste. When CBS News correspondent David Begnaud visited in person to survey the damage, he found the suspect containers locked and inaccessible.
The Puerto Rico elections commissions offices have been used as an impromptu collections center during the time of crisis in terms of food aid, with supplies having been stockpiled there since the crisis began in earnest last year, according to the New York Times. The goods in question were collected at the elections commission offices, a combination of donations from nonprofit groups and private donors in tandem, and then distributed under the auspices of the National Guard.
Once the immediate danger posed by the Hurricane had subsided, leaving only the dread aftermath of the natural disaster in its wake, the supplies were transported to trailers in the parking lot of the election bureau’s San Juan offices. Those supplies were evidently not delivered into the hands of needy citizens, but rather left to waste away on the premises — posing a very large political and humanitarian problem indeed. When questioned on the apparent malfeasance on the matter of continuing distribution of the donations, authorities admitted that the aid cache had been sitting idle for almost a full year.
Mitigating some of the blame in pointing out that some of the supplies had arrived after the National Guard had officially concluded their involvement with the mission in May of this year, Major Paul Dahlen of the National Guard nonetheless admitted some degree of culpability and regret as to how the issue was handled.
“I agree, it should have been handed out as soon as possible… The containers have been there for a long time, but they weren’t necessarily filled at all times… The good thing is now that thanks to investigative journalism, it will help move along the process and get it where it needs to go in the coming days.”
The head of the elections committee contrasts this narrative with one of his own, claiming that he has been calling the governor’s office as well as the National Guard in a push to get those supplies delivered, encountering little success in the process.
“Whatever was left after the National Guard left was put in those containers,” Nicolas Gautier said to interviewers with CBS News. “In one of these containers was food for dogs and apparently several of the boxes were broken. After the placement in the van, that brings a lot of rats and it infected everything.”
The first lady of Puerto Rico — Beatriz Rosello — had formed an umbrella group responsible for acting as a distribution agency for donations titled United for Puerto Rico, a group which the election commission says is at least partially responsible for the wastage, though the National Guard was responsible for the physical delivery and distribution of donated goods beneath that umbrella. The National Guard, for their part, claim that a great deal of the perishable food had spoiled or was otherwise contaminated, rendering it unfit for human consumption.
Both the National Guard and United for Puerto Rico seem to be deflecting the embarrassing news and the culpability attached to these revelations back and forth between one another, according to The New York Times. The National Guard did offer a statement to the effect that all nonperishable commodities that remained — including batteries, food, and electric fans — would now be handed out properly and in an expedited manner.