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Puerto Rico says ‘Thanks’ for help after Hurricane Maria with donation of fresh food

David Pendered
papaya

By David Pendered

Debt-laden Puerto Rico has delivered 16,000 pounds of fresh produce to expatriots and Hispanics who reside in New York City. The donation represents a “Thank you” for help received after Hurricane Maria crippled Puerto Rico.

papaya

Fresh papaya was included in a shipment of 16,000 pounds of food sent from Puerto Rico to New York City to help feed those struggling amid the pandemic. Credit: wikimedia

The poor, the elderly, and first responders in the South Bronx were first in line to receive the fresh fruit, plantains and local vegetables, according to a report by fordham.edu. Distribution was coordinated by City Harvest, a non-profit food rescue mission in the Bronx with a relationship with Baldor Specialty Foods.

The donation doesn’t seem to have garnered much attention.

Fordham University’s newsletter reported the story because an alumnus coordinated the effort through his family’s company in Puerto Rico. A trade publication for merchant mariners, professionalmariner.com, reported on the company that handled the tractor-trailer sized container filled with food, a subsidiary of Crowley Maritime Corp., and others involved in the logistics.

The donation seems to have meant a great deal to those who work with the recipients. That’s according to Thomas McQuillian, a vice president with Baldor. McQuillian was quoted in the story in professionalmariner.com:

  • “So many of our neighbors hail from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. It is heartwarming to know that people can be so generous during a time of crisis and uncertainty.”

The shipment grew out of a trade agreement fostered by Fordham University graduate Gualberto Rodriguez-Feliciano. He chairs a holding group of Caribbean food distributors that his grandfather started more than 60 years ago.

The trade agreement calls for New York to buy produce from Puerto Rico. In exchange, Puerto Rico buys apples from New York. The deal was arranged by Rodriguez-Feliciano and New York’s commissioner of agriculture, Richard Ball, according to the report by Fordham. The food donation was coordinated through this network.

Rodriguez-Feliciano said he expects the Latino community in the U.S. to meet the pandemic with the same resilience that Puerto Ricans displayed during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria:

  • “We can look at these communities for example because they are collaborating all the time. There are small crises in their lives all the time. They’re pooling resources all the time; they’re taking care of each other all the time.”

Meanwhile, the pandemic arose just as Puerto Rico was struggling in February to resolve payments on a debt of more than $120 billion, according to a report by reuters.com.

To put that sum into perspective, the biggest bankruptcy ever declared in the United States was for $3.14 billion. That was in 2011, by the Alabama county that’s home to Birmingham, Jefferson County.

New this month is a report issued May 3 by the Government of Puerto Rico that provides its historic perspective on how the U.S. commonwealth came to be so deeply in debt.

Going back to 1938, the report notes that the U.S. Congress passed a law that set the stage for vast amounts of government-issued debt in Puerto Rico.

Two watershed events seem to have set the current stage:

  • In 1976, a federal tax code was introduced that was intended to promote investments in Puerto Rico. The result was a thriving sector of pharmaceuticals and life science industries that provided, “substantial tax revenue.”
  • In 2006, the tax code ended the investment incentive. The private economy crumbled and the government filled a void by providing 30 percent of jobs on the island. As government revenues dried up, the government followed a policy implemented in 1938: “Puerto Rico turned to debt markets.”

 

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David Pendered
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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