After being battered by Hurricane Maria, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is mostly dark and running out of supplies.
As an island, many lifesaving supplies must arrive by ship, notes The Washington Post.
But American ships have been slow to arrive because of a World War I-era shipping law called the Jones Act, which the Trump administration refused to waive until the early morning hours of Sept. 28, when it abruptly lifted the law, following days of criticism.
The Jones Act requires that ships going from American coast to American coast be American -- built, owned, flagged and crewed.
Because of this, relief supplies going from the U.S. mainland to Puerto Rico must travel on U.S. ships. Foreign ships in nearby countries could reach Puerto Rico quickly with aid supplies, but the Jones Act discourages them from doing so.
As international trade expert Scott Miller explains: "A foreign relief shipment to Puerto Rico, they have two choices. One is to land in San Juan and pay tariffs associated with the Jones Act, or to take shipments to Jacksonville [Florida], offload the ship and reload it on a U.S. one."
Before President Donald Trump finally waived the Act, Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, wrote: "It looks like the Trump administration is choosing trade protectionism over helping Puerto Rico."
On Sept. 25, Democratic Rep. Nydia Velazquez of New York and seven other representatives asked Elaine Duke, acting head of Homeland Security, to waive the Jones Act, reports Reuters.
In a letter to the Department of Homeland Security secretary, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona wrote:
It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster. Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome Act.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria have ripped through our southeastern coasts and islands, incurring hundreds of billions of dollars in repair and lost production cost estimates. Each of these disasters has and will require substantial emergency cleanup, reconstruction supply, and rerouting efforts, all of which rely on an expedient and functional transportation system. We must treat this emergency relief with urgency -- every day that business owners are unable to recover their assets and account for lost business, the economy will retreat even further into devastation.
The Trump administration argued that waiving the Jones Act would not help, because the island's main impediment to shipping is damaged ports.
Trump also gave another reason why relief efforts have been impeded.
"This is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean," he tweeted. "It's a big ocean, it's a very big ocean."
Sources: Reuters via The Independent, The Washington Post (2, 3) / Featured Image: Pixabay / Embedded Images: Thais Llorca/European Pressphoto Agency/EFE via The Washington Post, Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters via The Washington Post