Sunday, as more than million people come out to Fifth Ave. to celebrate Puerto Rico, two dark clouds linger over the island and the 3.5 million American citizens who live there.
Eight months since Hurricane Maria hit shore, Puerto Rico is grappling with the news that, according to a Harvard University analysis, more than 4,500 people died as a result of the storm, not the absurdly low government figure of 64.
Yet the White House shows no interest in learning about the many emergency response breakdowns, both federal and local, that contributed to that casualty figure.
Despite $3.8 billion spent on the island’s previously damaged electrical grid, 12,000 Puerto Ricans are still without power — but power failures remain common, and the jury-rigged repair job leaves hundreds of thousands of others vulnerable to the next storm.
The second cloud, manmade over generations, is the ongoing bankruptcy crisis out of which Puerto Rico tries to extricate itself: $72 billion in debt, and another $50 billion owed in public pensions.
The commonwealth is bankrupt; so is its highway authority, and its power authority. Creditors are knocking at the door.
Complicating matters further, countless families have fled the island for the mainland — precipitated either by the bankruptcy, the storm, or a combination thereof. That’s a drag on the island’s tax base and its ability to get back on its feet.
The red, white and blue flags will fly up and along Fifth Ave., as well they should. Music will play. The city will pulse with the energy of a people who have shaped it immeasurably for generations.
But the celebration will be dampened, because the future of Puerto Rico remains very tenuous indeed.