Over a five-day weekend that included my wife’s birthday, I had a chance to take photos in Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory still struggling to recover from the effects of a devastating 2017 hurricane that has claimed almost 3,000 lives.
Most of our time was spent in the capital city of San Juan, which has rebounded faster than other areas because of the tourism dollars it brings in. Like New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, hotels, retail, and restaurants were the first to be rebuilt and are mostly back in operation.
But off the main streets, many buildings that once housed smaller non-franchised businesses are vacant and covered in graffiti. The primary city park still has not reopened due to lack of running water. Blue tarps still cover roofs of homes in many areas east of San Juan.
Puerto Rico, which has petitioned repeatedly to become the 51st state, has been a U.S. territory since 1898. Its residents have been granted U.S. citizenship since 1917. However, the territory has been in a freefall financially, and its recovery efforts have become part of an ongoing political battle at the federal level.
The beauty, culture and artistry that are hallmarks of the island cannot be denied. The people we interacted with, almost to a fault, were unfailingly nice and grateful for those who were putting money into the economy. Hundreds of thousands have moved to the states rather than rebuild, however, and despite the resilience of those still remaining, vulnerability can be seen at every turn.