Tatito Hernández

The first step to resolve any problem is to recognize that it exists. Families, businesses and governments continually take actions  to secure safe housing, generate profits and implement public policy that results in a balanced budget. In spite of how logical this first step sounds, in most instances, family heads, business leaders and government officials overlook and ignore it. Typically, they run away from it to avoid confrontation and facing reality. By then, it may be too late to take corrective actions to solve the problem.

In my experience as a father, once owner of a business and now an active, elected official, I have learned that avoiding confrontation does not resolve anything.

For example, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the government refused to acknowledge how many lives had been lost as a result of that natural disaster. While many throughout the Island were dying due to lack of medicine, water and electricity, for those who depended on medical equipment, the government buried its head in the sand exacerbating the problem. Only by recognizing the problem, however uncomfortable it was, and communicating the truth, many lives could have been saved .

We are now at another crossroad due to the thousands of earthquakes that we have experienced in Puerto Rico since Dec. 28. This constant seismic activity, unprecedented for my generation, keeps the residents of the towns of Ponce, Peñuelas, Guayanilla, Yauco, Lajas and Guánica sleeping in the streets, parks or in any open area, terrified that their houses could collapse with the people inside. Social media is filled with well-intentioned recommendations to move our people to safer grounds.

With the lessons learned in our most recent experience, when we came to grips with another disaster, it is imperative that we do not overreact. It is time to meet this challenge by facing reality. We must analyze each situation and define the resources that we have available before any decision is taken. I do not think it is prudent, or advisable, to start moving residents away from their places of living, unless, of course, the property has been structurally damaged.

Has anyone asked the individuals how they feel about this? There are many people in the shelters whose properties were not damaged, but they do not want to be inside their homes, just in case the ground shakes again.

On the other hand, there are those in shelters whose properties are totally damaged that do not want to leave their hometowns because of their attachment to their home and neighbors. All of these are valid reasons that cannot be ignored. Moving people out has to happen out of their own free will and based on a clear protocol that takes into consideration the feelings and desires of those affected.

The first step before taking these decisions is to obtain clear and factual information of the number of people that need to move. Social workers must interview each resident in their homes, in the shelters and in their communities. Because of the reality of the financial condition of our government, all these initiatives cannot be the responsibility of the local government only, but must be shared with the federal government and the private sector.

Once the government collects empirical, true and factual data concerning the people that must move, then and only then, should they identify the alternatives on hand, within the available resources, to assist our people and facilitate a solution. This logical first step will guarantee that in this time of crisis, the truth prevails and reasonable solutions will be provided to our people.

House of Representatives Minority Leader and Former House of Representatives Chairman of the Treasury & Budget Committee

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