Hurricane Maria was the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. It left the entire island without electricity, which may take six months to restore. It toppled trees, shattered windows, tore off roofs and turned streets into rivers throughout the island.
President Trump declared that “Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated” and issued a federal disaster declaration. But the United States needs to do more. It needs to suspend the Jones Act in Puerto Rico.
After World War I, America was worried about German U-boats, which had sunk nearly 5,000 ships during the war. Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, a.k.a. the Jones Act, to ensure that the country maintained a shipbuilding industry and seafaring labor force. Section 27 of this law decreed that only American ships could carry goods and passengers from one United States port to another. In addition, every ship must be built, crewed and owned by American citizens.
Almost a century later, there are no U-boats lurking off the coast of Puerto Rico. The Jones Act has outlived its original intent, yet it is strangling the island’s economy.
The foreign vessel has one other option: It can reroute to Jacksonville, Fla., where all the goods will be transferred to an American vessel, then shipped to Puerto Rico where — again — all the rerouting costs are passed through to the consumer.
Thanks to the law, the price of goods from the United States mainland is at least double that in neighboring islands, including the United States Virgin Islands, which are not covered by the Jones Act.