When I was young I fell in love with Charlotte Amalie. It was a passionate romance, a season in heaven, love at first sight. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, with long slender limbs, a voice soft as a summer breeze, a perfume drawn from the most exotic flowers of my imagination, everything about her was — as the British might say — Capital!
She was, in fact, the capital of the island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.
Sorry to lead you on, but Charlotte Amalie was at that time, 50 years ago, quite beautiful, exotic, sophisticated. Its main avenue glittered with jewelry and liquor stores. Tourists filled six-pack boxes with tariff-free rums, scotches, and delicious aperitifs. I remember that my wife and I took home a double-necked bottle of Benedictine and Brandy. We discovered Coquilles San Jacques in the lovely Palm Court; and we lay all afternoon on one of the island’s 40 beaches and listened to steel drums half the night at Yacht Haven.
Later, much later, all that was no more. The luxury of Dronningens Gade Street was wracked. The entrance to the birthplace of Camille Pissarro, the Impressionist master, was gone. The once-flourishing marketplace had faded in disrepair.
Hurricanes Maria and Irma raked St. Thomas two years ago, and almost nothing that was intended has been completed to bring back the beauty I once knew. Recovery has slowed to a snail’s pace. In all of the Virgin Islands only 218 rebuilding projects have the money they were promised, compared to more than 7,400 that are well underway on the mainland, in Texas and Florida.
The difference shows how Washington and the Trump Administration have treated citizens on the mainland — who have voting representatives in Congress and a say in presidential elections — compared with islanders, who have U.S. citizenship but can’t vote for president or members of Congress.
“When you’re living on an island and you don’t have a voice about decisions that are made, that’s what happens to you,” complains Yves Abraham on nearby St. Croix, where I once swam through shimmering schools of red, yellow, orange, blue, and green fishes. “Who do you gripe to? All we can do is sit and wait.”
In a column at the end of September I pointed out that, while the islands wait for help, the Trump administration has sat on tens of billions in unspent money that Congress allotted for recovery.
It has, in fact, spent less than one-third of the $107 billion that Congress provided after the hurricanes and wildfires of 2017 and 2018.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, which received $37 billion — more than any other agency — has spent less than $75 million.
In some cases the money pipelines have been clogged with red tape, but in others the villains of hate and hostility are the culprits standing in the way.
Trump’s henchmen have actually taken $271 million away from the Department of Homeland Security, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA’s) Disaster Relief Fund. They’re using disaster money to pay for immigrant-detention space on our southern border.
Meanwhile the people of the hurricanes suffer, and the islands wait.