Note: Post from September 2017 published April 2020.
Was the cruise ship we took to get off the island humanitarian or not? We asked ourselves this question a few times. When we heard about this humanitarian cruise ship, we had no idea what to expect. Was it the usual fancy cruise, all inclusive, and paid for? Or was it just a passage on a barren boat to Florida? How did we get the opportunity if there were limited places? Who would get the chance to get onto this boat? We heard about it from a friend of a friend who called my grandparents, because her family members did not want the 4 available places on the boat. Her friend, was the one who had the opportunity to add people to the list, because as we soon found out the cruise ship was rather prepared for the family members of the crew on the Adventure of the Seas Caribbean Cruise ship. This showed us that there was a filtering process of who would be chosen in the end. In addition, some kind of international background was needed or economic capabilities because the boat would arrive in Florida – so would need to have family there (which is not uncommon for Puerto Ricans) or the money to start anew if that was what you were going for. When we arrived to register and board the ship, we quickly realized while standing in the line that most of the people waiting also had had connections in order to get a spot on this list. My cousins accompanied us on the cruise (they are born and bred Puerto Ricans) and knew many of the people in the line. They said most of them had a lot of money and occupied some prestigious position or another in Puerto Rican society. At this point we started to think that the cruise was not so humanitarian after all and had only been advertised in a way that the wealthier population with connections could take advantage of it.
However, our rather negative view of the so called “humanitarian” cruise ship did change as we started to speak with more and more people on the boat. It turned out that many people had lost their homes (even though they did belong to the upper classes) and were going back to the states only for a time until things started to stabilize in Puerto Rico (most wouldn’t have jobs for a while, anyways). As we met some of the islanders from St. Croix and St. Thomas, also beneficiaries of the humanitarian cruise ship, we met even more people who were truly in need of the ship. We met a young boy who said that his mother was using this cruise ship only to take himself and his brother to the States to a family member in South Carolina. After that, he informed us that she would return back to St. Thomas to try and fix their home. He told us he was sorry and worried for her, because huge rats had now started to take over their home. Stories like these definitely erased our apprehensions at the beginning, including our own – again how did we get lucky enough to get onto this boat? Likewise, we saw many elderly people on the boat who we knew wouldn’t have had much of a chance under the conditions on the mainland. Inclusively, we actually met people who waited the whole day in the scorching sun without knowing whether they could get on the boat or not. They were just so desperate to leave the island that they had to try to do so in whatever ways they could. It was a really nice moment to see those people get onto the cruise ship, and speak with them later on. We met two couples who were able to get out of the country in this way.
The actual conditions on the cruise ship were very similar to a normal cruise, which was a very welcoming surprise for everyone! It was simply a huge relief to have unlimited water and electricity (and not have to wait in line for hours as you can witness in the photo above). The company tried to open as many facilities as possible (such as rock climbing walls, the pool, the gym, water slides, etc.) and gave us free food and accommodation. Of course some things were not free such as alcohol or any extra necessities, but we did get a free one way trip to the States after all. On the boat you could feel that people were finally getting to relax after the exhausting conditions they had experienced on the island.
To conclude, it is the case that perceived “humanitarian actions” by large companies or commercial organizations may not reach those truly in need, and may rather be focused on promoting the company image as an advertisement stunt, and therefore insincere or far from the reality. Likewise, if only the well off or connected can take advantage of the offer, this also makes me skeptic. However, everyone on that boat benefited from their actions in some way or another, including some in desperate need, which we felt was better than no humanitarian action at all.