Trump’s Response to Puerto Rico

Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

President Donald Trump and his aides are facing intense backlash over their response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. A week ago the Trump administration continued to praise itself saying that the Maria relief efforts are a “good news story.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz responded to President Trump on CNN by saying, “Damn it, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life-or-death story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings — I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me. You know, I would ask her to come down here and visit the towns, and then make a statement like that which frankly it is an irresponsible statement.”

A day earlier, Trump wrote that “FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico. Massive food & water delivered… Wish press would treat fairly!” adding in a post later Thursday that Puerto Rico’s “governor said ‘great job!’”

“This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” Trump said about the U.S. territory, adding later, “We’ve never seen a situation like this.”

While Puerto Rican officials have expressed appreciation for the White House’s outreach, we know it’s not enough. They have made it clear that what has been done so far has been insufficient to meet the needs of the island’s 3.5 million U.S. citizens. Roughly half of Puerto Ricans are still without running water and just 36 of its 69 hospitals are open and have power.

The San Juan mayor said on CNN that it has been logistics, not the presence of supplies themselves, that is the toughest hurdle to clear. She said Friday morning that a day earlier there had been thousands of shipping containers filled with supplies stuck at a port and unable to move. Only recently had those containers started to make their way out of the port, she said.

The situation is more dire in other parts of the island, she said. She continued by relaying her conversation with another mayor who said his people had no food, no medicine. They are also drinking from a creek that they were using to bathe and wash their clothes.

“This is a message for President Trump: Thank you for calling San Juan yesterday and listening for our mayday call. But sir, there’s 77 other towns that are waiting. They’re waiting anxiously and will be very grateful to you and to the American people if you continue to step up,” Cruz said. “Again, Mr. Trump, we appreciate everything you are doing and we know it can be done faster. Help us save lives. We will be forever grateful.”

It has become obvious that the issue is not a priority to the Trump administration. This criticism began last weekend when Trump went off the handle about the NFL “Take A Knee” movement. All the while remaining silent on Puerto Rico which was reeling from Maria’s landfall last week.

Trump and his White House have insisted that Puerto Rico has remained a continuous point of focus.  The president has mentioned the storm in his social media posts multiple times this week.

But the president also appeared to place some blame this week on Puerto Rico for its dire situation, noting the U.S. territory’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt” in a tweet.

“Once we stabilize, then let’s talk about the debt,” Cruz said on CNN in a second interview with the network. “You know what? There ain’t going to be anybody to pay the debt. If we let them die, nobody’s going to pay the debt.”

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