Washington – The confirmation that almost 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a consequence of hurricane Maria did not alter President Donald Trump’s theory that a “fantastic job” was done in response to the emergency.
“We have put billions and billions of dollars into Puerto Rico, and it was a very tough one. Don’t forget their electric plant was dead before the hurricane.“ Said Trump to reporters at the White House.
Yesterday, the US President answered a question on whether the new official Hurricane Maria death toll made him reconsider his perception of the job done on the island.
The Puerto Rican government entrusted the George Washington University a study which estimated the death toll at 2,975. The study also underlined that the lack of planning and failures in local response have also aggravated the crisis.
As if it were October 2017, when he defended himself against initial criticism, Trump claimed that assisting Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands after hurricanes Irma and Maria has been a challenge “never seen before”.
“Puerto Rico had a lot of difficulties before it got hit and we’re straightening out those difficulties even now”.
Trump went back to the fact that responding to emergencies on an island is a lot more complicated.
“Puerto Rico was actually more difficult because of the fact it’s an island. It’s much harder to get things on to the island.” He affirmed.
The same Tuesday when the GWU study was published, the White House warned that, even after the new official death toll number, Trump was still convinced that everything was done correctly.
Consequently, the US government indicated that the task of counting of deaths is up to Ricardo Rossello’s administration. Trump made no mention to the hurricane victims. There was no sign of mourning.
Before the comments of President Trump, the Mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said that Trump “does not cease to demonstrate his inability to understand his work in the midst of the humanitarian crisis that broke out in Puerto Rico.”
His lack of sensitivity knows no limits... Some decided to support him with their silence, and with that, they became accomplices of what was happening: we were dying, and Trump’s administration was killing us with its inefficiency and its bureaucracy. 2,975 Puerto Ricans died because of that negligence, and that loss will live forever in our history," said Cruz, who had a duel on Twitter with Trump in during the emergency.
Democratic congressman Luis Gutiérrez said to MSNBC that the fact that Trump had not only given himself a 10 out of 10 in Puerto Rico, but also that he called Puerto Ricans slackers by stating –in the midst of all the struggles with Cruz a year ago- that the leaders want everything to be done for them must be put in perspective.
Trump also said, in Puerto Rico, that the hurricane had left the federal budget " a little out of whack" and affirmed that, compared to Katrina, the emergency on the island was not a true catastrophe. The GWU study has confirmed, however, that in terms of deaths, Puerto Rico’s tragedy was worse.
According to former Florida Republican candidate for Congress and political commentator Jorge Bonilla, Trump's new self-praise should not surprise anyone.
“Trump will always defend himself, even though the reality is that the initial response was slow. He will always say everything was great, but Puerto Rico still needs help,” he said.
The federal government allocated the island around $38 billion in funds to mitigate the worst catastrophe faced in nearly a century. But the disbursement has been very slow.
Two months before midterm elections, Democrats have devoted the last hours to reviving criticism to Trump. “The loss of so many lives is devastating” said the leader of the Senate’s minority, Charles Schumer.
Meanwhile, number two of the House Democratic minority, Steny Hoyer, argued that the GWU study "confirms that Trump’s administration's response was sadly inadequate."
After the government of Puerto Rico received the GWU study, Hoyer urged Congress to take measures to demand that Trump’s government be held accountable. Hoyer provided as example bills submitted by Democratic Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez to demand federal action.
Velázquez proposed to create an independent and bipartisan commission –like the one legislated after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks- not only to examine the federal response to the catastrophe in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, but, as the GWU study proposes, to review the processes and methodology to count disaster related deaths.
Velázquez believes that the low official number of deaths long repeated by the Puerto Rican government, and which President Trump described as a sign of the success of his administration, curbed federal assistance to the island. "It is indisputable that thousands of people died because of the disastrous and inadequate response," she added.
The congresswoman reaffirmed that the situation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is Trump´s “Katrina", in referring to the legal complaints on the slow initial response of George W. Bush’s government to the 2005 cyclone, in Louisiana, where 1,800 people died.
The GWU study also represented the clearest evidence that the slow and inefficient federal response joined to the failures and inability of the government of Puerto Rico to handle the crisis.
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