It was a short visit, less than five hours. He arrived, met with leaders of the state government, mayors, representatives of federal agencies and victims, visited a collection center, flew over San Juan, and before the traffic congestion that caused his presence in the metropolitan area was relieved, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, left Puerto Rico without making a concrete commitment to help the recovery of the island after the passage of Hurricane Maria.
Last night, Fox News television broadcasted an exclusive interview with the president in which Trump referred to the "huge public debt" of Puerto Rico and said: "We’re going to have to wipe that out.”
"You're going to say goodbye to that, I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs but whoever it is you can wave goodbye to that."
Trump arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday accompanied by several members of his cabinet, two weeks after the passage of Maria, and immediately praised the work that the federal government has done in Puerto Rico.
He made a list of the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA, English acronym), praised the deployment of Army troops in various corners of the island and recalled the recent rescue efforts in The United States, particularly in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
Just as he did in one of his first messages addressed to Puerto Rico after Maria's passage, Trump recalled yesterday the economic impact of the emergency.
“Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico, and that's fine. We've saved a lot of lives,” Trump said in the only public expressions he made, around noon
The federal government has granted $ 1.6 billion in "direct aid" to Puerto Rico to handle the emergency and another $ 40 million for repairs on the highways, said the Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer Gonzalez, to journalists on the return flight to the federal capital.
Likewise, the president praised Governor Ricardo Rosselló, emphasizing that the Rossello has appreciated his administration despite the fact that he is a member of the Democratic Party, alluding to the differences in the federal capital.
“Right from the beginning, this governor did not play politics. He didn’t play it at all. He was saying it like it was," stated the president, who praised Rossello for what he called a low death toll from the hurricane.
“Every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering -- nobody has ever seen anything like this,” said Trump
At the time of the President´s visit, the state government had only certified 16 deaths related to Maria. Hours later, the governor announced that the death toll due to the tropical event counted 34.
In recent days, Trump has defended in social media the federal response to the emergency in Puerto Rico and calling liars and "ungrateful" those who say that the aid has taken too long to reach the most affected areas. Two weeks after the devastating category 4 hurricane in Puerto Rico, there are still areas -particularly in the center of the Island- that cannot be reached by road because of the damage suffered, 94% of the population with no power and claims of mayors who indicate that they have not received any support from federal or state agencies to meet the most basic needs of their people don’t´stop.
But his bellicose rhetoric was left behind yesterday when he shook hands with one of his top critics on the island, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, one of five mayors invited to the meeting that Trump held with local and federal leaders in a hangar of the Luis Muñiz Air Base in Isla Verde.
Yesterday Trump argued, both before leaving Washington DC and on the way back, that it was necessary for the Puerto Ricans to offer more help to lead the recovery
"It was really nice, it was a great visit," the president told reporters on Air Force One. "I think it has been a great day. We only heard thankyous from the people of Puerto Rico. They are great people and it was really something that I enjoyed very much," he added.
Trump acknowledged that, as part of his talks on the Island, the possibility of approving a budget allocation to push for the rebuilding of the island was not discussed.
Still, Rossello was confident that he will receive a positive response to his claims for the Island's recovery following the strike of Hurricane Maria which, according to estimates, exceeds $ 95 billion in damages. That figure is much higher than the debt of Puerto Rico that is over $ 60 billion and that today is the object of restructuring litigation.
"Certainly, the president and his chief of staff told me that they were going to be with Puerto Rico for a long time. We already have a point of contact to go into detail with all these things. There is a specificity of some of these things that require them to be observed and to be seen. But, certainly, the request is made," expressed the Governor.
In the last week both Rosselló and members of the local government had stressed the need for the federal government to take concrete action to assist the Island, including a more extensive waiver of the cabotage laws or the approval of a line of credit, which prevents the Treasury from run out of liquidity in a couple of weeks.
However, Jennifer Gonzalez assured that she raised the issues to Trump on the trip to Puerto Rico aboard the presidential plane, Air Force One.
"He told me that the aidwill continue to arrive and reiterated to me on several occasions that Puerto Rico is not alone. He pledged to cover the funds, and the rescue missions will continue," Gonzalez said.
Rick Perry, Secretary of the Department of Energy, the head of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon; FEMA administrator William "Brock" Long; and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke arrived in Puerto Rico with Trump.
For President Trump's detractors, the Republican leader's visit was "humiliating." But for others, the arrival of the former real estate entrepreneur will be a positive event.
"The fact that he has come is an important symbology. First, because everyone is watching what happens in Puerto Rico and, second, because, by the mere fact of coming, he commits all federal agencies to assist Puerto Rico," stated the mayor of Bayamón, Ramón Luis Rivera Cruz, who was at the Muñiz base.
Rivera Cruz did not have the opportunity to talk to the president, but he did talk to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke. He said he asked her to follow up on a request he made to the Federal Housing Department to grant the island a waiver for greater flexibility to use the funds allocated by the agency.
Meanwhile, the mayor of Guaynabo, Ángel Pérez Otero, did manage to talk with Trump, as he accompanied him on his tour to a church and a residential area in his municipality. The president did not visit the most affected areas in Guaynabo, the mayor acknowledged, but White House personnel did observe damages in communities such as Vietnam and Amelia.
"I told the president that, for example in Guaynabo, there are thousands of people who have totally or partially lost their residences, and he and the FEMA staff told us that they would be working on helping these people", said Pérez Otero, who pointed out that Trump recognized the importance of developing real reconstruction projects on the Island and not to "continue patching things up."
Reporters José A. Delgado, Mabel Figueroa, Gloria Ruiz Kuilan, Melisa Ortega, Nydia Bauzá and Istra Pacheco collaborated on this story.
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