WASHINGTON – While Hurricane Dorian’s winds and rains were sideswiping the east coast of Puerto Rico, U.S. President Donald Trump was firing off attacks on the island and made it clear yesterday, among other things, that he doesn’t forget criticism over the slow and inefficient federal response to Hurricane Maria.
As Dorian was threatening the island, Trump reprimanded Puerto Ricans for not being grateful for the federal assistance granted following the emergency triggered by Hurricane María. He also asked them to recognize the work that U.S. government officials have done in the wake of another hurricane and continued to slam the island: "Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on Earth."
"We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You - Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!,” tweeted Trump from the White House on Wednesday morning.
Trump, who is running for re-election in 2020, has come under criticism over the federal response to Hurricane María since 2017 and it was San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz who started complaining about the response two years ago.
Democrats have ongoing Congressional investigations into the federal response to Hurricane María, which caused nearly 3,000 deaths and damage for about $ 100 billion. The federal response to María has been compared to the debacle in the George W. Bush administration during the 2005 Hurricane Katrina emergency in Louisiana.
Since the first complaints appeared, Trump responded that Puerto Rico’s officials, whom he describes as corrupt, wanted the federal government to do everything for them.
Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!" he tweeted and added: "And by the way, I'm the best thing that's ever happened to Puerto Rico!"
Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) said “the Trump administration must be prepared to provide assistance and resources,” and added that now “is not the time for insults, delays or playing politics. Lives and homes are at risk,” she wrote in joining criticism over the U.S. administration's intention to move $ 155 million from FEMA to help support initiatives on the México border.
On Tuesday, Trump seemed surprised to learn about storm Dorian approaching the island and falsely alleged that Congress authorized $ 92 billion for Puerto Rico after Hurricane María, while those funds total around $ 49 billion, of which $ 20 billion have been released and only $ 1,5 billion were reconstruction funds.
"Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for 'anywhere,'" he tweeted on Monday.
González thanked Trump
Meanwhile, Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González said yesterday on Twitter that hurricanes are no one's fault and thanked Trump for mobilizing federal resources to address the potential impact of Hurricane Dorian.
“Hurricanes are no one’s fault. This is the time for all of us to stand shoulder to shoulder to help our fellow Americans suffering from a natural disaster, like those in the US Virgin now. Thank you 4 promptly deploying personnel & declaring an emergency for Puerto Rico,” González tweeted.
Yesterday, González also sent letters to senior federal government officials, including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, asking for their collaboration and flexibility in “the application of emergency response measures and disaster assistance as we continue to prepare for the effects on the ground.”
In an interview with The Hill, González recognized that Trump's expressions had a "horrible" impact in Puerto Rico, which, she said, had surprised her. But, without recognizing that Trump attacks all Puerto Rican politicians and accused Puerto Ricans of being ungrateful, González said she ·” coincides with Trump in her views of Cruz.”
As for Trump´s tweets, González, who supports his re-election and chairs the U.S. Republican Party in Puerto Rico, also said on NotiUno radio that she is "used to the president’s creativity”.
Trump slammed local politicians again in July following arrests on corruption charges that included former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and former Health Insurance Administration (PRHIA) Director Ángela Ávila, as well as the Telegram chat scandal, events that fueled massive citizen protests and forced Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’ resignation.
Amid the protests that led to the Puerto Rican governor´s resignation, Trump said Rosselló Nevares was “a terrible governor” and claimed much of the aid was "squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again." He did not stop criticizing Puerto Rico after the people of Puerto Rico forced the resignation of their former governor.
Mayor Yulín responds to Trump
"The President has a vanity complex, he thinks everything is about him. He’s a liar and a racist and he continues to try and belittle the people of Puerto Rico," Cruz said and added that the President “needs to be quiet, ‘calm down’ get out of the way and make way for those of us who are actually doing the work on the ground,” Cruz said. “Maybe Trump will understand this time around this is not about him: this is not about politics; this is about saving lives.”
She said she does not understand how there are still people in Puerto Rico who treat him nice “and talk about creativity and thank him for what he has done for the people of Puerto Rico."
The mayor, a candidate for governor for the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), believes the attitude of some people in Puerto Rico, such as the Resident Commissioner, who avoid angering Trump has not worked.
“The president is looking for any excuse not to fulfill his responsibility to the Puerto Rican people. The first excuse is based on lies. I don´t think he is inept, that no one gave him a talking point telling him it’s not $ 90 billion (the funds allocated) ... He is not inept, so this is part of a political agenda,” she said adding that local politicians should not help with that agenda.
“If there’s one thing we have learned, it’s that President Trump, when confronted, reveals his hypocrisy,” she said noting that he attacks the people of Puerto Rico.
New Progressive Party (PNP) Representative José Enrique "Quiquito" Meléndez, who like Commissioner González is linked to Republicans, wondered if Trump would question whether hurricane emergencies in Florida would "never end" either.
Raising their swords
From Congress, which is still in recess until September 9, Democrats renewed their criticism over Trump.
Puerto Rican Democrat Nydia Velázquez (New York) found it “shameful that, even as the Island continues to suffer from the Administration’s dismal response to Maria, the President would use his Twitter feed to insult local elected officials there.”
“Name calling on Twitter isn’t governing, and it is a particularly irresponsible distraction as Puerto Ricans are preparing for another potential disaster. I pray the Administration is taking more proactive steps than it did in 2017 and I urge the President to lay off the rhetoric and, instead, focus on doing everything possible to ensure a more nimble, effective federal response,” said Velázquez in written statements.
Meanwhile, Congresswoman Val Demings told Florida Politics that “There’s a storm approaching land that may kill American citizens and the President of the United States is insulting and attacking the people in harm’s way while taking funding away from FEMA.”
Laura Quintero Rodríguez collaborated with this story from San Juan.