‘He’s a racist president’: Mainland Puerto Ricans are furious over Donald Trump’s debt talk amid hurricane crisis
Donald Trump’s response to devastation on the island has been markedly different than to damage in Texas and Florida, notably in his repeated mention of the burden of cost. Puerto Ricans have noticed.
People wait in line outside a bank in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Friday. Donald Trump’s cost-conscious response to Hurricane Maria is infuriating many with ties to the island. (KIRSTEN LUCE/THE NEW YORK TIMES)
By DANIEL DALEWashington Bureau
WASHINGTON—Claryse Flores’s brother lives in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He texted her Thursday night about the long lines he still faces for water, gas, food.
On Friday, she heard President Donald Trump talk, again, about Puerto Rico’s debts. And she heard him tell a crowd of businesspeople that Puerto Rico’s government would have to help figure out how to pay the cost of the massive rebuilding effort.
suffering and dying, and that’s my family, I’m beyond offended.”
Trump earned broad public approval, polls show, for his enthusiastic response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. But his response to the Hurricane Maria disaster in Puerto Rico has been markedly different, in both actions and words.
The disparity has been noted with intense dismay by many Puerto Ricans on the mainland. As they worry about their families and friends on the island, they have been forced to grapple with a series of apparent passive-aggressive slights from their president.
Some of them say Trump’s response to Maria is another example of the bigotry they saw in a presidential campaign Trump began by calling Mexican immigrants rapists. And some say it is another example of a lingering “colonial” attitude in the federal government’s approach to the island commonwealth the U.S. invaded in 1898.
“It sickens me,” said Angel Vazquez, 30, a graphic designer in Atlanta who moved from Puerto Rico as a child. “He’s a racist president. He was elected because of the base that he was catering to. And he’s just someone who’s following through on exactly what he was going to say.”
“I don’t remember him discussing costs when he came to Texas or when he came to Florida,” said Flores, 37, a New Jersey receptionist of Puerto Rican descent. “I’m not surprised. I followed the election, and I am from New York, so I’ve known the name Trump for a very long time. But when people are
“It’s really hard to talk about bankruptcy and debt when people have no power, no water, no homes, and their entire lives have been devastated,” said Julio Ricardo Varela, 48, a journalist from Puerto Rico who co-hosts the In the Thick political podcast.
Displays sit largely empty at a supermarket in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, on Friday. (KIRSTEN LUCE/THE NEW YORK TIMES)
“Comments like those come across as not only incredibly short-sighted and insensitive, but it just confirms how the United States, as a country, views its colonial territory. Bringing up the debt just brings up old wounds. ‘Yep, we’re a colony. You had to remind us, huh?’ The island’s destroyed, but you had to remind us that we have no control over our destiny. Thank you.”
Since the beginning of the Puerto Rico crisis, Trump has emphasized money matters he did not broach when addressing the crises in Texas and Florida.
It is instructive to compare his tweets, often the most authentic representation of his thoughts.
After Hurricane Harvey, he wrote: “TEXAS: We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to restore, recover and REBUILD!”
In his first substantive tweets on the Hurricane Maria damage, conversely, he noted Puerto Rico’s pre-existing infrastructure problems. And then he spoke of Puerto Rico’s debt load of more than $70 billion.
“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble. It’s (sic) old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities — and doing well. #FEMA,” he wrote.
He suggested Friday that federal support for Puerto Rico’s recovery would not be unconditional, writing: “The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”
And then he said it again in a speech four hours later to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.
“Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort — it will end up being one of the biggest ever — will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” he said, appearing to deviate from his prepared text.
U.S. President Donald Trump defended his administration's response to Puerto Rico's hurricane destruction, saying the federal government is fully engaged but he said, "nothing's left," and they are "starting from scratch" to rebuild. (The Associated Press)
He concluded: “We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe. These are great people. We want them to be safe, and sound, and secure, and we will be there every day until that happens.”
Trump’s repeated references to costs are not the only part of his administration’s rhetoric that have raised the ire of Puerto Ricans. His relentless praise for his own performance, and that of the federal emergency agency, has infuriated Puerto Ricans who note that much of the island remained without drinkable water nine days after the storm made landfall.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that the federal government was invisible in some areas outside the capital. CBS reporter David Begnaud tweeted Friday: “Desperate Puerto Ricans are using Clorox containers to fill work drinking water. As one woman said, ‘I don’t even have a bucket.’ ”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz reacted emotionally to the words of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, who said Thursday that “it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”
“When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story.”
Some Puerto Ricans are less aghast at Trump’s rhetoric than what they see as Trump’s reluctance to take action. They noted that Trump immediately waived the Jones Act, an obscure protectionist law which limits shipping, after Harvey and Irma but not after Maria. Before Trump relented, he said he was hesitant because “a lot of people that work in the shipping industry” wanted him to hold off.
Trump has repeatedly cited praise for the response from Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello. Rossello, however, has also called for more aid, telling NBC on Friday that the effort is “not where it needs to be.”
Puerto Ricans do not get to vote in presidential or congressional elections. But the disaster could have significant political implications — and they could hurt Trump.
Puerto Ricans whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed could choose to join the large Puerto Rican community of Florida, potentially making that state more Democratic-leaning.
“You either solve the problem in Puerto Rico, or the problem will show up in the other states in the mainland,” Varela said.
Trump slams Puerto Rico mayor for 'poor leadership', says 'they' want everything 'done for them'
President Donald Trump slammed the mayor of Puerto Rico's capital city for "poor leadership" a day after the mayor criticized a Trump administration official's positive assessment of the situation in the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory.
Trump also suggested politics lay at the heart of the critical comments by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, claiming that she has "been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump."
He suggested officials or people on the island -- it is not clear exactly who the president is referring to -- are not doing enough themselves to recover from the crisis left by Hurricane Maria, that "they want everything to be done for them."