The Mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said U.S. President Donald Trump’s negligent response to Hurricane Maria in September 2017 was responsible for the deaths of almost 3,000 people.
"The Trump administration killed the Puerto Rican with neglect," Cruz told CNN. "The Trump administration led us to believe that they were helping when they weren't really up to par."
The remarks came just a day after the Puerto Rican government revealed that 2,975 people died as a consequence of the hurricane’s devastation, while Trump told reporters on Wednesday that his administration had done a "fantastic job" on Puerto Rico.
"I think we did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico… We have put billions and billions of dollars into Puerto Rico and it was a very tough one," said Trump on Wednesday. "I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we've done."
But Cruz, who lives on the island, thought otherwise: "Shame on President Trump for not even once – not even yesterday – just saying: 'Look, I grieve with the people of Puerto Rico.' This will be a stain on his presidency for as long as he lives, because rather than come here to support us, he came here to throw paper towels at us, and we will never forget and we will always remember."
Originally, the government had set the death toll at 64, counting only direct victims of the tragedy. At that time, experts and locals acknowledged the number was much higher, but the official figure remained unchanged.
It wasn’t until Tuesday, when experts from the George Washington University, commissioned by the Puerco Rican government, that it was officially acknowledged the death toll had been much higher, counting those who died between September 2017 and February 2018 as a consequence of the infrastructure damage, poor health care, lack of basic services and power cuts. The Puerto Rican government declared that that would be considered the official figure.
But even after the report was published, Trump’s comments were limited to praising his own work and to saying Puerto Ricans are still being helped.
Trump, who has been criticized for showing more concern about the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, said the situation in Puerto Rico was much more difficult because it’s an island. He failed to mention anything about its status as a "territory" instead of an actual state.
Puerto Rico, an ‘incorporated territory’ and a colony for many, suffered one of its worst disasters in 90 years when Maria struck and is still struggling to repair most of its damaged infrastructure. The government is asking the U.S. Congress for US$138 billion, but Trump’s answer has been: "I only hope they don't get hit again."