SAN JUAN — A four-hour visit by US President Donald Trump to San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, when he met storm victims and federal and local officials, and also helped to distribute relief items such as rolls of paper towels, has been described as an “utter disgrace” by a New York City official who was born in Puerto Rico.
Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Council speaker, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and her mother and other family members still live there, recently returned from a three-day visit to the hurricane-stricken island.
“This president needs to be called out for his lack of seriousness to this humanitarian crisis and this visit today was an utter disgrace and an insult to the Puerto Rican people; to be throwing and lobbing paper towels at us as if we were animals. It’s really making light of a situation that is very severe and he continues to paint a different reality,” she said.
She also described Ricardo Rosselló, the current governor of Puerto Rico, and Jenniffer González, the resident commissioner, as “apologists for this administration’s lack of seriousness towards this crisis. The bending over backwards, the selfies, the smiling photos”.
González tweeted her thanks to Trump “for answering the needs of the people of PR like a leader and friend”, prompting one Puerto Rican to tell Caribbean News Now that she was “sin vergüenza” (without shame).
Before leaving the White House to travel to Puerto Rico, Trump told reporters, “I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done,” a view not widely shared, however.
In fact, nearly half of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, according to a new poll.
Forty-nine percent of respondents in the Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey said they did not approve of the president’s response to the humanitarian crisis on the island.
Only 32 percent said they approved of the way Trump has handled the emergency.
The poll, conducted on September 28-October 2, has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.
In San Juan, Trump complained about the cost of the disaster, apparently blaming the victims in Puerto Rico rather than the devastating force of nature itself.
“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,” he said, comparing the situation there to what he called a “real disaster” in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz immediately pushed back: “He was insulting to the people of Puerto Rico; he minimised our suffering here by saying that Katrina was a real disaster, implying that this was not a real disaster because not many people have died here.”
“The only voice of indignation and the only voice of resistance to what is happening is coming from the mayor of San Juan. We have still not seen an appropriate response to Puerto Rico even when the general on the ground is indicating that he does not have sufficient resources or personnel,” Mark-Viverito echoed.
“It continues to defy reason when the president is talking about the debt or the fact that this is costing us so much money. This has to be set aside. We have a humanitarian crisis and it needs to be paid attention to right now,” she added.
NBC correspondent Tammy Leitner, who has been on the ground reporting from Puerto Rico for two weeks before, during and after Hurricane Maria, confirmed that Trump did not get an accurate portrayal of what is going on.
“Some towns are still completely cut off, the roads have been washed away, people still have no food, no power, no water and they are having to drive two hours to San Juan to go to a grocery store because their grocery stores are not open and once they do get here the shelves are very limited. There are no frozen items, very little refrigerated items. No milk, no ice and what canned goods they do have are being rationed. People are desperate for cash,” Leitner said.
She described one town about 90 minutes from San Juan where the main bridge had been washed away and people were using a rope to cross the river there and send food back to some of the people that can’t cross over.
“This is not getting better, it’s only getting worse. We still only have 15,000 personnel on the ground in Puerto Rico when we had 40,000 in Florida after Irma, when we had 30,000 in Texas. We are being treated in a different way and there is a double standard when it comes to the people of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and that is unacceptable,” Mark-Viverito added.