“Puerto Rico is a fantastic place and deserves the best, which is what we will deliver. Every detail will be important to me.”
President Trump said this about his failed golf course in Puerto Rico back in 2008, when he promised that his brand would revive a troubled resort and help buoy the recession that hit the island especially hard.
Instead, the resort fell into bankruptcy and left the Puerto Rican taxpayers with a nearly $33 million bill.
And this weekend, instead of talking about the plight of these 3.4 million American citizens living in total devastation, Trump posted 10 taunting tweets about the National Football League and the National Basketball Association.
Come on, America. I know y’all sang along with Daddy Yankee all summer, about doing it “Despacito” down in Puerto Rico.
Where is everyone now?
Four days after Hurricane Maria destroyed what Hurricane Irma had spared, more than 10,000 homes are decimated, roads are blocked, bridges collapsed and there is no fresh water, fuel, power or phone service. Leaders in Puerto Rico are describing a horror show unfolding and pleading for federal help, which has not been overwhelming.
“We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe over a spotty cellphone connection Sunday night from the capital, San Juan. “It can’t be minimized, and we can’t start overlooking us now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.”
Puerto Ricans living on the mainland held fundraisers and had donation drives across the country. San Juan native and tennis star Monica Puig recorded a tearful plea to help her homeland. Ricky Martin launched an online fundraiser. Trucks were packed with clothing, detergent, food, medicine and even pet supplies.
And that kind of effort — in Washington, a cargo truck was parked right outside the Hawk ‘n’ Dove on Friday night, people dancing to reggaeton as they loaded it up with donations — was the most noise heard on Capitol Hill about the disaster unfolding.
Late Sunday, folks on the Hill made it clear that the Federal Emergency Management Agency isn’t going to ask for more money until mid-October. They think they’ve got enough money to help Puerto Rico without having to get the Trump administration to make a formal request for help.
But the Puerto Rican governor is worried that the mainland isn’t understanding the scope of the destruction.
“This is a major disaster, not unlike Katrina or Sandy. There is going to be a hefty toll for us to make sure that we can reestablish normalcy and build Puerto Rico back stronger,” Rosselló said.
It’s going to be more than meals and construction to bring Puerto Rico back. The destruction also hit airports and ports.
FEMA said Sunday that the U.S. Coast Guard has nine cutters in the vicinity of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, there are at least 5,000 FEMA workers, and the National Guard and military helicopters are helping with rescues and evacuations.
But this is going to be a long-haul effort, and it’s pretty clear that Puerto Rico isn’t topping any news cycles.
Trump visited Houston and Florida after they were devastated by hurricanes and said he would make plans to visit Puerto Rico. And Puerto Ricans are getting frustrated.
“I’m afraid that perhaps other events have garnered more attention than this one, when the force of nature, the impact that this has had, the devastation is equal to those events,” Rosselló said.
“We are U.S. citizens that just a few weeks ago went to the aid of other U.S. citizens even as we’re going through our fiscal downturn and as we were hit by another storm,” he said. “My petition is that we were there once for our brothers and sisters, our other U.S. citizens, now it’s time that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are taken care of adequately, properly.”
Puerto Rico makes news every few years when it considers statehood. A record-low voter turnout (23 percent) this summer voted overwhelmingly (97 percent) to become a U.S. state, 119 years after being annexed at the end of the Spanish-American War.
There’s no more Trump resort in Puerto Rico, nor are there votes for Trump to court. Although they’re U.S. citizens who can vote in primary elections, Puerto Ricans can’t vote for president in the general election. In 2016, 75 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for Marco Rubio in the Republican primary; only 14 percent supported Trump. Hillary Clinton got 61 percent of the Democratic vote.
Puerto Rico, like the District, has a nonvoting delegate in Washington. But Rubio is seen as the island’s quiet champion. This year’s statehood bid ended up going nowhere.
Congress not only ignored the vote of a territory with a staggering poverty rate and aging infrastructure, but Trump also slapped down the island’s efforts to close a Medicaid shortfall.
“Democrats are trying to bail out insurance companies from disastrous #ObamaCare, and Puerto Rico with your tax dollars. Sad!” he tweeted in April. And then, “The Democrats want to shut government if we don’t bail out Puerto Rico and give billions to their insurance companies for OCare failure. NO!”
He addressed Puerto Rico in one tweet Wednesday:
“Governor @RicardoRossello- We are with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe! #PRStrong.”
But Puerto Rico deserves more than one tweet.
If not because of the turquoise waters, astounding rain forests, beautiful people and military bases, then because of the potential wave of migration to the U.S. mainland by more than 3 million American citizens, which could overwhelm cities and destabilize families.
Puerto Rico needs to become a priority, because it’s the right thing to do.
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