Even as Puerto Rico continues spiraling toward an epic humanitarian and human rights catastrophe in the wake of Hurricane Maria last week, misinformation has reigned supreme — with perhaps the most glib and inaccurate assessment of the situation coming from the Trump administration, itself.
On Friday morning, however, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz reached her limit — issuing a searing retort to a suggestion from the White House its assistance and recovery response to Puerto Rico should be considered a “good news story.”
“This is a good news story,” contended Department of Homeland Security acting director Elaine Duke in a press conference, attempting to placate acerbic criticisms of the administration’s lackluster aid and assistance to the U.S. territory. “What’s happening in Puerto Rico — in terms of ability to reach people — and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”
Asked to respond to that glib portrayal, the mayor held nothing back.
“Well, maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story,” Cruz opined. “When you are 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. When you have to pull people — I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me.”
Indeed, in addition to the aforementioned struggles and wholescale destruction left by Maria, Puerto Ricans have had to endure on an island almost wholly bereft of power and water — conditions forcing residents into pure survival mode — with supplies reportedly moored and languishing in ports for days until scissors large enough for the government’s red tape can be acquired.
Patients relying on dialysis and other crucial medical supplies — which have yet to reach gravely depleted hospitals — have already started dying.
“I would ask her to come down here and visit the towns, and frankly it’s an irresponsible statement and contrasts with the statements of support that I have been getting since yesterday when I got that call from the White House,” Cruz retorted.
“This is — dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a people are dying story. This is a life or death story. This is — there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water.”
“If I could scream it a lot more louder,” the mayor continued, tears welling. “It’s not a good news story when people are dying when they don’t have dialysis, and when the generators aren’t working and the oxygen is not providing for them. Where is there good news here?
“The good news is we are getting heard. The good news is there’s boots on the ground. The good news is people from FEMA have their heart in the right place and the HHS people know what to do. For Heavens sakes, somebody let them do their job. Let them get the food in hands of the people and then talk about good news. When you have people out there dying literally scraping for food, where is the good news?”
That utter dearth of putative good news hasn’t stopped the president from tweeting as if the entire endeavor has gone swimmingly, stating on Twitter Friday morning in advance of a Tuesday tour of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, as cited by Politico, “Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated: ‘The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered.’”
And, just yesterday: “FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico. Massive food & water delivered… Wish press would treat fairly!”
At the opening of a speech on tax reform Friday, Trump also asserted that — along with his administration’s deft handling of the crisis — “We will not rest … until the people of Puerto Rico are safe.”
“This is an island surrounded by water. Big water. Ocean water,” he continued. “We’ve never seen a situation like this.”
At least half the island remains without running water, much of it, sans electricity, and in abject need life-or-death medical supplies — ventilators, refrigeration-dependent insulin, ventilators and power for them, for instance — no matter how rosy a picture the White House seems insistent on painting.
With humanitarian and activist groups arguably far better organized and coordinated — and certainly lacking in notorious governmental bureaucracy — but thwarted by FEMA and other agencies in their efforts, it seems to many observing the situation the Trump administration has done a better job of disingenuous PR than actual, tangible action to help its own citizens.
Image: U.S. Department of Defense.