President Donald Trump’s perception of the “great job” his administration has done in relief efforts for Puerto Rico remained just as clouded when, thirteen days after Hurricane Maria, he finally made good on a promise to visit to the devastated island, where about 3.4 million residents still remain without the bare essentials, including drinking water.
Following Hurricane Maria’s devastation that hit the island last month, about 95 percent of Puerto Rico continues to lack power, and roughly 88 percent of the country’s cell phone sites are not working, putting a huge strain on communication.
Despite these dismal figures, the president appeared to try to make light of the situation. In doing so, he only succeeded at minimalizing a tragedy.
“You really got hit. There’s no question about it,” Trump said.
But the only person who appeared to be questioning whether the country “really got hit” was Trump himself, who suggested that residents be grateful their predicament isn’t worse.
“Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’re throwing our budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine we’ve saved a lot of lives. If you look at the Every death is a horror. But if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened in here, was really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this. Now, what is your, what is your death count as of this moment, 17”
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossell told Trump the death toll stood at 16.
“Sixteen people, certified. Sixteen people versus in the thousands. You can be very proud of all of your people all of our people working together.”
Following Trump’s departure, Rossell reported the number of deaths had actually climbed to 34.
Trump also praised the governor and seemed to make yet another aside about San Juan Mayor Carmen Yuln Cruz, who has not minced words when it comes to Trump’s poor response to the hurricane.
“Right from the beginning, this governor did not play politics, he didn’t play at all, he was saying it like it was and he was giving us the highest grades and I want to on behalf of our country, I want to thank you,” Trump said of Rossell.
According to the Washington Post, when Trump and his crew arrived back on Air Force One (more than an hour ahead of schedule) he described his trip as “a great, great visit, really lovely.”
Regarding criticism, the Post reported Trump as saying, “Honestly, I heard none. They were so thankful for what we have done. I think it has been a great day. We only heard thank-yous from the people of Puerto Rico. They are great people, and it was really something that I enjoyed very much.”
President Trump throwing paper towels to a crowd in Puerto Rico. / REUTERS
Trump’s comments about the storm “throwing our budget” for a loop and “all of our people working together” correspond with a common misconception about Puerto Rico’s status in comparison to the United States.
People born in Puerto Rico, including those whose parents were also born in Puerto Rico, are considered American citizens. According to a YouGov poll conducted in 2016, only 43 percent of Americans know this. Similarly, a Morning Consult poll taken last month and published in the New York Times found that just 54 percent of Americans know Puerto Ricans are American citizens.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. The Jones-Shafroth Act, signed by former President Woodrow Wilson in 1917, officially designated Puerto Ricans as United States citizens. Residents of any U.S. territory are not required to present a passport to travel to America, so long as they do not stop at a foreign port or place, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Beliefs on whether or not Puerto Ricans should be given the same aid as one of the 50 states would (ideally) receive changes depending largely on this vital bit of information.
“Inaccurate beliefs on this question matter, because Americans often support cuts to foreign aid when asked to evaluate spending priorities,” the Times reported. “In our poll, support for additional aid was strongly associated with knowledge of the citizenship status of Puerto Ricans. More than 8 in 10 Americans who know Puerto Ricans are citizens support aid, compared with only 4 in 10 of those who do not.”
In other words “America first.”
And despite Trump’s playing down of the death toll, experts surmise the number to be far greater than what’s currently being reported. Omaya Sosa Pascual, a reporter for the Center for Investigative Journalism (abbreviated as CPI due to its Spanish translation, Centro de Periodismo Investigativo), said in a piece penned for the Miami Herald that the CPI “has confirmed that there are dozens of hurricane-related deaths and the number could rise to the hundreds.”
“CPI sources in half a dozen hospitals said those bodies are piling up at the morgues of the 69 hospitals in Puerto Rico, of which 70 percent are not operating,” Pascual wrote.
According to Pascual, many family members of victims are not even aware their loved ones are dead.
“Everything in the government has collapsed,” she told Vox in a phone interview. “Some of the people who work in the government lost their homes themselves and aren’t at work. So they can’t do death certificates. The dead can’t be documented because of all the logistics and legal aspects of declaring someone dead.”
Despite the turmoil, Trump’s visit to the island was described by the Times as “a pep rally-like briefing.” Indeed, the president threw rolls of paper towels to a crowd just outside San Juan, the island’s capital.
As described by CNN, “Trump seemed to see himself in a sort of Santa Claus role while handing out supplies to disaster victims.”
According to media reports, Trump also told one resident while saying goodbye, “Have a good time.”
Trump to hurricane victim in Puerto Rico: “Have a good time” pic.twitter.com/ri3C8AdG6t
Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 3, 2017