WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged solidarity with Americans recovering from natural disasters, including those in Puerto Rico ― the U.S. territory his administration has ignored, insulted and ultimately abandoned in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation.
“To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, everywhere ― we are with you, we love you and we always will pull through together,” Trump said in his State of the Union address. “Always.”
The president has been slow to help Puerto Rico ever since the hurricane hit in September. The island’s 3.4 million residents went days with little water, food, power or gas as acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke described relief efforts as “a good news story.” When supplies finally arrived, they got clogged up at ports and weren’t distributed around the island. Hundreds of thousands of Americans went months without adequate drinking water or power. More than 1,000 people may have died.
As of Tuesday, at least half a million Americans still don’t have power, per official government numbers, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency just announced it is ending its food and water shipments to Puerto Rico. Island officials appeared blindsided by the news.
Trump mentioned none of this in his national address. Lawmakers who have been urging more attention on Puerto Rico’s recovery were furious.
“I was hoping for some sort of apology on Puerto Rico, but I heard nothing,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.). “Puerto Rico is a metaphor for how this president sees all Latinos and people of color: He does not see us as his equals, and he does not see us as fellow human beings.”
He added, “If you look at how the president has treated Puerto Rico, you have to conclude that he just doesn’t care and probably thinks of Puerto Rico as just another shithole country.”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who attended the State of the Union address, said afterward that Puerto Rico is not even on “the Republican radar.”
While parts of Puerto Rico have stabilized, there are towns in rural areas still struggling to maintain a steady supply of food and water.
“The mountains are still without power, potable water, and some areas have lost the main roads. This means that some residents have to drive ... 30 to 40 minutes to get to a store when it usually takes five to 10 minutes,” Domingo Marqués, a clinical psychologist who lives in San Juan, told CNN on Tuesday. “The elderly have it worse since they depend on others for transportation.”