WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has renewed his attacks on hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico with new and old falsehoods — in stark contrast to his tone and attitude toward disaster-stricken communities in states that voted for him.
Trump Tuesday wrote, falsely: “Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money,” and then suggested, also falsely, that Puerto Rico is not part of the United States. “The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA.”
“No part of his statement is even factual,” said Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democratic member of the Florida legislature whose Central Florida district includes thousands of Puerto Rican migrants, including some who moved after Category 4 Maria struck the island in 2017. “His response to Puerto Rico reeks of racism. He treats Puerto Ricans the same way he treats Spanish-speaking immigrants. Like dirt. Like garbage.”
The White House did not respond to HuffPost requests for comment about Trump’s false statements, the tone of which also offers a striking contrast to his statements following previous storms.
“TEXAS: We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you EVERY SINGLE DAY AFTER, to restore, recover, and REBUILD!” Trump wrote on Sept. 2, 2017, after Hurricane Harvey hit.
And last month, after tornadoes killed 23 in Alabama, Trump wrote: “FEMA has been told directly by me to give the A Plus treatment to the Great State of Alabama and the wonderful people who have been so devastated by the Tornadoes. @GovernorKayIvey, one of the best in our Country, has been so informed. She is working closely with FEMA (and me!).”
“What makes Puerto Rico different? It’s just really sad,” Smith said. “It’s why he’s so unpopular on the island.”
“His response to Puerto Rico reeks of racism. He treats Puerto Ricans the same way he treats Spanish-speaking immigrants. Like dirt. Like garbage.”
The Caribbean territory, acquired by the United States more than a century ago following the Spanish-American war, suffered the most devastating damage from a hurricane since Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005. Nearly 3,000 residents died in the storm and in the aftermath — a number Trump claimed was fabricated by his political opponents to make him look bad.
His $91 billion figure appears to be an estimate of how much the reconstruction from the storm will wind up costing over the coming decades. In comparison, Katrina wound up costing $120 billion.
In fact, Puerto Rico has been approved to spend only $300 million in rebuilding assistance so far, the territory’s governor responded on Twitter. “We are Americans, we are your citizens,” Ricardo Rosello wrote. “Puerto Ricans ARE American farmers! American teachers! American citizens! American everything!”
Trump’s latest round of attacks on Puerto Rico started just before midnight Monday after a disaster relief spending bill failed in the Senate because Republicans voted with Trump not to appropriate additional money for Puerto Rico and Democrats would not support a bill that did not include it.
“The politicians are incompetent or corrupt. Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess - nothing works,” Trump complained. “FEMA & the Military worked emergency miracles, but politicians like the crazed and incompetent Mayor of San Juan have done such a poor job of bringing the Island back to health. 91 Billion Dollars to Puerto Rico, and now the Dems want to give them more, taking dollars away from our Farmers and so many others. Disgraceful!”
On Tuesday, the president further claimed that he personally was “the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico” but that he “cannot continue to hurt our Farmers and States with these massive payments and so little appreciation.”
It is unclear on what basis Trump was making the first assertion, or whether more appreciation from Puerto Rican leaders would lead to faster and better treatment from FEMA.