Threats as Puerto Rico suf­fers

Tampa Bay Times - - Opinion -

The con­trast Thurs­day on Puerto Rico could not have been clearer, with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump threat­en­ing to shut down the fed­eral re­lief ef­forts even as pub­lic and pri­vate lead­ers in Tampa Bay look for new ways to rush needed sup­plies to the is­land. In short, one man was re­act­ing to sear­ing crit­i­cism of his lead­er­ship in Puerto Rico while one com­mu­nity turned its at­ten­tion in­stead to the hu­man cri­sis from Hur­ri­cane Maria.

The dif­fer­ences in sub­stance and style are alarm­ing given how dev­as­tated the is­land re­mains three weeks af­ter Maria blew ashore, leav­ing scores dead or miss­ing, drown­ing vil­lages in hip-deep floods and leav­ing the vast ma­jor­ity of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million peo­ple still with­out power, run­ning wa­ter, medicine and other ev­ery­day es­sen­tials.

In a se­ries of tweets Thurs­day, Trump threat­ened to pull back on the re­lief ef­fort, declar­ing that re­cov­ery work­ers would not stay “for­ever,” and blam­ing Puerto Rico for mak­ing the re­cov­ery even worse. “Elec­tric and all in­fra­struc­ture was dis­as­ter be­fore hur­ri­canes,” Trump tweeted. He also said that Puerto Rico had to face a fi­nan­cial cri­sis “largely of their own mak­ing.”

Puerto Rico has faced a fis­cal cri­sis for years, but bring­ing it up when most res­i­dents there still don’t have power, drink­ing wa­ter or crit­i­cal sup­plies was be­yond in­sen­si­tive. And it comes af­ter Trump has faced sharp crit­i­cism for the breadth and pace of the re­lief ef­fort on the U.S. ter­ri­tory. He was per­son­ally lam­basted for his be­hav­ior last week af­ter he hurled rolls of pa­per tow­els like bas­ket­balls at Puerto Ri­cans dur­ing a press event. The re­lief ef­fort will be a long, costly and grind­ing one, and Trump’s tweets only fu­eled more out­rage and de­spair on the is­land.

A team from Tampa Bay set a far dif­fer­ent tone and was far more pro­duc­tive. Af­ter re­turn­ing from a one-day sur­vey trip last week, Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, be­gan plan­ning a re­sup­ply visit. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Tracey McManus re­ported, Cruz be­gan by ask­ing the Tampa Bay Rays if they could help pay for a barge to de­liver wa­ter, med­i­cal sup­plies and food to res­i­dents

in ru­ral ar­eas still wait­ing for aid. Rays se­nior di­rec­tor of pub­lic af­fairs, Rafaela Amador Fink, said she wanted to do more. The team has play­ers and staff with deep com­mu­nity ties to the is­land, and it ar­ranged a char­ter flight for a re­lief mis­sion.

The Boe­ing air­craft that flew Wed­nes­day from Tampa car­ried 11 gen­er­a­tors and thou­sands of pounds of wa­ter, ra­tions and other sup­plies, in­clud­ing four va­por con­tain­ers to ferry vials of can­cer­ous tis­sue sam­ples from a lab in Puerto Rico to the Mof­fitt Can­cer Cen­ter in Tampa for safe­keep­ing. While crews un­loaded the sup­plies from the Rays’ jet, Cruz and St. Peters­burg Mayor Rick Krise­man vis­ited a lo­cal shel­ter, where Cruz un­tied her own blue Nikes and gave them to a woman left with only dirty flipflops.

Rays pitcher Xavier Ce­deno took the flight and stayed on the is­land to help with the re­cov­ery in his home­town of Guayanilla. In the past week, doc­tors from the Univer­sity of South Florida sur­veyed ru­ral ar­eas and made lists of crit­i­cal sup­plies. More re­lief flights are planned. Ear­lier this month, Tampa car­di­ol­o­gist Ki­ran Pa­tel of­fered the use of his plane for a mis­sion that brought about 6,000 pounds of food and other es­sen­tials to the is­land. “It’s so­ci­ety’s prob­lem,” Pa­tel said, “and we all have to act.”

Puerto Ri­cans are Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, and a recog­ni­tion we are in this to­gether is what the is­land needs. It is hard to imag­ine that Trump would threaten to pull the plug on hur­ri­cane re­cov­ery ef­forts in Texas or Florida. It was bad tim­ing for another in­sen­si­tive tweet from the pres­i­dent, and Tampa Bay is set­ting an ex­am­ple of gen­uine em­pa­thy and real as­sis­tance for our fel­low Amer­i­cans that Wash­ing­ton should fol­low.

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