Trump suggests help for Puerto Rico could end
President Donald Trump served notice Thursday that he might eventually withdraw federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, and he blamed the island for its failing infrastructure, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of twin hurricanes.
Under withering criticism from Puerto Ricans for his administration’s flawed response to the devastation there, Trump sought to hold the territory responsible for its plight because of chronic mismanagement.
That prompted an immediate backlash from Puerto Ricans and mainland lawmakers in both parties.
More than a month after Hurricane Irma swept ashore and three weeks after Hurricane Maria delivered a crushing blow, much of Puerto Rico remains without power, and many of its 3.4 million residents still are struggling to find clean water, hospitals are short on medicine, commerce is slow and basic services are unavailable.
In a trio of Thursday morning tweets, Trump declared, “Electric and all infrastructure [in Puerto Rico] was disaster before hurricanes.” He said it would be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate for recovery efforts there, and, in an extraordinary statement by an American president, he warned that relief workers would not stay “forever.”
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.
Critics contrasted Trump’s comments about Puerto Rico and its leaders — during a visit there last week he complained that the recovery had “thrown our budget a little out of whack” — with the empathy he showed after storms ravaged Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
On the island, residents and elected officials responded to Trump’s Thursday tweets with outrage and disbelief.
“The U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our Nation,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who has publicly praised Trump’s handling of the crisis, tweeted in apparent response to the president.
Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, who has been feuding publicly with Trump, strongly condemned the president’s tweets. In a tweet of her own, she derided him as a “Hater in Chief.” And she argued in a statement that he “is simply incapable of understanding the contributions, the sacrifices and the commitment to democratic values that Puerto Ricans have shown over decades.”