SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz reacted with shock and anger to acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke on Friday, saying Puerto Rico’s recovery is “not a good news story.”
“This is a ‘people are dying’ story,” she said in disbelief.
Cruz was referencing Duke’s comments from Thursday, when the Trump administration official said she was satisfied with the government’s response to help Puerto Rico’s recover from Hurricane Maria.
“I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane,” Duke said.
“Well maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story,” Yulín Cruz told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota after she was played the clip on “New Day.” “When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from buildings — I’m sorry, that really upsets me and frustrates me.”
She continued: “I would ask you (Duke) to come down here and visit the towns and then make a statement like that, because frankly, it is an irresponsible statement in contrast with the statements of support that I have been getting yesterday when I got that call from the White House. Dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story. It’s a life-or-death story.”
On Thursday, Duke expressed nothing short of full confidence when she talked to reporters about Puerto Rico outside the White House.
“I am very satisfied,” Duke said. “I know it’s a hard storm to recover from but the amount of progress that’s been made, and I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.”
She clarified later, “It’s good news that we have a unification of command where the governor, the federal response, and the people are all united toward saving lives and giving things to the people they need.”
President Donald Trump also defended his administration’s response to the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico on Friday, tweeting a quote from Gov. Ricardo Rosselló he said on CNN.
Trump tweeted, “Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated: “The Administration and the President, every time we’ve spoken, they’ve delivered……”
He continued:” …The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”
Trump is expected to visit the island on Tuesday but the White House confirmed this morning that his wife Melania will not make the trip as she did after previous disasters.
‘We have to figure out how to handle’ Puerto Rico
Tom Bossert, the administration’s homeland security adviser, was on CNN Friday morning suggesting Puerto Rico’s debt could influence how the federal government responds to the crisis.
“First, we always have big discussions after disasters pertaining to cost but what you need to know is Puerto Rico started this one $72 billion in debt,” he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” Friday. “So the President is 1,000% right. We’re going to have to figure out how to handle this when we move forward.”
Cuomo asked Bossert to elaborate on what the connection is between Puerto Rico’s debt and rebuilding.
“The idea here, Chris, with them being in debt, they don’t have enough ready liquid cash to pay their normal share like Florida and Texas had ready, money to pay, so what we’re going to do — and the President has already done it — is give a 180-day cost share adjustment,” Bossert said. “The federal government is paying 100% of the tab here to make sure lives are saved. We’ll worry about the big decisions later. That’s the President’s point.”
But Bossert defended the administration, saying they’re doing everything they can to help people in Puerto Rico.
“I don’t accept that we’re doing anything short of everything we can do. Yes, I accept that the people are going to see, at the very end, the last person in the most hardest to reach areas, will receive assistance in a way that is less acceptable than we would like to. We would like to give them a bottle of water and food immediately,” he said. “I do accept there’s going to be a difference between a full-throated, adequate response, and the complete satisfaction of bringing that entire territory back to its full functional state.”
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, who is the Commander of US Army North (5th Army), was appointed Thursday by the Pentagon to lead the military’s hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico — and told CNN in an interview after Bossert that the military has 10,000 people helping with the response — but they need more.
“Well, we’re certainly bringing in more,” he told Camerota on “New Day.” “For example, on the military side, we’re bringing in both air force, navy, and army medical capabilities in addition to aircraft, more helicopters .., (but) it’s not enough, and we’re bringing more in.”