Donald Trump & Puerto Rico: 5 Times Trump Hasn’t Been Helpful Dealing with Hurricane Maria

Donald Trump & Puerto Rico
iStock.com/dennisvdw

Hurricane Maria pulverized Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory with a population of 3.5 million. The country’s infrastructure has been destroyed and its people are without water, power, and fuel. In times of distress, U.S. presidents put their politics aside and act as a beacon of strength, courage, and inspiration. But not this time. More than 10 days after Hurricane Maria devastated the region, President Donald Trump has failed to visit the area.

This past weekend, President Trump spent time at his Trump National Golf Club, attended the final round of the President’s Cup golf tournament, and fired off dozens of defensive, angry, accusatory tweets blaming and criticizing the leadership in Puerto Rico.

You don’t need to look at the polls to see that most Americans are not pleased with the way Trump is dealing with Puerto Rico. His actions and tweets speak for themselves.

Trump Attacks San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Trump took to Twitter, his favorite communication tool, and fired off one message:

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He was then remarkably silent on the matter in the days following. Instead, Trump was busy focusing his efforts on criticizing the NFL and other professional athletes for their silent protest and refusal to stand for the U.S. national anthem.

All that changed, though, over the weekend, when Trump began to attack San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. Not exactly the model of self-restraint, President Trump went on the attack after Cruz, who was interviewed on CNN, denounced the president’s response to Hurricane Maria and criticized Elaine Duke, acting secretary of homeland security, for saying Puerto Rico’s recovery is “a good news story.”

In a Friday news conference, Cruz pleaded for more federal assistance, saying, “We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.” She went on to point out that they have received donations from private companies, including Goya Foods, Inc., which is donating 300,000 pounds of food and water. The international food company has a large presence in Puerto Rico and suffered $25.0 million in damage during Hurricane Maria.

By contrast, federal help has been underwhelming.

“This is what we got last night: four pallets of water, three pallets of meals and 12 pallets of infant food — which I gave them to the people of Comerio, where people are drinking off a creek,” Cruz said. “So I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell.”

Less than one day later, at 4:19 am, Trump hit back. The president decided that the best course of action would be to pick a fight with Cruz, accusing her of “poor leadership” and suggesting that the island residents (who have been left with nothing) simply aren’t doing enough to help themselves:

After pondering his tweet for seven minutes, Trump added:

Since then, Trump has tweeted more than a dozen times about Puerto Rico. Instead of focusing his attention on Cruz, he has broadened his criticism to include the “Fake News,” Democrats, and even Puerto Ricans. Not everyone from Puerto Rico is on the receiving end of Trump’s wrath; he has tweeted about his administration’s fantastic efforts at helping with the recovery from Hurricane Maria.

But even his good news stories are sometimes questioned. In a thinly veiled slam against Cruz, Trump tweeted:

On the campaign trail, Trump said he wanted to “Make America Great Again.” And when addressing the U.N on September 29, Trump said he will always put America’s interests first. It’s hard to see how that is coming to fruition in Puerto Rico and for its 3.5-million American residents.

Donald Trump’s Golf Course Adding to Puerto Rico’s Debt Woes

Before Hurricane Maria flattened Puerto Rico and brought its economy to a standstill, the tiny island was already in the depths of an 11-year recession; jobs are scarce and the unemployment rate has held steady above 10% for years. The government owes $74.0 billion to bondholders, and in May, it filed for bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

As a point of reference, Trump’s poor businesses acumen helped add to that overall debt load.

Back in 2008, Donald Trump took control of the licensing and management of the Coco Beach Golf course, located in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. Naturally, Trump rechristened it the “Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico,” vowing to make the failing golf course profitable. Things didn’t turn out as planned, for the golf course or Puerto Rico itself.

In July 2015, just one month after Trump launched his presidential campaign, the Trump International Golf Club filed for bankruptcy. Now, at the time, Trump’s family tried to dismiss the failed project, saying it had nothing to do with Trump–that they simply managed the golf course.

When the Trump Organization took over the golf course, it said it had a plan to attract customers and control expenses. Over the next five years, though, club membership was virtually stagnant at just. . .wait for it. . .63.

Despite the lack of leadership and promises to curb spending, expenses increased by 22%. This includes Trump’s management fee, which was about 4.5% of annual revenue.

In 2011, Trump’s golf course defaulted on loans, and in 2015, it filed for bankruptcy. In the end, the golf course had $78.0 million in debt and just $9.0 million in assets, and sold for just $2.0 million to a private investment firm.

What’s worse, cash-strapped Puerto Rican taxpayers, who helped line Trump’s pockets, were left with $33.0 million in outstanding bond payments. Meanwhile, the Trump Organization made more than $600,000 from management fees.

Interestingly, Eric Trump, the president’s son, said after the bankruptcy filing, “We made many millions of dollars on it but never invested a dime.”

Eric Trump also filed a bankruptcy claim for around $927,000 for unpaid fees on behalf of Trump Golf Coco Beach LLC.

Trump Waives Jones Act After Widespread Criticism

Historically, when a humanitarian crisis hits the U.S., the country responds by doing everything it can. This has not really been the case with Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria. In fact, President Trump has been criticized on almost every front for his apparent apathy and lack of empathy, especially when it came to getting much-needed aid to the tiny island.

After the hurricane, Trump refused to send additional aid to Puerto Rico. Why? Business interests. Specifically, not waiving the Jones Act of 1920.

The Jones Act of 1920 controls coastal trade in the U.S. and determines which ships can trade and the rules they must follow. Generally, the Jones Act prevents foreign-built or foreign-flagged ships from trading within the U.S.

Many called for Trump to waive the Jones Act so that hurricane relief could get to Puerto Rico more quickly. Trump balked at the notion and said, “a lot of people that work in the shipping industry…don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

Trump was chided for being callous and putting the interests of business and profit ahead of the interests of Puerto Rico.

Waiving the Jones Act is not a rare occurrence. The act was waved after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey so that ships could carry fuel to Texas and Florida.

Corporate profits aside, President Trump also said geography was getting in the way: “It’s the most difficult job because it’s on the island, it’s on an island in the middle of the ocean.”

This isn’t entirely true. Puerto Rico isn’t all that far from Florida and is a popular destination for cruise ships. Now Hawaii, that’s an island in the middle of the ocean. In fact, those living in Hawaii might want to consider Trump’s response to Puerto Rico and how his administration will respond to their pleas should the “Islands of Aloha” ever need assistance.

Outrage ensued, even among his voters. On September 28, Trump temporarily lifted the Jones Act:

The waiver only lasts for 10 days. Lawmakers were hoping for a one-year waiver, while others have asked for a permanent ban when it comes to the Jones Act and Puerto Rico. Territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, along with Alaska and Hawaii, end up paying more for certain goods because everything must be shipped using a U.S. ship. This drives up the costs of everyday goods for those living in areas accessible mostly by sea.

Trump Ignores Puerto Rico, Focuses Efforts on NFL

Americans love football. Tens of millions watch the NFL every week and more people watch the Super Bowl than any other single TV telecast. But Trump’s obsession with the NFL at the expense of those suffering in Puerto Rico takes it to a whole new level.

In fact, the NFL is the biggest issue Trump is facing right now. Or rather, he has taken issue with the NFL and other professional athletes kneeling (locking arms, etc.) and not standing for the national anthem. The silent sideline protests began when (then-) San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained in his seat during the national anthem before the start of a game in August 2016. He was protesting how minorities are treated by police in the U.S.

After the first protest, Kaepernick said, “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

The protest drew support and opposition with many saying he was disrespecting the flag, veterans, and the active U.S. military.

Fast-forward one year and the protests continue, as does the outrage and support. Again, at a time when voters typically look to the president to be a beacon of calm and inspiration, Trump has instead decided to divide the country. On many levels.

First, he said any player protesting was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired. Despite 70% of the NFL being made up of black players and the same being true for nearly 75% of NBA players, Trump has maintained that the silent protest has nothing to do with race.

While raging against the NFL and other professional athletes, Trump failed to tweet about the deadly devastation in Puerto Rico.

Though to be fair, Trump fired off one tweet after Hurricane Maria engulfed Puerto Rico:

After that it was all NFL all the time. On Saturday, September 23, just a few days after Hurricane Maria, Trump tweeted:

Over the next few days, Trump zeroed in on the NFL and national anthem, tweeting 15 times.

Trump’s devotion to the highly charged national anthem debacle and feigned indifference to Puerto Rico was not lost on every American. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a gathering of the Business Council of New York State, “We need the federal government to act.” Adding, “All the hubbub about NFL football players — focus on Puerto Rico, focus on priorities.”

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) tweeted, “Mr. President, instead of dividing the country over this you could give support to the 3.4 million Americans without power in Puerto Rico.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted:

He also linked to a New Republic story entitled, “The U.S. Government Fails Puerto Rico Once Again.”

Pressure mounted for Trump to take a stance on Puerto Rico, but he stayed silent on the matter until the following week. During the time in which Trump tweeted 15 times about the NFL and silent protests, he never publically spoke about Puerto Rico.

Trump’s Puerto Rico Tweets Focused on Broken Economy

When he finally did end up tweeting about Puerto Rico, Trump’s attention was devoted not to the humanitarian crisis, it was on the region’s overall economic challenges.

Keep in mind that Puerto Rico is suffering and needs aid, and the total cost of Hurricane Maria could end up coming to $95.0 billion. But less than a week after the Hurricane Maria, Trump, instead of offering words of support or simply not saying anything at all, fired off three tweets criticizing Puerto Rico’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt” and the poor Wall Street banks that have to deal with poor old Puerto Rico:

None of these tweets offer any sort of support to Puerto Rico. In the first, he congratulates Florida and Texas for doing fine, but Puerto Rico is in trouble. And chances are, since they don’t vote in U.S. elections, they probably won’t be on the receiving end of Trump’s proposed $1.0 trillion in infrastructure spending.

In the second tweet, nearly one week after the Hurricane Maria, Trump reminds everyone what they already know: that much of the island has been destroyed.

In the third, confusing tweet, Trump implies Wall Street banks have to deal with Puerto Rico. Everyone knows that since the September 25 tweet, Puerto Rico is not doing well with food, water, and medical supplies.

President Trump loves communicating with U.S. voters through Twitter, unfortunately, Trump’s tweets only go to show how unhelpful his administration has been since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

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