Ever since President Donald Trump assumed office, his attitude towards Puerto Rico has been nonchalant and his response to the plight of Puerto Ricans is also well-documented.
Last year, the unincorporated territory of the United States was hit with several hurricanes. The deadliest of them was Hurricane Maria which resulted in loss of billions of dollars and almost the entire hurricane-ravaged island was without power for months.
Trump not only did little to help the storm-struck island but also refused to comment on the problem. Moreover, he also enraged millions of Americans by claiming the almost 3,000 deaths in Puerto Rico after the devastation caused by two back-to-back hurricanes were fake news.
He maintained his stance, touted his administration’s response to the hurricane and said it was “an incredible, unsung success.”
In a latest attack, the president said he would not support the idea of giving statehood to Puerto Rico because of San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
Trump made the comments on Geraldo Rivera’s radio show, where he said the issue of the island’s statehood was an “absolute no” as long as Cruz stays in office.
Not only did he say no to the statehood for Puerto Rico but he also called the San Juan mayor “grossly incompetent” and a “horror show” who was apparently in way of the island’s statehood.
“I will tell you this, with the mayor of San Juan as bad as she is and as incompetent as she is, Puerto Rico shouldn’t be talking about statehood until they get some people that really know what they’re doing,” Trump told Rivera.
He further said, “When you do have good leadership, that certainly could be something they talk about. But with people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no.”
Cruz, who is a vocal critic of the president, instantly took to Twitter and said Trump attacked her for telling the truth.
Not only are the commander-in-chief’s comments problematic but they also put him at odds with the Republican Party’s stance on the issue. In a 2016 national convention statement, the party said on the issue and said the party supported the idea of the island’s statehood.
Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory but it has never been treated like one.
More than 3 million people – who are U.S. citizens – live in Puerto Rico but they are given few constitutional rights than any other citizen of the country living in one of the 50 states. Citizens living on the island are not given the basic right of voting in the general election nor can they elect a voting member of Congress.
The fight for statehood is not something recent but the island has been fighting for its right since the 1960s. Citizens have voted in five referendums – the latest being in 2017. Although in all referendums the stance of citizens of the island has been divided but in the latest one, majority of citizens supported statehood.
Ninety-seven percent of voters voted in favor of statehood, however, the extremely low turnout of registered voters resulted in another deadlock.
However, the irony is that the Trump administration’s response to the recent national catastrophes, that have destroyed the island and claimed thousands of lives, shows the issue of statehood is just one part of the actual problem – which is even more uglier.
The recent events proved that the lives of people living on the island are not valued by powerful leaders of the country that they essentially belong to.
Trump’s response was not only disrespectful to the lives lost in Puerto Rico; they also assert a well-known trait of the president: no matter the tragedy, everything is always about him.
The island’s population of 3.5 million faced severe power outages, as well as shortages of water, food, and fuel. The hurricane devastated homes, snapped power lines and turned roadways into torrents laden with debris.
The catastrophe naturally had a very negative impact on the survivors of the destruction and the negligence of U.S. government only made the matter worse.
Part of the death count can be attributed directly to the fact that many people remained without power for several months after the storm had passed. Lack of power for medical devices, as well as the inability to refrigerate foods for survival, led to many of the deaths.
Despite all the glaring findings, the president’s praise for its administration is downright outrageous
Moreover, the response of a majority of members in the Congress on the issue of statehood is also lukewarm which makes things even worse and proves the unworthiness of American lives on the unincorporated territory.
For years, members of the U.S. Congress have introduced more than 130 bills to address the issue but none of them have helped the island.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters, Carlos Barria