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The presidents words about Puerto Rico were demeaning

September 17, 2018

It has been almost a year since Hurricane Maria ravaged my beautiful island of Puerto Rico and her sister islands of Vieques and Culebra. In the midst of all the devastation, the suffering, the deaths, our people have not lost their hospitality, hope or sense of community.

The islands are still in need of help and will be for many years, but Puerto Ricans are resilient, neighbors helping neighbors, “all for one and one for all.” And let me tell you, if you go anywhere to bring relief supplies, set up water filtration systems or help with rebuilding roofs and structures, you will be welcomed with a big smile, a hug and a loud, “Hola!” You will be offered a chair and a cafecito. People who are in dire need of help, who lack commodities you and I take for granted, are not only grateful but offer the little they have.

And this is why I must address the comments made by President Donald Trump regarding Maria and its aftermath. They have hurt me deeply.

Telling the governor of Puerto Rico in October that he should feel proud that “only” 16 people had died was cruel; comparing Maria to Katrina, which he said was a “real catastrophe” where thousands died, was the epitome of insensitivity.

Saying, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack. That’s fine, we’ve saved a lot of lives” was heartless.

As we now know, according to a reputable study, almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans have died after Maria. This is 40 percent more deaths than with Katrina. Is this a “real catastrophe” now?

Last week, after being asked about Puerto Rico specifically, the president said, “Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success” and “one of the best jobs that’s ever been done.” So, almost 3,000 dead, people with blue tarps instead of roofs a year after Maria, water filtration systems still needed in many areas — this is an “unsung success”?

He attributed the increased estimate of dead to a Democratic conspiracy and also said: “I think the hardest one that we’ve had to face so far is Puerto Rico, because of the island nature.”

Yes, we all know Puerto Rico is an island, and so is Haiti, where relief efforts after the devastating earthquake of 2010 were mobilized the next morning.

Maria and that earthquake cannot be compared as far as disasters go, but the mission to Haiti is an example of how quickly relief efforts can be mobilized.

And it is not just Puerto Rico and Vieques and Culebra. Let’s not forget that Hurricane Irma first decimated the U.S. Virgin Islands.

As for preparedness for Hurricane Florence, President Trump said: “We’re as ready as anybody has ever been” and that unlike Puerto Rico, the states in the path of Florence “have very strong power companies.”

Let’s kick the victims while they’re down. This was offensive.

We can discuss when, how and why one organization or federal agency did or did not do this or that. We can discuss Puerto Rico’s poor infrastructure and problems with the electric grid. We can discuss logistics all we want. We can discuss the perceptions of aid from people inside and outside the island. We can discuss the timing and the results of the aid received. We can discuss the involvement of local government versus federal government. What is not up to discussion is that what happened in Puerto Rico is a real catastrophe, and empathy for fellow American citizens that have been impacted in such a horrendous manner will go a long way.

I am not blaming President Trump for the damage caused by Maria, but I am incensed, outraged, offended and saddened by the president’s words. Sad that my island paradise, “the pearl of the Caribbean,” and her inhabitants have been disrespected, that the suffering that is still going on is touted as a “success” — as a win.

It is not too much to ask our president that when fellow Americans have suffered and continue to suffer, he stand up and listen. Words do matter. Admitting things could have been better would not have made him look weak; on the contrary, it would have made him look like a leader who can show compassion and who really cares about his fellow Americans.

Ada Montalvo of San Antonio is a member of the Puerto Rican Heritage Society.

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