Trump releases $13B of Hurricane Maria aid for Puerto Rico 6 weeks before polls, slammed for playing politics

The president, who slammed the battered island a number of times in the past, announced the aid with the presidential elections a month-and-half away


                            Trump releases $13B of Hurricane Maria aid for Puerto Rico 6 weeks before polls, slammed for playing politics
Trump (Getty Images)

It’s been three years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico but President Donald Trump’s administration came up with aid worth $13 billion for the island only on Friday, September 18, provoking the opponents to accuse it of playing politics ahead of the election. “I’m the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico. Nobody even close,” the president said at a White House press conference.

“Puerto Rico’s been hit very, very hard by a lot of different storms,” said Trump, “and they’re great people, it’s a great place, I know it well,” he added. Puerto Rico has been battered by a number of storms in the recent years besides Maria, like Hurricane Irma that hit it a few weeks before and Hurricane Dorian that made landfall last year though its impact was far less.

A flooded street is seen as people deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on September 25, 2017 in San Juan Puerto Rico. (Getty Images)

Wooing the Hispanic vote?

While the president said the federal funding is to help the island overcome the devastating impact it faced during the 2017 hurricane, observers were of the opinion that it was a measure to woo the Hispanic voters ahead of his tough re-election bid, especially in the key state of Florida. The Trump campaign has faced a challenge in the Sunshine State after billionaire Democrat Mike Bloomberg decided to spend a whopping $100 million to help his party candidate Joe Biden’s prospect in the state that has 29 electoral votes. It though said that Trump could win the election even without clinching Florida but that is easier said than done. 

The Democrats were quick to pounce upon Trump and accused him of playing politics with money and timing. They said it came much after the island faced a massive destruction, both in terms of fatalities (over 3,000) and infrastructure (the hurricane knocked out the electrical grid to cause the longest blackout in the history of the US) and agriculture. 

(AFP-OUT) Former Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello (Getty Images)

'Trump wanted to swap Puerto Rico for Greeland'

Trump has in the past shown a very hostile approach towards Puerto Rico even after the natural disasters it faced. Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff in the homeland security department who later left to endorse Biden for president, told MSNBC last month that Trump wanted to sell off Puerto Rico after the hurricanes and spoke about its suffering residents with contempt. Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke also confirmed the same to The New York Times in July. “Not only did he want to purchase Greenland, he actually said he wanted to see if we could sell Puerto Rico,” Taylor said. “Could we swap Puerto Rico for Greenland because, in his words, Puerto Rico was dirty and the people were poor?

Trump said that Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from "broken infrastructure and massive debt", was in deep trouble.

 



 

 

Trump has also locked horns with Puerto Rico’s leaders in the wake of the devastating natural disasters. He, for example, slammed former Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rossello and other leaders of the island accusing them of wasting billions of hurricane disaster relief as protests grew across the region. He also engaged in a war of words with Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. While he called the local leaders corrupt and incompetent, Cruz accused Trump of killing the Puerto Ricans with neglect. Last year, Trump mocked Puerto Rico in a tweet after the island was set to meet Hurricane Dorian.

President Donald Trump at Muniz Air National Guard Base for a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. (Getty Images)

“Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for “anywhere”,” he said. 



 

 

In September 2018, a year after Puerto Rico faced the twin hurricanes in Irma and Maria, Trump came up with the claim that his administration’s response to the natural disasters (especially Maria) was “tremendous”. Around the same time, the Republican said: “We have put billions and billions of dollars into Puerto Rico and it was a very tough one. I think most of the people in Puerto Rico really appreciate what we've done.”

No wonder his remarks were met with a backlash from the island’s local leadership and Democratic politicians.

A politically motivated move, says long-time NY Democratic House member

Trump’s latest goodwill gesture towards Puerto Rico has also drawn the ire of his critics. While the president put the blame on his predecessor Barack Obama and former vice president Biden saying the duo were a “disaster for Puerto Rico”, Nydia Velázquez, a long-time Democratic House member from New York who was born in Puerto Rico, said the president’s latest act was politically motivated. 

“It's obvious why this is happening now. Forty-six days before Election Day — he's playing politics with this assistance,” Velázquez, the chair of the House Small Business Committee and former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, told the New York Daily News.

There were other reactions to Trump’s aid for Puerto Rico as well. Author Jonathan Allen said in a tweet: “POTUS campaigning from WH while giving $17B to Puerto Rico 6 weeks from election in which he's trying to move a point or two among Latino voters in FLA and 3 yrs after hurricane. Bigger subsidy per capita than farm states got in China tariff offset subsidies in safe red states.” In another tweet, Allen said: “Trump last year: "A lot of bad things are happening in Puerto Rico. ... The United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief. It wasn't $92 billion. But a year ago, he said it was "foolish" to give aid. The hurricane didn't hit again since then.”



 

 



 

 

CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins tweeted: “President Trump says the reason they’re now rolling out the aid package for Puerto Rico — weeks before the election — is because it took a long time to get ready.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration said the money released will be spent on the island’s electrical grid and on its education system. “These grants exceed the total Public Assistance funding in any single federally-declared disaster other than Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.



 

Both Trump and Biden are wooing the Hispanic votes ahead of the election. Both are eyeing Florida which has a big number of Puerto Rican voters. Biden was in the state on Tuesday, September 15, and said in a speech in Kissimmee, where many settled after fleeing Maria’s carnage, that the president has done nothing more than assaulting the dignity of the Hispanic families.