Mon | Dec 10, 2018

Puerto Rico angry at Trump official 'good-news story' remark

Published:Saturday | September 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Acting Homeland Secretary Elaine Duke, left, talks to first responders during her visit yesterday, in Puerto Rico.


President Donald Trump pledged to help Puerto Ricans recover basic necessities and security in Maria's ruinous aftermath as his homeland security chief tried to escape a tempest of her own making, set off when she called Washington's response to the hurricane a "good-news story".

Elaine Duke, the department's acting secretary, drew a sharp rebuke from San Juan's mayor for seeming to play down the suffering.

"When you don't have food for a baby, it's not a good-news story," Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told CNN yesterday. "Damn it, this is not a good-news story. This is a people-are-dying story."

For his part, Trump said Puerto Rico is "totally unable" to handle the catastrophe on its own. "They are working so hard, but there's nothing left," he said. "It's been wiped out." He said the government is "fully engaged in the disaster and the response and recovery effort."

Yet even in voicing solidarity and sympathy, he drew attention again to Puerto Rico's pre-hurricane debt burden and infrastructure woes, leaving doubt about how far Washington will go to make the US territory whole.




"Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort - it will end up being one of the biggest ever - will be funded and organised, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island," he said. "We will not rest, however, until the people of Puerto Rico are safe."

Earlier he tweeted: "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!"

Duke visited the island yesterday, surveying the ravaged landscape by helicopter in an hour-long tour and driving from the airport past still-flooded streets, twisted billboards and roofs with gaping holes. She met local officials and federal personnel on the ground, and tried to move on from remarks that stunned people in Puerto Rico a day earlier.

Speaking to the press, and taking no questions, she said neither she nor Trump will rest until displaced Puerto Ricans are back home, schools, hospitals and clean water are back and the island's economy is moving again. Duke said she is aware that people are suffering and "clearly, the situation in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory".