By Caribbean News Now contributor
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. called US President Donald Trump a “craven liar” after Trump claimed without evidence on Thursday that 3,000 people did not die in Puerto Rico hurricanes, and blamed Democrats for inflating the death toll.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000… This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!” Trump tweeted.
“President Trump’s remarks about the death toll in Puerto Rico expose him for exactly what he is: a craven liar,” Diaz responded.
“His remarks this morning are absolutely sickening. We are not imagining our brothers and sisters who were lost in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. To say otherwise is simply disgusting. President Trump needs to accept that his administration failed in Puerto Rico. Basic human decency demands that the president stop pretending his response to this disaster was a success,” he continued.
In August, the Puerto Rican government raised the official death count dramatically to 2,975, after maintaining for months that only 64 people had died as a result of Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
The government cited an independent study it commissioned from George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health, which analyzed the death rate in the five months after Hurricane Maria hit the island.
In advance of the imminent impact of Hurricane Florence on the Carolinas, Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning: “We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!”
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump’s response to the storms, blasted the president’s claims.
“Simply put: delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality. Trump is so vain he thinks this is about him,” Yulin Cruz tweeted.
“Pres Trump thinks [losing] 3,000 lives is a success. Can you imagine what he thinks failure looks like?” she added.
“The Trump Administration’s response to Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact in Puerto Rico was an abject failure. Everyone knows this. Any attempt by this administration to call their response a success is the ultimate example of fake news. Facts are facts, and the fact is that President Trump’s failure in Puerto Rico is his Hurricane Katrina,” Diaz said.
“It is disgusting that the president would lie about the pain and suffering of millions of Puerto Ricans in order to pat himself on the back,” he added.
Although Trump claimed on Tuesday that Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló would celebrate the “incredible unsung success” of the hurricane relief efforts on the island, Rosselló firmly refuted Trump’s remarks in a statement later in the day, claiming that petitions to the Trump administration for recovery assistance and emergency housing remain unanswered.
“This was the worst natural disaster in our modern history. Our basic infrastructure was devastated, thousands of our people lost their lives and many others struggle,” Rosselló said in a statement.
Meanwhile, critics of the Trump administration’s response to the hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico last year have launched a campaign to mobilize displaced Puerto Rican voters ahead of the midterm elections and also planning demonstrations in New York and Florida to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Maria.
A major protest is to take place at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on September 22, two days after a memorial service and march on Trump Tower in New York, according to organizers.
Ahead of the midterm elections, thousands of displaced Puerto Ricans are now the voting targets of Florida’s elected officials – candidates for state and federal offices, as well as the state’s Republican and Democratic parties.
While Puerto Ricans voters remain an influential voting bloc in New York and New Jersey, two states that have been preferred mainland destinations for much of the past century, Florida is on the verge of becoming the mainland state with the largest group of Puerto Rican transplants.
Latino voters have played a large role in a state like Florida for decades. Puerto Ricans, however, including those displaced by Hurricane Maria have one major difference: They are American citizens and therefore have a legal right to register to vote.
Orlando-area Democratic Rep. Darren Soto, of Florida’s 9th Congressional District, who is running for re-election, said one way they have helped educate displaced Puerto Rican voters is by discussing Donald Trump.
“We have had some help in defining the parties by saying that if you support Trump, you’re Republican, if you oppose Trump you’re a Democrat,” Soto said.
The lacklustre federal response was accompanied by a tweet from Trump that Puerto Ricans affected by the storm “want everything to be done for them, when it should be a community effort.” The president visited the island a couple of days after that tweet and tossed paper towel rolls to survivors as if he was playing a basketball arcade game.