By Caribbean News Now contributor
NEW YORK, USA — In the latest salvo in his ongoing feud with Puerto Rican leaders, US President Donald Trump on Monday said there would be no statehood for the US territory as long as critics such as San Juan’s mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz remain in office.
“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 said.
Trump added that, when “you have good leadership”, statehood for Puerto Rico could be “something they talk about. With people like that involved in Puerto Rico, I would be an absolute no.”
Governor Ricardo Rosselló, an advocate of statehood for the island, said Trump’s remarks had politicised the statehood process because of personal differences.
“The president said he is not in favour of statehood for the people of Puerto Rico based on a personal feud with a local mayor. This is an insensitive, disrespectful comment to over three million Americans who live in the US territory of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló said.
He also questioned how the president of the United States could be at the UN General Assembly promoting democracy around the world while “in his own home there is the oldest and most populated colonial system in the world.”
The San Juan mayor called Trump’s comments about statehood just another effort to avoid responsibility for his administration’s “negligence” in its widely criticized response to last year’s Hurricane Maria.
“He looks for any excuse to divert attention,” she said.
Yulin Cruz called it a “great honour” to be singled out by Trump. “It highlights that he knows that while he was playing golf at Mar-a-Lago, I was up to my waist in water and human waste,” during the storm.
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.
Trump’s position on statehood for the island puts him at odds with the Republican Party’s 2016 platform during its national convention, in which it declared support for Puerto Rican statehood.
Earlier this month, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. called 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.
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.
Yulin Cruz also blasted the president’s claims.
“Simply put: delusional, paranoid, and unhinged from any sense of reality. Pres Trump thinks [losing] 3,000 lives is a success. Can you imagine what he thinks failure looks like?” she tweeted.
Trump’s pronouncements have also impacted politics in Florida, where thousands of displaced Puerto Ricans are now the voting targets of candidates in crucial races for governor and US Senate as well as other state and federal offices ahead of the November midterm elections.
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.