As It Happens

San Juan mayor calls Trump 'pathetic' for denying Puerto Rico death toll

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz says she fears for those facing Hurricane Florence because Trump hasn't learned any lessons from the devastating disaster in Puerto Rico.

U.S. president falsely claims Democrats inflated Hurricane Maria numbers to make him 'look bad'

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, has repeated attacked San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz over criticisms of the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. (Alex Edelman, Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images)

The mayor of San Juan says she fears for the people of North and South Carolina who are facing a powerful hurricane, because U.S. President Donald Trump hasn't learned any lessons from the devastating disaster in Puerto Rico.

Carmen Yulin Cruz made the comments after Trump disputed the official death toll from Hurricane Maria, tweeting that "3000 people did not die" and falsely blaming the Democrats for boosting the numbers to make him "look bad."

Last month, Puerto Rico's governor raised the U.S. territory's official hurricane death toll from 64 to 2,975, after an independent study led by George Washington University determined the number of people who succumbed in the aftermath had been severely undercounted.

The researchers are standing by their findings, and Trump offered no evidence to back up his claims.

Cruz spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the president's tweets. Here is some of what she had to say. 

What's it like for you to hear the president of the United States denying that loss of life, suggesting that it may be as few as six people who died?

It's pathetic, it's shameful and it shows how out of tune the president is with reality. 

But on the other hand, it's expected. The president shamelessly tries to belittle or put down anything or anyone that does not agree with him and his alternative reality. 

And frankly, rather than being tweeting today, some of his advisers should remind him that they're already starting to feel the effects of another potentially devastating hurricane in North Carolina and South Carolina.

So God bless those people if the president of the United States did not learn anything from his neglect and his inefficiency and the bureaucracy that ensued over Puerto Rico.

How did the university, how did the scientists, come up with the number that it was almost 3000 who perished?

They looked at the number of people that had died and they projected it over the amount of time that Puerto Rico as a whole did not have power.

What the president continues to deny and try and cover up is that the island nation of Puerto Rico was without power completely, almost 100 per cent, until probably late December.

So a lot of people died because in the aftermath of a hurricane, they didn't have access to electricity. Therefore, they couldn't get their dialysis, or they couldn't get their chemotherapy, or they had lost their insulin and that couldn't be refrigerated, or they went to their homes and their generators gave out, but they needed life support systems to be able to continue to breathe.

Those are conditions that were not created by the hurricane, of course, itself, but they were created by a Trump-made crisis.

Mother Isamar holds her baby Saniel as her husband Samuel mixes cement at their makeshift home, under reconstruction, after being mostly destroyed by Hurricane Maria, on Dec. 23, 2017, in San Isidro, Puerto Rico. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

When we spoke with you just after the hurricane, just about a week after, you were in a desperate situation. Things were just appalling, and didn't get much better. But you were still giving the Trump administration the benefit of the doubt. ... It was after that that you were begging for help. 

Why do you think you did not get that support?

You're right, I did give the administration the benefit of the doubt because we were told — as the people from North Carolina and South Carolina are being told now — that help was in Puerto Rico. That they were going to provide tarps and they were going to provide water.

And as the weeks went by, it was evident that they weren't going to do that.

And to answer specifically your question about why — he just doesn't get it. He just doesn't care. He thinks this is about him.

Today he's saying that it is the Democrats. So he goes back to political and partisan politics. He never realized that this was never about him, this was never about politics, that this was about saving lives.

Trump shakes hands with Cruz during a briefing on hurricane recovery efforts with first responders at Luis Muniz Air National Guard Base on Oct. 3, 2017, in San Juan. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

When we spoke with the researchers who went down and investigated how many people died in Puerto Rico from the hurricane, one of the things that was really, really distressing was that the man we spoke with said that he found that people continue to suffer because of the feeling they had been abandoned. ... Do you sense that?

Yes, indeed. And it's tweets like yesterday's and today's that continue to contribute to that.

First of all, let me thank Canadians because I personally met some that have come down to Puerto Rico to help, just without anybody asking for help. This is what humans do when other humans are in peril. You don't wait for help to be asked for. You just go and provide it — if you have a soul in your body.

President Trump turned his back on the Puerto Rican people. Thank God that the world saw with their own eyes what was happening.

Thank God for the American people, for Latino people, for the people in Canada, the Puerto Rican diaspora all over the world that opened their arms and came down to our municipalities and our cities and took care of the wounds that we had and fed the hungry and, you know, just gave water to those that were thirsty, and have continued to be advocates for reality.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Produced by Imogen Birchard. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.