x

Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Trump arrives in Puerto Rico to defend government handling of hurricane disaster

The US president did so in the company of the San Juan mayor who he insulted on Twitter after she called for more help from Washington with recovery efforts

US president Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, visit residents affected by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, in Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Mandel Ngan / AFP
US president Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, visit residents affected by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, in Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Mandel Ngan / AFP

US president Donald Trump touched down on Tuesday in hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico, where he defended his administration's handling of the disaster in the company of the San Juan mayor he insulted on Twitter after she called for more help from Washington.

Mr Trump and his wife, Melania, landed at Muniz Air National Guard Base near San Juan, the capital of the US territory, for a five-hour visit with federal responders, troops and survivors.

In an airport hangar, the president sought praise from local officials and repeated that they have to help with the recovery. He also scolded them for a long-standing budget crisis: "I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you've thrown our budget a little out of whack because we've spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico."

He meanwhile praised the bravery of military and civilian personnel, and said he loved the island and had visited many times before.

"The weather is second to none," he said. "But every once in a while you get hit."

_______________

Read more:

Trump calls Puerto Rican officials after lashing out at pleading mayor

Battered Puerto Rico hospitals on life support after Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria: Power knocked out across Puerto Rico

_______________

Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the island remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water.

Mr Trump, who has feuded with local officials — including San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz — over the pace of the relief effort, claimed before leaving for Puerto Rico on Tuesday that even his critics were acknowledging, "what a great job we have done".

"Now the roads are cleared and communication is starting to come back. Their drivers have to start driving trucks. We have to do that, so at a local level they have to give us help," he told reporters.

The administration's critics said the early response was not fast enough or large enough, prompting the president to punch back.

He criticised Ms Cruz - who was frequently seen on television, asking for help — for "poor leadership" and suggested Puerto Ricans were "ingrates" who "want everything to be done for them".

On Tuesday, he shook hands with the San Juan mayor, who told him: “It’s not about politics.”

Luckily for the White House, few Puerto Ricans have had time or — quite literally the energy — to read or hear of the president's barbed remarks.

Only a dozen protesters were stood on Tuesday in front of San Juan's Convention Centre, where the government established their operations.

Mr Trump's visit will be carefully choreographed to avoid any embarrassing protests.

The White House said he will meet mayor Cruz, stop at a church to visit with those affected by the hurricane, and conduct an aerial tour to survey the damage before landing on the USS Kearsarge to greet navy and marine corps servicemen and women.

Mr Trump is also expected to meet the governor of the US Virgin Islands, which were similarly devastated by Maria, but are not quite ready for the massive footprint of a presidential visit.

Already this storm season, Mr Trump has visited damaged areas of Florida, Louisiana and Texas — twice.

But his trip to Puerto Rico, normally a fairly routine show of presidential empathy, has taken on outsize political meaning.

"It's been amazing what's been done in a very short period of time on Puerto Rico," Mr Trump said, defending his administration's response.

"There's never been a piece of land that we've known that was so devastated," he claimed.

"The bridges are down, the telecommunications was nonexistent, and it's in very, very bad shape. The electrical grid, as you know, was destroyed."

Though Puerto Ricans are US citizens with US passports, they can only vote in presidential primaries.

If they live on the island, they cannot vote in US presidential elections. If they are living on the mainland, they can register to vote, including for the president, in whichever state they live.