Trump’s Response to Hurricane Maria:
Deadly, Racist Contempt for the Lives and Dignity of the Puerto Rican People

October 1, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


Puerto Rican city after Maria


Puerto Rico is still reeling. Hurricanes Irma and Maria knocked out power, water, phones, roads, for millions, and 95 percent of the people still have no electricity.

A week and a half after Hurricane Maria hit, 3.4 million people are scrambling every single day for their most basic survival needs—drinkable water, shelter from the elements, formula for infants, food for children, fuel for cars, and cash to buy any of these things. (See “Puerto Rico: Gutted by Imperialism: Slammed by Maria; Abandoned by Trump—A Major Humanitarian Crisis in the Making.”)

A major health crisis is growing. Many of the island’s hospitals are still closed; none of them have reliable electricity. When power goes off, surgery cannot be done. People on ventilators die. Medications are in extremely short supply. With the internet down, people’s medical records can’t be accessed. People with diabetes are running out of insulin, and if they get some, it has to be refrigerated, which means you need power. Almost half the dialysis centers on the island are closed. People who need life-saving treatment cannot reach the open facilities because they have no fuel.

Hundreds of thousands of people with normally manageable illnesses are in agony, teetering on the brink of death, or dying, and their loved ones are going through hell as well. Elderly people and infants are suffering because of the heat, stress, lack of food and water. Illnesses spread by unclean water, poor hygiene, or mosquitoes—dengue fever, Zika virus, conjunctivitis, diarrheal diseases—are on the rise, and there is concern about deadly epidemic diseases like cholera if the situation persists.

Many have died already—far more than the 18 people that the authorities and media admit to. The Miami Herald reported that “bodies are piling up at the morgues of the 69 hospitals in Puerto Rico, of which 70 percent are not operating.” (Emphasis added)

Trump/Pence Regime Refuses to Provide Aid

In response, the Trump/Pence regime did almost nothing for over a week, other than issue self-congratulatory tweets about what a “fantastic” job they were doing.

For almost a week there was silence from the White House about the crisis, and no evidence that any cabinet-level figures were even discussing or thinking about what to do about an emergency confronting over three million people. The Jones Act (dictating that only U.S. shipping companies handle cargo to Puerto Rico—which causes steep increases in food and other costs in Puerto Rico) was kept in effect in spite of demands that it be suspended as it had been in Texas and Florida in the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. (Finally, Trump “waived” the Jones Act—for 10 days!)

For a week or more, few or no desperately needed helicopters, and no hospital ships were dispatched in spite of calls to do so. A meager force of 2,000 FEMA personnel—lacking clear leadership from Washington—mostly wandered around the convention center in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital and largest city—talking to each other or distributing applications for possible future aid to desperate people. Containers of supplies—often from private donations—sat at ports unopened.

Across the island witnesses reported no FEMA or U.S. military people in the streets, no water distribution, no rescue teams, no kitchens being set up, except for the heroic efforts of the storm-battered Puerto Rican people themselves, as well as volunteers from other countries who rushed there to help.

“Something Close to a Genocide”

The crisis had advanced to the point where tens of thousands of lives could be on the line if things don’t change rapidly. Yet Trump continued blathering idiotic excuses, like his “discovery” that Puerto Rico “is an island surrounded by water.”

On Friday, September 29, Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, told the world: “I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell. ... We are dying here.” She sharply pointed out how the U.S. “cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles.”

She went on: “If we don’t get the food and water into people’s hands, what we are going to see is something close to a genocide,” and “the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens, but as animals that can be disposed of.” (Emphasis added) Cruz begged the Trump administration to send help commensurate with the dire situation.

Trump Launches Racist Slander Against Puerto Rican People

Trump’s response to all this was to attack Mayor Cruz and the people of Puerto Rico. On September 30, he tweeted: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.” (Emphasis added)1

Here Trump straight up raised the racist trope that Puerto Ricans (or Black people, or immigrants) are “lazy” and “want a handout from the government.” This is Nazi bullshit on many levels. First, as already noted, Puerto Rican people have been working like mad—clearing roads, carrying elderly folks to hospitals, setting up community kitchens—while this motherfucker Trump is tweeting from his luxury golf resort.

And more fundamentally, it is the U.S. that has been squeezing Puerto Rico for 120 years, first exploiting hundreds of thousands working on U.S.-owned plantations, cutting cane or picking coffee for pennies an hour, and then later working them to death in U.S. factories for substandard wages, until finally most of those bloodsuckers moved on to riper pastures, leaving the Puerto Rican people with a mass of debt and a rotted infrastructure.

Sentencing Millions to Poverty and Early Death

But this grotesque racism is not just a justification for the refusal to provide needed aid to storm victims. It is also preparing public opinion for an even more massive crime.

Because beyond the immediate emergency, the near-total destruction of Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure—as well as water purification and transport, hospitals, roads, communication, and so on—makes any kind of decent life for the great majority of people on the island impossible. Just imagine what life would be like if these things are not fully rebuilt.

What does it mean to have a whole land of 3.4 million people without a national power grid, water purification, a network of reliable roads, and so on? It means that things like electricity, clean water, and so on become luxuries, unavailable to poor and working-class people, and difficult even for the middle class. It means there would be enclaves of modernity in some cities, while rural areas would sink ever more deeply into poverty and decay. It means that every aspect of life would become vastly more difficult for the masses of people, whose lives would be increasingly stalked by poverty, exhaustion, preventable disease, and early death.

But that is exactly what Trump keeps hinting at. Right after Hurricane Harvey hit southeastern Texas, Trump pledged federal funds to cover up to 75 percent of the costs of repairing damaged public infrastructure—costs estimated at over $75 billion!

But he is singing a very different tune about Puerto Rico!

Trump to Puerto Rico: Pay Your Debt to Wall Street or Drop Dead

On September 25, Trump tweeted about the electrical grid being “devastated” and then immediately brought up Puerto Rico’s debt: “billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks ... must be dealt with.” On September 29, he tweeted that “... Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!” (Emphasis added) And later that day in a speech on tax policy, Trump said, “Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort ... will be funded.”

And, according to NBC News, FEMA “administrators want to assess the damage before committing to fixing public infrastructure in the ravaged U.S. territory.” A FEMA spokesman said, “What is available to Puerto Rico currently is individual assistance”—in other words, NOT infrastructure repair. (Emphasis added)

Rough estimates for rebuilding infrastructure run from $40 billion to $80 billion. Puerto Rico’s government is already carrying $70 billion in unpaid and unpayable debt. PREPA, the government-owned power company, filed for bankruptcy this summer.

So when Trump says that these debts “must be dealt with,” that “big decisions have to be made” about rebuilding costs, and that “ultimately” it is the responsibility of the Puerto Rican government—and when he combines this with racist slanders of the Puerto Rican people wanting “everything to be done for them”—he is signaling that the U.S. government will not finance reconstruction, knowing full well that the Puerto Rican government cannot.

This means either that rebuilding will not happen at all, or that Puerto Rico will rebuild by going even more massively into debt. That in turn would mean ever more vicious and intolerable “austerity”: tax hikes and the funneling of all government funds to service the debt, while money for social services, health care, schools, and so on are further slashed.

Either way, this decision would condemn the Puerto Rican people to generations of unnecessary suffering and misery, taking the 120-year history of U.S. occupation, domination, and exploitation to new levels of oppression.

The Trump regime’s entire response to the natural disasters in the Caribbean has been a crime against humanity, dripping with racism. And it drives home both the colonial nature of the imperialist system that loots, uses, and abandons the oppressed nations it dominates, and the character of the barbaric Trump/Pence regime that revels in the prospect of condemning millions of people of color to misery and death.

These policies truly are genocidal, and have to be condemned and opposed. This regime has to be driven from power. And this imperialist system has to be overturned, here and all over the world, at the soonest possible time.

1. The prominent racist/fascist blogger and Trump supporter Mike Cernovich went even further in attacking Cruz, tweeting, “She is garbage, she is a murderer, she failed her people and her duties and belongs in prison!” [back]



Volunteers Needed... for and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.