NEW BRITAIN - As Puerto Rico continues to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump made comments early Thursday morning that have New Britain locals with ties to the island worried and upset.
“I don’t expect help forever, but at least help us along until we get electricity,” said Republican Alderman Wilfredo Pabon of the Puerto Rican Society of New Britain.
Pabon’s comments were in response to tweets from Trump that stated, “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
“I know (Puerto Rico) owed money to the United States, but we didn’t ask for the storm, either,” said Pabon, who has two brothers on the island, one of them on dialysis.
Pabon recently collected food, water and First Aid supplies with the Puerto Rican Society, Community Mental Health Affiliates, City Council member Kristian Rosado and Olga Perez, and filled two 18-wheel trucks with items, to ship down to Puerto Rico.
“We’re not asking for a handout, just help with people to get their houses out from under water,” said Pabon.
Forty-five deaths in Puerto Rico have been blamed on Maria, which hit the island as a Category 5 hurricane on Sept. 20, and about 85 percent of Puerto Rican residents still lack electricity, according to the Associated Press. It is reported that one-third of the island is also without water and only 8 percent of roads are passable.
With this situation in Puerto Rico, Diane Alverio, a New Britain native and founding member and publisher of CT Latino News, said Trump’s comments were “despicable.”
“For him to play games with peoples’ lives reflects poorly on him as a human being,” said Alverio.
Alverio added that as way to stop “strangling” the Puerto Rican economy, the U.S. should pull out of the 1920s Jones Act, which requires goods that are shipped between U.S. ports to be sene on an American-built ship, American-owned and crewed by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. As a result, Puerto Rican citizens have to pay 30 percent more for goods, she said. The Jones Act was suspended by the Trump administration following the hurricane to allow supplies to flow quickly to the island.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Alverio, who's daughter started a GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/supplies-for-las-piedras to help a friend on the island who doesn’t have access to potable water.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., sent a letter to the president Thursday in reaction to Trump’s comments, requesting that he continue relief of the humanitarian crisis on the island and appoint a “Puerto Rico czar” to oversee efforts to do so.
“I am puzzled and perplexed that the administration is failing to treat this disaster like the logistical nightmare that the FEMA administrator considers it to be,” wrote Blumenthal. “Moreover, I am shocked and dismayed by your statements this morning that reveal an eagerness to abandon the island in its hour of need.”
Amid the president’s comments, Congress passed a $36.5 billion package to replenish government disaster aid funds and help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico keep functioning, Thursday. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who has previously said the U.S. needs to continue to respond to the humanitarian crisis, is expected to visit the island with a delegation.
“The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan forever, nobody is asking for forever,” said Alverio, adding that the U.S. cannot allow the Puerto Rican crisis to take a back seat to other issues. “We’re just asking for substantial help in rebuilding Puerto Rico as part of the United States.”
State Rep. Robert Sanchez, D-New Britain, who said he and his wife have family on the island and know of people there that haven’t even begun to receive help, echoed Alverio’s sentiments.
“I’m very disappointed with President Trump,” said Sanchez, who added he’s fundraised $30,000 with the Latino Coalition and Community Foundation of Greater New Britain toward a $100,000 goal. “This is going to be months (of recovery). FEMA is supposed to provide as much help as they can to U.S. citizens.”
Sanchez said that he, too, is in favor of repealing the Jones Act.
Reports from the Associated Press were included in this story.
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.