President Donald Trump renewed his claim that Puerto Rico’s humanitarian crisis is one of its own making during a press conference on Monday, while defending his administration from growing accusations over the slowness of federal efforts on the island.
“Puerto Rico is very tough because of the fact that it’s an island. It’s also tough because, as you know, it was in very poor shape before the hurricanes ever hit,” Trump said.
The president went on to reference relief efforts in the mainland states of Texas and Florida where recovery efforts from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have been underway for over a month, as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“We are working right now, as you know, relief funds were just approved, [and are] in the process of becoming approved. That includes Texas, that includes Florida. It also includes Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands. But,” Trump said, circling back to Puerto Rico, “it was in really bad shape before.”
The White House is facing an onslaught of criticism over its handling of Puerto Rico’s crisis. Almost a month has passed since a Category 4 hurricane devastated the island, leaving 87 percent of residents without power and more than 25 percent without potable water. Puerto Ricans have been advised to boil their water as an added safety precaution and warned away from toxic waste sites after a number of desperate islanders attempted to drink from wells containing hazardous industrial waste. The island is also reportedly suffering from food shortages, something officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have avoided confirming.
Trump has done little to improve the situation. The president initially opted to tweet about the National Football League rather than the hurricane. Eventual acknowledgement of the crisis centered on Puerto Rico’s pre-existing debt, as well as the island’s long-suffering electrical grid. That talking point resurfaced Monday, with Trump again dodging responsibility.
“Their electrical grid was destroyed before the hurricanes got there. It was in very bad shape. [It] was not working,” Trump said during the press conference, linking the island’s financial struggles to the grid’s condition. “Now, you’re going to have to build a whole new electrical plant system… The fact that, their electrical system was in horrible shape before and even worse shape after. So we are working right now, as you know, relief funds were just approved, in the process of becoming approved.”
The grid’s condition, like much of Puerto Rico’s ongoing problems, have more to do with neglect from the mainland than anything else — an oversight stretching back decades before Trump took office. But the White House is being criticized for botching rebuilding efforts, angering activists who have advocated for a sustainable and climate resilient recovery effort.
After laying blame for the grid’s historical and contemporary condition firmly on the shoulders of the island’s residents, Trump went on to acknowledge Puerto Rico’s water and food shortages — which he also blamed on islanders.
“People don’t have drinking water. [But] we’ve delivered tremendous amounts of water,” Trump said. “What you have to do, you have to have distribution of the water, but by the people on the island. We have massive amounts of water. We have massive amounts of food. But they have to distribute it. They have to do it. They have to distribute the food to the people on the island. What we’ve done, we now have military distributing food, something that really they shouldn’t have to be doing.”
Following his assertion that federal officials sent specifically to assist with the crisis should not be expected to oversee the distribution of vital necessities, Trump returned to praising his administration’s efforts. Referencing praise from Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who has in reality repeatedly begged Trump for more aid for Puerto Rico, the president congratulated the federal relief response once again.
“If you look at the governor, who’s a good man… But you look at the governor of Puerto Rico, he has said we’ve done an outstanding job,” Trump said, before emphasizing again, “Puerto Rico is a tough one.”