President Trump has threatened to withdraw federal emergency workers from the Puerto Rico as much of the island remains in dire straits, says Julio Lopez Varona of Make the Road Connecticut
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. President Trump has launched a new attack on Puerto Rico as it grapples with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. On Twitter, Trump suggested Puerto Rico is mostly to blame for its financial crisis and damaged infrastructure. Trump also threatened to withdraw federal emergency workers from the recovery effort. The mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz responded by calling Trump, “The Hater in Chief.” Trump’s threat to withdraw aid from Puerto Rico comes as the island remains in dire need. About a third of its residents are without running water and some have even tried to get it from contaminated sites. The death toll has climbed to 45 and is expected to rise. This comes as congress is weighing a 4.9 billion dollar measure for Puerto Rico but it’s not in the form of direct aid but a loan. Julio López Varona is the lead organizer for Make The Road Connecticut. Welcome Julio, let’s start with responding to what we heard from President Trump on Twitter today, apparently blaming the island for its financial crisis and then making the suggestion that he’s going to withdraw federal emergency workers from Puerto Rico saying that he can’t keep them there forever. JULIO LÓPEZ: Hi, Aaron. It’s great to be here. I would say there’s a couple of things that seem interesting. In a broader sense it’s just keeps marking the disregard that Trump shows for Black and Brown communities. Puerto Rico is just another layer that gets added to 100 years of colonialism and disregard for the people of Puerto Rico who are American citizens. I think it goes to show how he has seen this strategy that’s happening in Puerto Rico, which is extremely unfortunate. It’s not, his comments are not in any something that we don’t expect because he was throwing paper towels at our people two weeks ago, but they are extremely unfortunate. AARON MATÉ: Right. His comment comes just one day after the EPA put out a press release urging residents not to drink or gather water, drinking water from hazardous superfund sites. Saying that people are so desperate that they’ve been forced to collect water from there. Can you talk about that situation when it comes to water and people in such need that they’re forced to go and try to collect it from these sites? JULIO LÓPEZ: Well, people are desperate in most parts of the island. Many parts of the island are still disconnected from any place where there are resources. The resources that the federal government is giving Puerto Rico are extremely limited so it’s up to the people to actually organize and do something. People are just going to rivers or where ever they can to get some water. Unfortunately, because of the hurricane the ecosystem was just destroyed, which meant that it created disease, it created these combination of things that are making disease spread, are making people die, are making people go to the bathroom in the same place where they’re getting their water. It’s a really bad situation that’s getting even worse because of the fact that we’re not getting the support we need. AARON MATÉ: Right. On that front, let’s talk about food as well. There’s a report in the Guardian yesterday, saying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is only providing 200,000 meals per day to meet the needs of more than 2 million people. They call this a daily shortfall of between 1.8 million and 5.8 million meals. JULIO LÓPEZ: Exactly, so it’s about 200,000 meals and to make matters worse, I don’t know if you’ve seen the packages of meals, but they’re not very healthy. One of the biggest criticisms since the beginning was that they were not getting to where they needed to. Now, only 200,000 are getting and what we’re finding is that the packages are, they are giving to families are small, are unhealthy and don’t have what families need to actually get them fed. AARON MATÉ: Right. In terms of aid not reaching people, I mean, most of the footage that we see comes from San Juan, that’s where a lot of the aid is being delivered to. That’s where most journalists are reporting from, but all this is very cut off from the remote communities who are not getting the aid. Can you talk about their situation? JULIO LÓPEZ: Well, I was actually in Puerto Rico when the hurricane passed. I just came back on Monday. San Juan has become this very interesting poster child for recovery that has nothing to do with the rest of the island. Most of the packages that were delivered, even donations are stuck in San Juan because the government, for about a week and a half, was still making sure the packages were paying taxes so there was a logistical nightmare that happened. That logistical nightmare meant that many of the packages either just got to San Juan where there were some, and there is some, access to water and electricity, but they were not getting to the rest of the island. When we’re talking about not only food, but medical equipment we have a crisis that’s brewing and is becoming even worse because dialysis stations are not getting the medicine they need so it’s getting, it was a hurricane but what it’s really becoming a disaster or the hurricane is the fact that the response has been so terrible. AARON MATÉ: Finally, Julio, your reaction to this request from Trump, to Congress, not for 4.9 billion dollars in aid to Puerto Rico but 4.9 billion dollars as a loan. JULIO LÓPEZ: Well, it’s sad and laughable at the same time. Many of the debt that Puerto Rico has right now, the over 72 billion dollars in debt that Puerto Rico has, are from the same friends that Trump has on Wall Street that impose those debts 10 years ago because they knew Puerto Rico was in a dire situation and those same friends impose us 30 measures that made the Puerto Rico infrastructure unable to respond to any crisis. Now, to Trump say that they’re going to lend some money for Puerto Rico to pre-pay knowing that Puerto Rico is in a dire crisis, and that crisis is made because of Wall Street billionaires and millionaires that have created this situation, and have made a really bad hurricane worse, is just a slap in the face and an insult to American citizens living in Puerto Rico. AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Julio López Varona, lead organizer for Make the Road Connecticut, thank you. JULIO LÓPEZ:: Thank you. AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.