Puerto Rico Needs Water, But Trump Claims Success

Over 30% of Puerto Ricans still do not have access to clean water one month after Hurricane Maria, but today President Trump gave the federal response a perfect score

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Story Transcript

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Maté. About a month after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the island is still struggling to provide basic services. About 15% of Puerto Rico currently has electricity, but the bigger issue is that over 30%, or one million people do not have access to clean water. Meeting today with Governor Ricardo Rosselló, Trump repeated his previous claim he might pull US resources from Puerto Rico. He was also asked to grade the overall relief effort.

DONALD TRUMP: I think the governor understands that FEMA, the military, first responders cannot be there forever and no matter where you go, they cannot be there forever.

SPEAKER: Between 1 and 10 how would you grade the White House response so far to hurricane?

DONALD TRUMP: I would say it was a 10. I think it was worse than Katrina. It was in many ways worse than anything people have ever seen.

AARON MATÉ: Julio López Varona is a Founding Organizer of Make the Road Connecticut and was recently in Puerto Rico. Julio, welcome. Give us an update if you could on where the island stands right now in terms of its basic needs, like water.

JULIO LÓPEZ: Well, I think you gave a good summary. About 30% of people don’t have water, which is about a million people. I think there’s a great issue right now which is getting water that can be actually drinking water. I was in San Juan and my family’s in San Juan and even there it’s extremely difficult to get bottled water.

So, a lot of people don’t have any type of water to drink and what’s happening is that in desperation, people are just doing anything they can to get water, because many of the places where there isn’t water, there isn’t electricity. One of the biggest issues we’re seeing is that people are actually going to hazardous waste sites to actually get some water and in those places you can’t even boil the water because it’s so bad, and the places that do have water, the government is asking people to use Clorox bleach. It’s like a thing you put on the water, and then to boil it.

But even then, I think there’s such desperation when it comes to just getting clean water, being able to bathe and knowing that many diseases are spreading because of that situation.

AARON MATÉ: Trump said today that he’s going to help the island rebuild its damaged electrical grid. Do you buy that?

JULIO LÓPEZ: I think they have to. Like, I don’t see how they leave Puerto Rican and American citizens out. If they do, what will happen is that people are going to flee the island and they’re going to end up in Orlando or New York, and it’s also going to become a political problem. I feel like Trump doesn’t necessarily care, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have to deal with this issue because this is still an American territory with American citizens that can move. That can have political power, and in that sense, I think there’s some imperative if you’re a Republican or a Democrat to do something, because there can be serious repercussions in the future.

AARON MATÉ: Yeah. I should have clarified my question. I guess my question is that do you think that the US is going to help Puerto Rico rebuild its electric utility, still as a public service or are they going to push through on privatization plans that have been floated for a long time, well before Hurricane Maria hit?

JULIO LÓPEZ:: That’s what they’re doing right now. There are whispers of a meeting that’s going to happen next week in Congress, and one of the things that they’re discussing is the full privatization of the electrical companies. We know that 20 years ago they privatized the telephone companies. We know that the investors that have been involved in pushing austerity measures for the last 10 years, at the end of the day, what they want is to privatize and make sure that working people in Puerto Rico make less, so they can make more money, so yes, this is part of an agenda that clearly is going to push for privatization and for neoliberal policies as the future of Puerto Rico, post disaster.

AARON MATÉ: We heard Trump there in that clip rate his administration’s response to the crisis a 10 out of 10. Do you think that the residents of Puerto Rico who you spoke to when you were there would agree?

JULIO LÓPEZ:: I think many residents of Puerto Rico haven’t even seen the federal government in their communities. Those that have seen the federal agencies in their communities haven’t seen them enough. It’s only because of the people of Puerto Rico working together that people are surviving. So, if you just go to Puerto Rico and walk around, you’ll see how people are not happy, and how they feel like they’ve been left out and forgotten by the US government.

AARON MATÉ: When you talk to people, do they share with you their thoughts on the reason why?

JULIO LÓPEZ: I think most people just think that they don’t care about us. I think the issue of colonialism has become a greater issue and a greater conversation piece. I also think that the issue of this being a brown community of people that, when you have a President that doesn’t mind supporting and talking about white supremacists and how they’re not all bad, you have to question how much support they’re going to give to brown communities living in Puerto Rico.

AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Julio López Varona, Founding Organizer of Make the Road Connecticut. Thank you.

JULIO LÓPEZ: Thank you.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.