From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject San Juan’s Mayor: Puerto Rico Was a Precursor for the Pandemic
Date May 31, 2020 12:00 AM
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[San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz talks of Trump’s criminal
response to Puerto Rico’s hurricanes as a precursor to this moment.
Trump politically disappeared the victims of Irma and Maria in 2017;
and is trying to do the same to victims of Covid-19.]
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Jamil Smith
May 27, 2020
Rolling Stone
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_ San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz talks of Trump’s criminal
response to Puerto Rico’s hurricanes as a precursor to this moment.
Trump politically disappeared the victims of Irma and Maria in 2017;
and is trying to do the same to victims of Covid-19. _

San Juan, Puerto Rico Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, is a strident critic
of President Trump for his cruel response to Hurricane Maria. “I
don’t think we can let his darkness dim our light.”, San Juan
Department of Communication


One hundred thousand people are dead. There is no effective federal
plan to control a pandemic for which there remains no cure, nor help
the nation recover from it. President Trump is engaged in a daily
exercise in willful failure, ridding his government of inspectors
general and obfuscating his own negligence. In a job that typically
helps lead the nation in moments of grief, this president opts to
tweet and golf, needing to be pressured to finally lower the flag to
half-staff last week. It is no surprise that so many Americans
followed the lead of Trump and fellow Republicans who rushed to reopen
their state economies, going in droves to shores and pools and
shops like spring breakers
[[link removed]],
many without masks, as if vaccinated by their frustration and

The United States has seen death on this scale before, and it has
ignored it before. Carmen Yulín Cruz couldn’t: She saw it up close.

Yulín is the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico
[[link removed]], same as in 2017, when
Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the island. Instead of getting
the help they needed from Trump, Puerto Ricans got paper towel jump
shots and petty tweets. Later, the president pushed forward with a
deliberate, mean-spirited effort to steal aid from the very folks who
still need it today.

Three years later, Mayor Yulín is living it again. This time, her
fellow Americans can empathize in a different way.

“While we were dying in Puerto Rico because of his incompetence
after Hurricane Maria, Trump played golf. While people are dying
of COVID-19 [[link removed]]because of his
incompetence, again, Trump plays golf,” Yulín said during her
interview with _Rolling Stone_. “His lack of actions, his lack of
respect for scientific data result in the death of thousands. People
have died because President Trump is an Incompetent in Chief.”

Trump’s blithe, patronizing visit to Puerto Rico in the fall of
2017, punctuated by the paper towel jump shots, was indicative of how
quickly he would deliberately try to blame Puerto Rico for its own
problems. Two hurricanes, Irma and Maria — the second of which was
the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in 90 years — landed
successive and devastating blows on the American archipelago and the
neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands. Killing thousands of people in Puerto
Rico — estimates vary from 2,975
[[link removed]] to 4,645
[[link removed]] —
the storms also laid waste to its environment, housing, and (notably
for the current moment) its health care infrastructure. But as it
remained saddled with debt and now devastation, Trump chose to treat
Puerto Rico like a tenant he wished to evict.

Yulín had been the Democratic mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s
capital and most populous city, for four years when the hurricanes hit
in 2017. “This was September. He took office on January 20th.
There’s still a little bit of that sense that some people may have
given him the benefit of the doubt,” she told me when we spoke
recently. “He failed his dress rehearsal. Rather, it was a
catastrophe rehearsal.”

That Puerto Ricans weren’t Mexicans was of no concern to Trump. They
were Spanish-speaking brown people whose poverty and plight made for
easy scapegoating before his MAGA hordes. But worse yet, the Trump
White House’s willful negligence — indeed, the president’s open
and stated desire to cut the archipelago off financially — was so
constant that eventually, as our mainland media attention waned, we
left the suffering of our fellow Americans unaddressed. The same goes
for the uncorrected government errors for which Trump and his
administration were responsible.

To say that we all are paying the price for it now would be to buy
into the faulty “equalizer” framing of the pandemic; underserved
communities are feeling the pain much more disproportionately than
others. But the Puerto Rico disaster deadened our nerves. The starkest
indication is the carefree attitude we see many Americans exhibit,
well after other countries have made this same mistake. As Adam Serwer
noted, the president only was too happy to reject stay-at-home
measures after it became clear that the coronavirus was killing black,
Latino, and indigenous people at higher percentages relative to their
populations. Even as the death toll rises and this pestilence sweeps
throughout rural, whiter communities with lethal force, Trump may very
well try deflecting the blame onto black comorbidities and such. I
certainly don’t encourage that kind of political erasure in advance
of an election, but Puerto Rico is one reason why I expect it. It is
why remembering what happened there, and understanding why it was a
precursor for this moment, is so vital.

Yulín was a vociferous critic of the president in the immediate wake
of Maria, and Trump treated her harshly, using Twitter to aim at her
allegedly “poor leadership,” with the sitting opposition governor,
Ricardo Roselló, refusing to defend her. She is still the mayor, and
running for Roselló’s former job after he resigned last year in
disgrace following the revelation of vulgar chat messages, one of
which was a joke about personally assassinating Yulín
[[link removed]].

However, Yulín has put all of her campaign activities on hold to run
San Juan’s COVID-19 recovery effort. As of this morning, _The New
York Times _counts 126 deaths in Puerto Rico since the start of the
pandemic, with 2,913 official positive diagnoses for COVID-19 — a
death rate of around four out of every 100, below the CDC’s national
average. However, the territory, per various reports and Yulín
herself, lags everywhere else in the United States in virus testing.
“Puerto Rico, it’s almost like a mini version of what is going on
in the United States,” said Yulín, noting the lack of testing
access, the over-reliance on municipal tracking, and need for more aid
— which Trump has threatened to veto.

Yulín doesn’t think mainland Americans, by and large, failed to
grasp the lessons from the Puerto Rico tragedy. But what about Trump?
“I think as humans we always want to think that people learn from
their mistakes,” Yulín said. “The problem here is that we’re
not dealing with a normal human being.”

Imagining a semblance of humility in the president, I asked the mayor
what she felt Trump should be taking from his Puerto Rico failure and
applying to the coronavirus pandemic response. “He made the
emergency in Puerto Rico be about him, not about the people that were
suffering. He continued to toot his own horn and talk about how well
things were going, despite the truth smacking him in the face. Every
reporter that came down to Puerto Rico could see very readily that
things were not going the way he was saying.

“He didn’t listen to what the experts had to say. Then, he
didn’t think that this was about saving lives. He thought that this
was about politics. You see the pattern is the same right now. He did
not believe the scientists. He continues to create an alternative

It is this déjà vu that, one might hope, would act like smelling
salts to a nation concussed both by its own trauma and its solipsism
in this moment. Puerto Rico, nearly three years later, is still in
trouble. Two earthquakes along its southern region this year,
including one in May, in the midst of the pandemic. The federal
government has awarded $2.2 billion in aid to the territory — but
the $4.89 billion in supplemental aid that the House passed in
February is what Trump and Senate Republicans are still blocking.

Gov. Wanda Vázquez, a Republican
[[link removed]],
aims to distribute the $2.2 billion that Puerto Rico now has as
COVID-19 relief by December
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but Yulín noted that “when the state has received that money, it
has shared it with its cities. In Puerto Rico, a lot of mayors,
including myself, have requested the governor to distribute part of
that $2.2 billion and put it in the hands of municipalities. Our
municipal income is going under.”

Yulín, who endorsed Bernie Sanders for president and has been
endorsed by Elizabeth Warren for governor, spoke about the need for
Puerto Rico to think differently about poverty, especially in the wake
of the pandemic. “Our people are going hungry. This is a new type of
poor. Money that doesn’t come into people’s hands right now is
money that will not help people buy food or people get medical
attention. Now people are really waking up to this idea. Those things
that people considered radical ideas are now becoming self-evident
truths that people cannot look away from.”

What she speaks of are just more examples of the American carnage that
Trump spoke of in his inaugural address. It was not something, as
we’ve come to discover, that he sought to avoid or end. Nor was it
simply some cinematic spectacle of blood and sinew. That carnage
actually manifests in the political disappearance of Americans, or as
Kimberlé Crenshaw put it this week, the “unmattering” of certain

“The current government was unable to count the deaths of people
after Irma and Maria, and they died because of the botched effort of
the federal government, aided by the local government,” Yulín
noted. “Now, the local government cannot count the people that are
sick, or cannot account for where they are, making the situation more
difficult and ensuring that the only option the government has is a

The word “Katrina” has been casually employed as a tired and
offensive metaphor for presidential ineptitude, and perhaps that will
finally be retired now. But in this climate of numbing death, we
should reconsider that since that disaster was hardly “natural,”
authored by a system that worked as designed to minimize and
deprioritize black life. Claiming that Trump doesn’t have a
worldview, or is some kind of stumblebum who hasn’t a clue,
doesn’t cut it when we see him consistently erase entire swaths of
the United States that don’t matter to him, areas that need and
deserve more help. In the midst of a crisis that by its very nature
touches every single American, Trump’s failure in Puerto Rico is now
one that stings people of every color and creed.

In Trump’s America, Puerto Rico remains arguably the most erased
part of it. As much as Vázquez would have Puerto Rico fit in with the
rest of the mainland with her Thursday announcement that beaches,
restaurants, churches, hair salons, and retail stores will be allowed
to reopen
[[link removed]] this
week, it doesn’t sway the white-nationalist president to look their
way with favor.

Puerto Rico will never have a place in a Trumpian America, where only
those who vote for the dear leader get to enjoy the illusion of full
protections under his beneficence — until a pandemic comes around,
or perhaps even just an economic recession or depression. The pandemic
may not be an “equalizer” for all Americans. But continuing to
erase the suffering of black and brown people, or even failing to
grieve them, will forever be our undoing as a nation.

There is something that we can do about it, Yulín said: vote. “This
next election, it’s not about a philosophical view of how the world
should be,” she told me. “It is truly about how we — after COVID
— how do we make sure that we don’t look the other way and that we
make sure that the word ‘privileged’ is attached to all of us, not
to some of us. It is about how we raise people from being poor into a
life where they can thrive and not only survive. Or just, at the very
least, survive right now. You know what I mean? Then, however you have
the chance to vote, if you have to put three masks on and four pairs
of gloves, go vote.”

Yulín was clear: She means send Trump packing. America shouldn’t
need any more cautionary tales. “He ignored the signs in January,”
Yulín continued. “He ignored the scientific data. Ultimately,
he’s always more concerned about him and about his politics than
about doing right by the people and saving lives. That right there is
a recipe for disaster. But I don’t think we can let his darkness dim
our light.”

[_Jamil Smith is a Senior Writer at Rolling Stone, where he covers
national affairs and culture. Throughout his career as a journalist
and Emmy Award-winning television producer, he has explored the
intersection of politics and identity. He can be reached via twitter
@JamilSmith. [[link removed]]_]

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