The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, took the territory’s government to task during a visit to San Antonio on Saturday night for being “complicit” in inaccurately counting the number of people who died after Hurricane Maria.
“The Puerto Rican government decided to play alongside the good-news story that President Trump and his administration put forward,” said Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto during a news conference at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio. “And in doing so, in being quiet, they became complicit to the botched effort and the neglect that gave way to what happened and continues to happen in Puerto Rico.”
The mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital city traveled to San Antonio to accept an award from the San Antonio Association of Hispanic Journalists. The organization recognized her at its annual gala Saturday night for her advocacy on behalf of Puerto Rico after Maria caused widespread destruction to the U.S. territory last September.
Cruz rose to international prominence in the storm’s aftermath when she fiercely criticized the emergency response efforts of President Donald Trump’s administration as insufficient and argued that Puerto Ricans were largely left on their own after structures were damaged and power was knocked out across the island.
Her visit comes just days after the Puerto Rican government’s admission in a report that the death toll from Maria was likely more than 1,400, a staggering difference from the official count, which still remains at 64. That low number, she said, flew in the face of evidence on the ground and from the anecdotes of Puerto Ricans, in addition to independent studies like one by Harvard researchers in May that estimated the death toll at more than 4,600.
Cruz said the federal government’s efforts to aid the people of Puerto Rico should have been imperative, regardless of the precise number of casualties.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s 1,400 or 4,000 what matters is that the Puerto Rican people did not receive the aid that we were entitled to receive as humans,” she said. “There was a legal obligation, but there’s a better obligation, which is a moral obligation. And what we need to do is we all need to learn from this so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Nearly a year after the storm ravaged the island, the residents of Puerto Rico remain in a state of shock, Cruz said, because “at different levels, everyone lost something.” The storm decimated not only physical structures — thousands of buildings still lack permanent roofs while the power grid, though restored, remains fragile — but also the island’s health care and education systems, she said.
Despite her criticism of the government response, Cruz commended the American people for spreading awareness of Puerto Rico’s plight and donating money toward recovery efforts.
“Where the American government failed the Puerto Rican people, the American people stepped up, and the Latinos stepped up, and the diaspora stepped up,” Cruz said. “I’m going to ask everybody to not forget us. Keep us not only in your prayers, but make sure the Puerto Rican disaster is kept on people’s minds and that we can work together to do something about it.”
During her visit to Texas, Cruz said she intends to educate herself about immigration, adding that large numbers of Puerto Ricans lack permanent immigration status.
She said she wanted to learn more about how San Antonio and Texas handle immigration issues, including the separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, adding that she wanted to know “what we can do as fellow Latins and as Puerto Ricans to help reunite those families and ensure that policies like this don’t become a thing of the future.”