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How Puerto Ricans see President Trump’s hurricane response

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, President Trump toured parts of the island to assess the damage and relief efforts. Praising the work of FEMA, Mr. Trump complained about the cost of recovery and said Puerto Ricans need to do more. Special correspondent Monica Villamizar joins Judy Woodruff to discuss how Puerto Ricans are responding to the president’s visit and comments.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now to Puerto Rico, and President Trump's visit today, two weeks after Hurricane Maria.

    It was a chance to view the devastation and meet some of the victims, and politics was never far away.

    Special correspondent Monica Villamizar from San Juan.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR, Special Correspondent:

    The president and first lady touched down at the Air National Guard base outside San Juan, to be greeted by Governor Ricardo Rossello.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    Right from the beginning, this governor didn't play politics. He didn't play it at all. He was saying it like it was, and he was giving us the highest grades.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    He also pointed to the island's relatively low official death count of 16, as of several days ago.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the tremendous, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with really a storm that was just totally overpowering.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    The president's chief critic on the island, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, also greeted him today. She had accused the administration of — quote — "killing us with inefficiency."

    He fired back over the weekend, branding the mayor a poor leader and a politically motivated ingrate. And he said people on the ravaged island want everything done for them.

    Mayor Cruz said today's meeting were productive, but she told CNN that President Trump spouts things that hurt the people of Puerto Rico.

    Before departing the White House, the president again said Puerto Ricans need to do more. And once there he, turned to the issue of the cost of recovery.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    Now, I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you have thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we have spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Opinions over the presidential visit were divided in places like the slum of La Playita in San Juan.

    We met two cousins, Jeremy Agosto and Juan Gauche.

  • JEREMY AGOSTO, San Juan Resident (through interpreter):

    I like him. I mean, if he helps us, I like him.

  • MAN (through interpreter):

    We need some benefits.

  • JEREMY AGOSTO (through interpreter):

    Of course we have to help Puerto Rico. I mean, we're screwed.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Down the road, a young fisherman, Edgar Santiago, he lives with his grandmother in a house right next to the airport, where the president landed. The storm killed half of his chickens and flooded his home, but he said he's willing to give President Trump a chance.

  • EDGAR SANTIAGO, San Juan Resident (through interpreter):

    We have to wait. But if he doesn't help, he's going to have a really hard time with the people here.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Mr. Trump met some of the locals today, as he toured a town near San Juan.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    We're going to help you out.

  • MAN:

    Thank you.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    Have a good time.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Inside a church, the president threw paper towels and other supplies into a crowd. He didn't experience the long lines of people in need, waiting, and then waiting some more, for virtually everything.

  • JOY, San Juan Resident:

    Everybody wants to take out money from the banks, because the machines are not working, so that's why, because of Maria, we don't have service, Internet service, and almost everything, no electricity.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Just 45 percent of Puerto Ricans have access to clean water. In Manati, on the island's northern coast, people drink and bathe from a precious stream.

  • EVELYN MAJOS, Manati Resident (through interpreter):

    From all towns of Puerto Rico, people come here. They nourish themselves from this blessing, because right now this is most valued, I think even more than gasoline.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Aid is now pouring in, but little has reached some of the most damaged areas. But, after his tour, the president praised the work he saw.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    I think the job of the first-responders has been something like I have never seen before.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    He also met today with Governor Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands, also devastated by Hurricane Maria.

    This evening, the presidential party returned to Washington.

    But for the 3.5 millions of Puerto Ricans, recovery is just getting started — Judy.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Monica, you mentioned in your report a place, this neighborhood near where the president's plane landed and what it's like for the people who live there.

    Tell us a little bit more about the difference between their circumstances and some of the places where the president visited today.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Absolutely.

    La Playita and Shanghai, Llorens, all these are neighborhoods that are in the capital, San Juan, which has received most of the aid, first-responders, et cetera.

    And yet, Judy, up until yesterday they haven't received a single drop of aid. They had SOS signs on the highways. We saw them here when we landed. And this is 13 days after the storm, of course. We understand they got some food finally yesterday. Things are very desperate there. The sewage system flooded. They say people are sick.

    It is quite a dire situation, and people are saying they really want, hope Trump's visit to materialize on the ground in the form of more things, supplies, basic needs coming to them.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Monica, also today, the president of course had some comments for the people of Puerto Rico while he was there, including what he said, comparing this Hurricane Maria and its effect on Puerto Rico to Katrina. How are people reacting to that?

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Well, that's a very good question. People are not happy at all.

    I mean, just to give our viewers some context, people here were already upset. Trump's image here wasn't great already because of the slow response, obviously, but also because of his tweets where he kept saying that Puerto Ricans were not doing enough to help themselves, when really on the ground the community effort was huge.

    Now, when he said the Katrina comment, people here were telling us, that's not fair. Of course, there hasn't been as much loss of life as Katrina saw, but, for us, we lost everything. We lost our livelihoods. This is a tragedy, and it is devastating.

    They didn't really appreciate that, nor the fact that Trump said that the budget was already being stretched out because of aid to Puerto Rico.

    Everybody is very — is really keeping close attention to the funding, how much money would be allocated, because it will have an impact right here on the streets.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Finally, quickly, how are people reacting to this sort of back-and-forth between President Trump and the mayor of San Juan? They have had a back-and-forth going. We know he saw her briefly today.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    He did. And everybody was anticipating, you know, if both of them were to meet, what the reaction was going to be like. She's been quite vocal against him and his officials, saying they are out of touch with people on the island.

    And it's important to say that, of course, she's sort of serving her political platform, which is a platform that wants more sovereignty for Puerto Rico and is voicing a generalized feeling here that Puerto Rico is a commonwealth that has been treated sort of as a colony, not really a lot of people paying a lot of attention to the needs of people here, a huge disconnect between the mainland and what goes on in the island.

    But certainly people were hoping that she also tries to work with the administration and works to get as much aid as possible, because they need it desperately on the ground.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Monica Villamizar, doing some great reporting for us on the ground in Puerto Rico, thank you, Monica.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Thank you, Judy.

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