What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

San Juan mayor: Trump can attack me as long as it gets out the message that Puerto Ricans are hungry

The federal response in Puerto Rico continues to draw criticism from locals, their dissatisfaction amplified by President Trump’s visit to the island on Tuesday. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz talks with special correspondent Monica Villamizar about the president’s visit and the disconnect she sees between the White House and the reality in Puerto Rico.

Read the Full Transcript

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Let's turn now to Puerto Rico.

    The federal response continues to draw criticism from locals. They were only amplified yesterday after President Trump's visit to the hurricane-ravaged island.

    San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz has been especially outspoken, and she's personally called out by Mr. Trump.

    Our special correspondent Monica Villamizar caught up with the mayor this afternoon. And she began by asking about Mr. Trump's comments about what constitutes a catastrophe.

  • MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ, San Juan, Puerto Rico:

    To Mr. Trump, I have nothing to say.

    I think a word — a picture speaks louder than 1,000 words. And the photographs that you guys have taken, the stories that you have heard, the sorrow that you have witnessed speaks for itself.

    And yesterday was an interesting day. The meeting that we had, the second part of the meeting with White House staff, I think, finally put into perspective the disconnect between what they're hearing and what is actually happening, what they think should happen and what is actually taking place.

    And this was an important gap to be filled. So I hope that, as the coverage continues, as the internal people to continue to — just report — that they see, we have towns, for example, where the mayors have not been heard of. Why? Because there's not — no communication.

    But I keep asking people. The totals yesterday, 100,000 people have registered with FEMA, 100,000 people out of 3.5 million. Let's presume half of the population has been affected — 100,000 people? We still have, what, 1.2 million more to go.

    Why? Because we don't have interconnectivity. So, it's of the utmost important to bring up all the communications. And I can't believe that there's logistical problems. You go to Timbuktu, you're in the middle of the desert, you sit down a solar panel or whatever, and there's communication.

    So I think that the world needs to pay more attention to what they see and less attention to what he says.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR, Special Correspondent:

    But do you think there is a lack of will to help the island and that's why the communications haven't been established?

    You said it yourself. The military can establish communications in the middle of Mali and Timbuktu.

  • MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ:

    From the American people, there's not a lack of will. They're here.

    I think that what has to happen is that standard operating procedures are being put in place, taking into consideration the real variables. And when you're in the habit of just listening to those that tell you that things are OK, then you are in trouble.

    My staff tells me when I screw up every day, with no qualms about it. And I am not perfect. I do some things that are right. I do some things that I could have done better. I do some things that are wrong.

    Everything legal, everything within the confines of — ethical and moral, but, sometimes, you have to admit it. So, I think General Buchanan was very strong when he was just — forward and said, look, I don't have everything I need, and this is the worst devastation I have ever seen.

    And the Pentagon also put out a paper this Sunday saying, look, I don't know why the president keeps saying things are getting better.

    Let me tell you one thing that's going to get bad really soon. The water levels are depleting, so we may be running into further problems.

    But, really, this is about saving lives. This isn't about politics. Some people make it about politics, because they want to change the dialogue, because looking at the injustice and the suffering and the face will have to make them admit their failures.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    We're still in a lifesaving moment right now, you think?

  • MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ:

    Yes, we are still — no, no, I know we're in a lifesaving moment.

    And the further you go from San Juan, the worse it gets. So, I'm sorry. Throwing paper towels at people just doesn't cut it.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Why do you think that was done? You were there. What did you feel personally too?

  • MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ:

    Well, I wasn't there. I wasn't there.

    I was at the first briefing that lasted for about 17 minutes, when the president proceeded to say that Katrina really was a real disaster and went on congratulating us because there were only 16 deaths.

    We have got to stop calculating lives as if they were chips in a little — it just doesn't work that way. And when you don't know, and when you haven't gotten everywhere, you just can't say what the total death toll is.

    Then he talked about the debt. Then he talked of that we were ingrates. So, we have no time for that. We have no time for small politics. We have no time for the kind of discourse that's trying to change the focus from where it should be.

    No, we don't have all that we need. Yes, there is a moral imperative to help us, to come to our aid. And, yes, this is a humanitarian crisis. The world can see it. Our brothers and sisters from unions see it. Our brothers and sisters from New York, from California, from Miami Beach, from Boston, from Chicago see it.

    So, we're going to work with those that see it.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    Do you think President Trump should have flown around the island at least, like General Buchanan did, to see the scope of the devastation, for instance, at least to get close…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ:

    If your heart isn't open, it doesn't matter where you go.

  • MONICA VILLAMIZAR:

    You don't think his heart is open?

  • MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ:

    Throwing paper towels at people? That doesn't show a lot of sensitivity.

    So, you know, he can attack me all he wants. Bring it on. I'm here. As long as it gets the message out that we are thirsty, that we are hungry, that we need supplies.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest