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Dispute with Trump Puts San Juan Mayor, a BU Alum, in Spotlight

Carmen Yulín Cruz (CAS’84) blasts federal response to Puerto Rico’s plight


Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, and a BU alum, shared a public dispute with President Trump this weekend over the government’s response to the devastation of Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria, which struck the island September 20 with 150 mph winds, leaving its 3.4 million residents without water, electricity, or any way to communicate. The disagreement started Friday when Cruz (CAS’84) pleaded for a greater effort from Washington, saying at a news conference, “We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency…I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”

Trump responded Saturday morning in a series of tweets sent from his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., citing the “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan” and other local Puerto Rican leaders.

Trump also wrote: “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”

The president claimed that federal workers are “doing a fantastic job.”

An hour later, Cruz, in apparent response to Trump, tweeted:

Cruz was reportedly angered Thursday by the assertion of Elaine Duke, acting secretary of Homeland Security, that the government’s response was “really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place.”

Speaking on CNN Friday night, Cruz said, “This is, dammit, this is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story. This is a ‘life or death’ story. This is ‘there’s a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people’ story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.”

The New York Times reports that after traveling to Puerto Rico on Friday, Duke agreed that the ground response to the hurricane was “not satisfactory.”

At least 16 people have died in the wake of the storm, and millions are still without clean water, electricity, or food, with many supermarkets across Puerto Ricco still unable to reopen. Fewer than half of the island’s 62 hospitals have been able to reopen and less than a dozen are said to be operating at full capacity 11 days after the hurricane struck. Hospitals are experiencing acute drug shortages as well. On Sunday, according to the Boston Globe, the situation on the ground had become so desperate that some citizens had attempted to take their own lives.

Cruz, who belongs to the Popular Democratic Party, is known for her willingness to speak candidly. She was first elected mayor of San Juan in 2012, after serving four years in the Commonwealth’s House of Representatives. The New York Times reports that she stitched together a coalition of students and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender groups and was “reelected handily in 2016 against a lackluster opponent.”

A native of San Juan, Cruz graduated from BU with a degree in political science before earning a master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon. She later worked for Colgate-Palmolive, Banco Popular, Scotiabank, and the Treasury Department.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz hands out solar lamps to residents of the La Perla community of San Juan Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurrican Maria.

Cruz handing out solar lamps to La Perla residents on September 28.

On Saturday, the Times reports, Cruz read a text from the mayor of another city that had no water.

“Some of the mayors that I have been able to reach or have reached me are scared of voicing their concern, because they are concerned if they do, they won’t even get a bottle of water,” she said. “That is a sad situation in a democratic society when fear takes ahold of people, then you know something isn’t working.”

This was not the time for “political calculation” or even “political correctness,” Cruz added. “If President Trump were to say, ‘I’m going to go to San Juan to see that nasty mayor,’ I would receive him with open arms, because democracy is larger than me. He was democratically elected. He represents the United States of North America and he deserves all the respect that office brings with it.”

She reiterated that point on Sunday in an interview on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Asked whether she’d meet with Trump when he tours the devastated island on Tuesday, Cruz responded, “If he asks to meet with me, of course I will meet with him.”

The president’s criticism of Cruz drew a firestorm on social media. Tony-winning playwright, actor, and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who has family living in Puerto Rico, wrote on Twitter that the president was “going straight to hell.”

Other celebrities also expressed anger over Trump’s remarks about Cruz, and their support for the San Juan mayor:

Here in Massachusetts, with the fifth-largest population of Puerto Ricans in the continental United States, local politicians vowed to provide financial support to aid the island. On Friday, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the Boston Foundation announced plans to create a relief fund, the Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico Fund, which will be used to provide money for relief and reconstruction efforts.

At BU, efforts are under way to coordinate relief efforts by students and faculty. BU Today will provide details when they become available.

Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

18 Comments on Dispute with Trump Puts San Juan Mayor, a BU Alum, in Spotlight

  • Paola Marie Sepulveda on 10.02.2017 at 7:22 am

    As a Puerto Rican, to see what my family and friends are undergoing breaks my heart and soul. To see the inaction, the indifference of the US federal government is just too overwhelming- we as Puerto Rican’s I guess have always have very clearly that this is what being a territory that “belongs to the United States but is not part of it” means, yet under such a humanitarian crisis I guess none of us ever imagine that we will be treated the way we have been treated costing the lives of more than the 16 people reported officially. This is just deplorable. I might be enjoying of the privilege of living here and not there any longer, but my soul and heart lays with my people, my family, my friends, back at my amazing island.

  • Dan Brooks, SPH on 10.02.2017 at 7:26 am

    So proud to have such an exemplary public official be a BU alum!

  • John Whalen on 10.02.2017 at 8:14 am

    Politicizing at the expense of her constituents. I guess she never heard the one about flies and honey. I hope she is voted out of office soon

    • Sesqahanna Lord on 10.02.2017 at 11:27 am

      Agreed for the sake of the people

    • Kate Gilbert on 10.02.2017 at 12:36 pm

      This is just a bizarre thing to say. The people of Puerto Rico are US Citizens–they deserve help regardless of how President Trumps feelings are hurt. Presidents are not supposed to be vindictive and the very fact that you think that he is is one of the most damning things you could have said. Is that really who you think your President is? A thin skinned, angry, man child who won’t do his job if he isn’t praised?

    • Geoff Pascoe on 10.02.2017 at 1:46 pm

      Exactly. The federal government seems to be doing an exemplary job. What this is about is the never-ending hysteria and attempt to criticize the president no matter what he does. She gets filmed in front of pallets of aid, yet she does nothing to help distribute the aid. She’s been asked to contact the FEMA center, but has been largely absent. But, she has time to get a “Help us, we’re dying shirt” printed up or gets it from the media–some have reported that it is CNN that gave her that shirt. She’s doing nothing except criticizing those that are doing something. Ashamed that she is a BU alumnus.

  • Sesqahanna Lord on 10.02.2017 at 10:18 am

    Well I’m glad the truth came out about her not distributing the pallets of food and water in a timely manner. When she was asked to attend FEMA Meetings she NEVER once showed up. Also wondering why this woman would have power and electricity to create a propaganda tshirt and hat -while “claiming” her people were dying…well goes to show her compassion for her staged interviews. Oh it’s so sad these people have such warped minds and cold hearts for other Americans-.

  • gman on 10.02.2017 at 11:12 am

    Amidst all this I’m still trying to figure out why Puerto Rico has its own Olympic team. I’m pretty sure both Texas and FLA do not. Not that this should have any influence over helping people in need, but it does speak loudly about how the people of the island feel about being a part of the USA. To me, this is like saying “we don’t want to be a part of the US we want our own identity.” The island has a unique status, and according to the Washington post: “Most people in Puerto Rico don’t pay federal income taxes.” On one hand there is this position of “why aren’t you helping us” and on the other hand “I don’t want to be part of the USA.” Now that they are in need this relationship appears to be non-existent all of the sudden. When the response by the current administration is weak, everyone just wants to point the fingers at the white house. If Puerto Rico was a state with equal standings as other states, with its citizens paying federal taxes the same way other Americans do, then I’d be ready to jump on the liberal slam wagon, but this just isn’t the case. And as for this mayor being a BU grad, apparently BU didn’t teach her the importance of showing up to important meetings at critical times.

    • Caroline Smith on 10.02.2017 at 12:56 pm

      Most people in Puerto Rico don’t pay federal income tax because they are too poor to do so

    • Dan Brooks, SPH on 10.02.2017 at 2:06 pm

      It’s just not accurate to draw a connection between Puerto Rico having its own Olympic team and “not wanting to be part of the USA”. In multiple referenda, the large majority of voters have wanted to maintain an association with the U.S., either under the current Commonwealth status or as a state.

      Perhaps Puerto Rico would not have its own Olympic team if, as U.S. citizens, they were allowed to vote. When you talk about not paying taxes, you imply that they are getting a free ride. Do you expect them to pay taxes but not have a vote? What about “no taxation without representation”? The relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico is complicated, but the complications primarily arise from a history of colonialism.

      • Gman on 10.02.2017 at 8:47 pm

        Thanks for the clarity, I appreciate it. Great points.

        • Dan Brooks, SPH on 10.03.2017 at 6:26 am

          And thanks for the openness to an actual exchange of ideas. It’s unfortunately getting harder to have these days.

  • gman on 10.02.2017 at 11:27 am

    To the author – Why have you included photos of tweets by people like Lady Gaga in your story? Do you think the readers care about the opinion of these wealthy entertainers who live in a bubble of wealth and fortune completely isolated from the needs of common people? In my opinion you are insulting the intelligence of the BU community. “Oh, look what Ellen has to say about this! Now I’m absolutely convinced what a bad man our president is!”

  • Susan Milstein on 10.02.2017 at 1:56 pm

    I really don’t understand the negative comments about the mayor of San Juan who is working non-stop to get food & supplies to all the people of Puerto Rico. I think the problem lies in the lack of leadership in govt. in both the executive & legislative branches. People’s lives should take priority over a political agenda. Viva Puerto Rico.

  • Jose Artigas on 10.03.2017 at 9:14 pm

    Too many heartless people commenting here, presumably getting their information from biased right-wing sources. Mayor Yulin isn’t flawless, but she’s doing what’s possible for her city & island. Her critics here have probably done nothing to help. She is a credit to BU; they are not.

    — BU Alumnus

  • Rmcl on 10.04.2017 at 2:09 pm

    I believe something ignored in this discussion is the legacy of neglect by the Puerto Rico power authority. The entire grid has been neglected for years and not regulated as a utility in the US would be. The equipment has been not replaced and upgraded over time. When you have a disaster like this you find where the weak points are and they were everywhere. The entire grid needs to be replaced but the utility declared bankruptcy in July.
    This is why there is no electric to pump water, run desalinization equipment, and generally supply the power needed. This problem has been in the making for many years. Skip the politics and figure how to finance and rebuild.

  • LDV on 10.07.2017 at 9:29 pm

    Mayor Yulin is a strong woman with a clear compassion for her city and the island of Puerto Rico. She is a dedicated public servant who ran for office with tenacity and grit, which shines through in her leadership. She is not only a credit to BU, she is a credit to the vocation of public service. She deserves an honorary doctorate from her alma mater. Period.

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