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Mayor of San Juan Says Puerto Rico Remains ‘In Desperate Need of Help’ Right Now

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HARTFORD, Conn. — The mayor of San Juan said Thursday that Puerto Rico remains in desperate need of help eight months after Hurricane Maria and isn’t ready for the hurricane season that begins in June.

Carmen Yulin Cruz was in Connecticut Thursday to receive the “Latina Champion” award at the annual Latinas & Power Symposium, which promotes Hispanic professional women.

She also helped present awards to people and organizations from Connecticut and Massachusetts that helped in the hurricane relief effort. This weekend, she will be in Boston to receive an honorary doctorate and give the baccalaureate address at Boston University, her alma mater.

The mayor told the audience that more than 1,000 people have died in Puerto Rico and that people are still dying as a result of the September storm that destroyed two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s power grid and caused damage that is estimated at over $100 billion.

Cruz has been an outspoken critic of the federal government’s response to the storm and again blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House for delays in getting supplies and money to the island.

She said Puerto Rico was devastated once by Hurricane Maria and again by “Hurricane Trump,” with hundreds of thousands of people seeking food, water and other basic supplies for weeks after the storm.

She noted that in the days after the hurricane, FEMA officials were handing out flyers that told residents who had no electricity to go online to apply for aid.

She said more than 500,000 roofs in her city still are in need of repair and the government does not have supplies such as water or diesel fuel for generators in place should Puerto Rico be hit by another storm. She said FEMA officials have yet to hold a meeting with her or other island officials to discuss contingencies.

“You can kill people with a gun or you can kill them with neglect,” she said. “And we were dying and we’re still dying.”

Cruz also called for the elimination of the federal board created to oversee Puerto Rico’s finances. The island is mired in an 11-year recession and is trying to restructure some of its $72 billion public debt load as it struggles to recover from the hurricane.

Cruz said board’s plan, which includes major cuts to the University of Puerto Rico and a 10 percent cut to a public pension system, would be devastating.

“Slavery is slavery, shackles are shackles,” she said. “The fiscal control board needs to be eliminated because it is a shackle to the democracy of the people of Puerto Rico.”

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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