Friday, December 6, 2019

Disaster Politics

By on September 5, 2019

Editor’s note: The following was first published in the Sept. 5, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

You know there is true disdain for President Donald Trump when nine in 10 people in Puerto Rico were vehemently vocal in hoping that Hurricane Dorian had struck his Mar-a-Lago resort directly. It is unfortunate to wish such a thing because there must be some decent folks living in the area who are undeserving of the devastation wrought by a Category 5 Wind Beast. Trust us; we know. Nevertheless, the Bounty-tossing president has earned the ill will of Puerto Rico’s people with tweets and comments that our politicians—some of whom were downright corrupt and complicit in using a natural disaster for populist advantage—invited with their acts of malfeasance.

Politics is like pornography—for adults only.

Think about this: Donald Trump cancels a meeting in Poland to deal with Hurricane Dorian but ends up playing golf the day it was spinning menacingly along the coast of Florida, all the while, he snubs Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even after he heeded the president’s wishes to deny his nemesis congresswomen entry only weeks before the Israeli leader’s future will be decided in elections.

Meanwhile the president takes the time to tweet such stupidity as: “Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere.’”

He goes on to tweet that Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth, punctuating his remarks with the assertion that he is the best thing that ever happened to Puerto Rico.

In a rebuke of the president’s hillbilly elegy, actor Morgan Freeman posted the fitting retweet: “You’re shaming Puerto Rico for being in a storm path?!!! Mr. President, go F[**]K yourself with a nine iron.” We would have suggested using a Big Bertha driver.

It would not matter. Like an addict, Trump cannot contain himself from tweeting stupid remarks; he reminds us of our son when he gave up the pacifier at age 5; we suffered tremendously when he searched for hidden “bobos” with eyes glazed over in the throes of withdrawal. Hide Trump’s cellphone and see what happens.

Trump explains that Congress earmarked those $92 billion when the truth is only $40 billion are obligated. But Trump, the master of negotiation, is playing a numbers game looking ahead to the general election in 2020. He is hoping that his rhetoric will ring true in two important swing states, Pennsylvania and Florida, where 25 percent of the population has familial ties to Puerto Rico.

The strategy is as follows—play to those constituents with familial ties to Puerto Rico; tug at their heartstrings—tell them they were uprooted because of a handful of children in government who were ill-equipped to handle Puerto Rico’s recovery in the aftermath of one of the greatest natural disasters to have struck planet Earth.

Tell the dispossessed that the Rosselló administration squandered the funds earmarked for disaster relief. It does not matter that Trump is mixing a half-truth with a full lie, that nowhere near $92 billion has been given to Puerto Rico and the island has only been able to use somewhere in the vicinity of $18 billion. But few Puerto Rico politicians tell this truth.

For instance, in a recent public statement, Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz intimated that a contingent from Puerto Rico would be visiting the week of Sept. 8 to knock on Capitol Hill doors. There will be no red carpet for them at the White House. Two sources with ties to the GOP told Caribbean Business that Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González extended an olive branch to the White House, where she is trying to secure a meeting between Gov. Wanda Vázquez and Trump.

Advisers in Trump’s camp would have an interest in that meeting if the Vázquez administration were to agree to a relief number closer to $40 billion, in which case an additional $22 billion in disaster-relief funds would be released for Puerto Rico to continue infrastructure repair.

The resident commissioner, on Vázquez’s behalf, will have none of it, basing that stance on estimates that put Puerto Rico’s storm-hardening north of $100 billion. The sad thing here is that time and the truth—thanks to a small band of crooks—is not on our side. Trump will use those recent events to the hilt and Puerto Rico’s people will pay the consequences. That blue tarps are all that cover the rooftops of nearly 30,000 homes torn by torrential gusts nearly two years ago is a testament of malfeasance difficult to dispute.

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