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San Juan mayor: Trump has forsaken Puerto Rico

Natasha Lindstrom
| Wednesday, April 4, 2018, 10:27 p.m.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz answers questions during an interview prior to being a featured speaker on a 'Smart Cities' talk as part of Carnegie Mellon University's Energy Week in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.

More than six months since the strongest storm in nearly a century struck Puerto Rico, President Trump continues to neglect the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said Wednesday at an event in Pittsburgh.

"He (Trump) has turned his back on the Puerto Rican people, and by doing so ... that image of the president throwing paper towels at us will continue to go around the world," Cruz said shortly before participating in an event at her alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University, as part of the college's Energy Week.

"I don't know what's worse: if he doesn't get it, or if he doesn't care," continued Cruz, who lived in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside and Bethel Park from 1984 to 1992. "Fortunately for us, the American people are totally different and have a totally different heart.

"And they've really made sure that we feel with their actions that we're not alone."

Cruz — who's contemplating a bid for governor of Puerto Rico — lamented that only a fraction of the money pledged by the federal government and affiliated agencies has made its way toward meaningful efforts at rebuilding the island and its power grid. She credited nongovernment, nonprofit organizations and individuals with filling in many of the gaps, such as CMU student Rosana Guernica arranging for private charter planes filled with crucial supplies.

Crews have restored water to 99 percent of the island and power to 93 percent of customers, but more than 100,000 people still remain in the dark and there are frequent power outages.

"We haven't been able to jump-start the economy, mainly because a lot of the contracting that has gone on is contracting that is coming from outside Puerto Rico," Cruz said. "About 70 percent of our schools still are without any electricity."

The next hurricane season begins in 58 days.

Is Puerto Rico ready?

"No," Cruz replied quickly, shaking her head. She gestured to a photo on her smartphone showing a San Juan community in which a large portion of roofless homes remain covered by blue Federal Emergency Management Agency tarps.

So if any hurricane hits that area, "it's going to completely obliterate anything that is left," she said.

Cruz lamented that deep-rooted, complex problems persist on several fronts.

"There's a big humanitarian crisis that is made up of small crises: the housing crisis, the mental health crisis, the exodus crisis," Cruz said.

She lamented that about 500,000 Puerto Ricans have left Puerto Rico to come to the United States, including a high proportion of working-age professionals.

Rules keep changing for how to request funding and get reimbursed for relief work. Backlogs for distributing supplies seem to be getting worse.

"The bureaucracy keeps piling up," she said.

Cruz further criticized the federal fiscal board charged with overseeing Puerto Rico's finances as the "most brutal assault on democracy."

"Seven people that were not elected are the ones that decide what happens with the Puerto Rican budget," she said. "I have a lot of different views than the governor of Puerto Rico, but he was elected in a democratic way."

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told Cruz he hopes to join a growing number of mayors from across the United States stepping up to form sister-city relationships with the municipalities of Puerto Rico.

"I hope you do understand that Pittsburgh stands ready to be a partner with Puerto Rico in the rebuilding of a great territory," Peduto told Cruz during Wednesday night's forum addressing "smart cities" and municipal energy management. "If Washington won't help with the rebuilding, we will."

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NewsNatasha.

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