Puerto Ricans across Massachusetts said they are frustrated and angry with President Trump’s tweets last week that suggested that he might pull out federal workers who are working to restore the hurricane-ravaged US territory.
At least 45 deaths have been blamed on the Category 4 storm that hit three weeks ago. Eighty-five percent of residents still lack electricity, and a third of the island lacks clean running water.
Trump was unsympathetic in his tweets.
“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump wrote.
“To suggest that Puerto Rico is ready to pull federal workers out is irresponsible,” said Dennis Benzan, an attorney, former vice mayor of Cambridge, and co-owner of the Cambridge restaurant La Fabrica Central. “What this means for the Puerto Rican community is that we must use self-determination like no other time in history.”
Residents must come together and support each other so the island fully recovers with or without the help of the federal government, Benzan said.
Benzan cohosted a fund-raiser for Puerto Rico shortly after the hurricane made landfall, ultimately raising $50,000 for relief efforts on the island.
He and other leaders in the local Puerto Rican community backed a policy order that passed in the city of Cambridge to create sister city partnerships with four municipalities on the island: Coamo, Orocovis, Salinas, and Jayuya. The order will establish a commission to coordinate relief efforts to those areas. A large number of Puerto Ricans in Cambridge hail from them, Benzan said.
“The health system there is on life support,” said Otoniel Figueroa Duran, cofounder of the Alliance for Puerto Rico, a Boston community organization. “People are dying because of minor complications. Food, water, and gas are still difficult to get, and in remote parts of the islands, [it’s] even worse.”
Figueroa Duran believes that the federal government lacks the proper sense of urgency needed to address the disaster. He believes a modern-day Marshall Plan and cancellation of the island’s debt are also needed for Puerto Rico to get back on its feet.
In Boston, 32,226 residents identify as Puerto Rican, according to statistics from the city of Boston. More than 300,000 people of Puerto Rican ancestry live in the state, a University of Massachusetts Boston study said in April.
“I think for me the emotional part of the rhetoric and disrespect hit the high note when [Trump] visited and he was so dismissive and so unempathetic,” said José Massó, host of WBUR-FM’s “¡Con Salsa!” “It didn’t surprise me what he said this morning. It was par for the course.”
Massó has been in touch with family and friends. A friend in San Juan said the lines for gas are shorter, but there’s still a sense that it’s taking a long time to send aid to those outside the capital.
He said he had faith in his people, both those on the island and in the diaspora. In the face of so much hostility and disrespect, he knows they will rebuild.
“A lot of people are taking things into their own hands, cleaning up streets, cutting down branches, taking part in the cleanup,” Massó said. “Just everything you would expect the government to do, they’re doing on their own.”
The Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico fund is already at $1.4 million in gifts and pledges, according to Ted McEnroe, a spokesman for The Boston Foundation, which is administering the fund. It’s planning to award its first round of grants this week to grass-roots organizations in Puerto Rico.
Supported by the local Puerto Rican community as well as city and state officials, the fund will support relief, reconstruction, and economic recovery projects on the island as well as the potential relocation of Puerto Ricans to Massachusetts.
In a statement, Aixa Beauchamp, cochair of Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico, called what’s happening in Puerto Rico a “humanitarian crisis” and encouraged people to continue providing food, clean water, and needed assistance to these fellow American citizens.
“It’s been obvious to anyone paying attention since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico that recovery would be a very long-term effort,” Beauchamp wrote.
“We are continuing to raise funds for Massachusetts United for Puerto Rico with an understanding that millions of Americans on the island will need continued support in the coming months. We are gratified and proud to see that the people of Massachusetts understand that — now more than ever,” she said.Material from The Associated Press was used in this report. Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.