nasa_irma_puerto rico

Trump Cites Puerto Rico’s Debt, Threatens to Revoke FEMA

Rarely can political issues be fairly described as “black-and-white.” As with many facets of life, there’s no singular answer to questions about healthcare, tax reform or gun control.

There isn’t just one right approach to improving public education. There isn’t just one correct way to handle illegal immigration, or diplomacy. These are nuanced issues with wide-ranging courses of action to consider, and they are always further complicated by the furious slurry of competing opinions and perspectives.

Puerto Rico’s current crisis, however, is not one such issue.

There is a clear and effective method to getting help to the island territory: provide funding to the appropriate disaster relief organizations so that they can efficiently do their jobs, and then get out of their way. But President Trump doesn’t want to budge — or budget.

On October 12 the president issued another slew of mean-spirited tweets, teasing Puerto Ricans with the idea that he may retract vital relief resources from the island because, “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

He offered no ultimatum and he made no demands; only a thinly veiled threat. He alluded to Puerto Rico’s national debt, quoting conservative media company Sinclair Broadcasting Group’s Sunday program, Full Measure: “‘Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making,’ says Sheryl Attkisson.”

Attkisson is alluding to the $74 billion Puerto Rico has accrued in debt over the last decade. Contrary to what President Trump has claimed, most of the territory’s debt is not owned by Wallstreet but by average Americans. As CNN reports in Who Owns Puerto Rico’s Debt?, “In total, bond mutual funds hold about $11.3 billion of the island’s debt. Another roughly $15 billion is held by hedge funds. The remainder of the debt is held largely by individuals — mostly Puerto Ricans and mainland Americans.”

The vast majority of the territory’s debt is owned by average American investors who invested in Puerto Rican bonds. Even as the island’s government continued down its crash-course of reckless spending.

Puerto Rico’s debt crisis is an excellent example of a complex, nuanced issue where no single “best” solution exists. Should Puerto Rico have regulated its spending more wisely? Sure. Should investors have paid closer attention to Puerto Rico’s financial stability before throwing their money into gale force winds? You bet. But what exactly does any of this have to do with getting drinking water to the island’s inhabitants?

What Attkisson — and of course Donald Trump — seem to forget is that the people of Puerto Rico are still trying to survive. Debt is a separate issue entirely.
It doesn’t seem appropriate at all for the President of the United States to leverage state government dues against people’s lives.

Earlier in October, President Trump made it a point to compare Puerto Rico — 84% of whose 3.4 million people are still without power or potable water as of October 11 — to Hurricane Katrina, insisting that the island’s humanitarian crisis isn’t a “real catastrophe” like what Katrina brought in 2007:

“Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous — hundreds and hundreds of people that died — and you look at what happened here with, really, a storm that was just totally overpowering . . . no one has ever seen anything like this.”

Trump went on to ask Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló how many deaths had been confirmed thus far. “Sixteen,” the mayor said.

“Sixteen people versus in the thousands,” Trump responded.

Since then, the confirmed death count has climbed to 48. It stands to reason that if more relief doesn’t make it to Puerto Rico soon, that number could skyrocket as food and water supplies dwindle and disease-bearing mosquitoes rise from the standing water left in Hurricane Maria’s wake.

So what gives? The president didn’t lambast Florida about its debt, even though America’s Dick is balls deep in debt of its own. According to, an online service dedicated to tracking state debt in real-time, Florida is in approximately $125 billion debt itself.

The island of Puerto Rico has sustained massive damage. Its people — American citizens — are in real peril, and President Trump is concerned with playing “Will they, won’t they?” by hinting at revocation of FEMA and military relief.

The proper response to Puerto Rico’s humanitarian crisis is as simple and black-and-white as it gets. When the Senate votes in the coming weeks on whether to approve $36.5 billion in relief funds for Puerto Rico, President Trump should spend his tweets urging them to go forward with the funding.

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