President Donald Trump has broken his Twitter silence on the devastation in Puerto Rico—by highlighting the hurricane-stricken U.S. territory’s debts.
Puerto Rico has been thoroughly battered this hurricane season, with Irma causing widespread power outages as it skirted the island’s north, and Maria then directly striking the territory. Maria completely knocked out Puerto Rico’s power and caused widespread damage.
Trump tweeted before Maria hit Puerto Rico, saying Wednesday: “Puerto Rico being hit hard by new monster hurricane. Be careful, our hearts are with you—will be there to help!”
However, over the following five days he said nothing about the situation there, concentrating instead on attacking NFL players who don’t sing the national anthem and threatening North Korea in a way that led the country to claim he had declared war on it.
Late Monday, Trump finally returned to the Puerto Rico issue, tweeting: “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble. It’s [sic] old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities—and doing well. #FEMA”
Trump was not wrong that Puerto Rico is in dire financial straits. The territory officially became financially insolvent in May. Its power authority also filed for bankruptcy in July. The island has debts of over $70 billion.
However, it’s debatable as to whether the food, water and medical situations are “doing well” in Puerto Rico, where the situation is being described as “apocalyptic.”
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said Monday that medical evacuations were underway and work was being done to restore power to hospitals, but on the same day governor Ricardo Rosselló begged Congress for “the full support of the U.S. government” in the face of a “humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million U.S. citizens.”
And then there’s Trump’s decision to address the situation by drawing attention to Puerto Rico’s financial woes. Trump was heavily criticized for his response to Hurricane Harvey’s assault on Texas, which for a while mainly consisted of expressions of awe at the storm’s size. His tweets before the storm (“our hearts are with you–will be there to help!”) certainly seemed to take that criticism on board. But by putting the Commonwealth’s financial situation front and center, he maybe won’t have convinced every Puerto Rican he has their interests at heart.