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Conflict between Puerto Rico Governor and the White House

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has been criticized for kowtowing to President Trump over disaster relief, but he has now taken a different approach. “It would be a mistake to confuse courtesy with courage,” he said in an interview with CNN in which he was asked whether he felt as though he were dealing with a bully.

“If the bully gets close,” he responded, “I’ll punch the bully in the mouth.”

The White House was apparently the “bully” in this abstract reference. Rossello later explained that it was “a metaphor.”


President Trump apparently told Republican senators “behind closed doors” that Puerto Rico has received $91 billion in federal disaster relief funds. This is not the case. The $91 billion figure may come from the estimate of the funds needed to rebuild Puerto Rico. FEMA says that the Island has actually received $11.2 billion in funds.

Trump also tweeted this figure, along with a complaint that he had received “so little appreciation.” He falsely claimed that Puerto Rico had received more than Florida and Texas “combined,” and that Puerto Rico’s government is misusing the funds they have received. In another tweet, the president said of Puerto Rico that “their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess — nothing works.”

Rossello responded with a tweet of his own, saying, “Mr. President, once again, we are not your adversaries, we are your citizens.”

However, the issue that prompted Rossello’s remark was the refusal of the White House to meet with representatives of Puerto Rico’s government. The White House denies that they have refused to meet.

A Senate bill for disaster relief failed to pass last week. This bill would have provided $600 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico, but would not have given as much in other disaster aid as the House version of the bill. The House bill would also have removed a funds-matching requirement which has made it difficult for Puerto Rico to receive allocated funds.

“The devastation left behind by Hurricane María has depleted our resources. Currently, we simply do not have the funds to cover cost-share requirements set forth – unilaterally and unnecessarily – by FEMA,” the governor said. “We reiterate that we are not setting new precedent as this help has been extended to other jurisdictions in the past. We merely request equal treatment.”

Is Puerto Rico receiving equal treatment?

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley called Puerto Rico “that country” twice in an interview on MSNBC, later explaining that it was “a slip of the tongue.” The MSNBC interviewer had asked why Trump’s tweets talked about Puerto Rico “taking” from the United States, “American farmers,” etc.

Asked whether President Trump considered U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico equal to those living in States, Gidley said the question was “absolutely ridiculous.”

Governor Rossello disagrees.

“He treats us as second class citizens, that’s for sure,” the governor said. “And my consideration is I just want the opportunity to explain to him why the data and information he’s getting is wrong. I don’t think getting into a kicking and screaming match with the President does any good. I don’t think anyone can beat the President in a kicking and screaming match. What I am aiming to do is make sure reason prevails, that empathy prevails, that equality prevails, and that we can have a discussion.”

3 thoughts on “Conflict between Puerto Rico Governor and the White House”

  1. If Puerto Rico wants to be treated equally with Florida and Texas after a hurricane it needs to become a state. Even more important if Puerto Rico wants to be able to survive hurricanes better and not just expect Washington to fix whatever damage is done, it needs to become a state and upgrade its infrastructure to national standards, like 32 other territories did when they became states. An Uber driver from Grenada told me even that poor nation has more hardened infrastructure than Puerto Rico. Don’t know if that true but if it is then Trump is right about local government in PR wasting money that should have been dedicated to hurricane readiness. More to the point, when U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have fully equal rights and duties of citizenship equality will not only the the law of the land under the U.S. Constitution. The Governor will not need to plead for “a discussion” based on “reason, empathy and equality.” For states equality is the law, it is a fact, either you have it or you don’t, and instead of reasoned empathy there is a logic that drives equality, it is the logic of numbers of votes at the ballot box and in the Congress and the Electoral College. By sitting on the fence for 75 years and playing hard to get demanding citizenship but with fake “autonomy” instead of statehood with equality Puerto Rico has put its dignity as a political society in peril. The federal officials who trafficked in “autonomy” ideology with Puerto Rico’s anti-statehood leaders had no stake in Puerto Rico’s success or failure, and used the autonomy movement that had roots in Spanish colonial manipulation to subvert self-determination on the real choice between statehood and independence. Now the pro-statehood Governor is in a position of pleading from an unequal status that should have ended decades ago for equality. There are no equal consequences for the White House or Congress until there are equal voting rights. Being classified as “citizens” under federal territorial statutes does to create political equality or legal equality. Equal voting power creates the context for equal rights and equal treatment. That is how the American system of constitutional federalism works, as everyone in Puerto Rico would have understood in every status plebiscite if Rafael Hernandez Colon had not been using public schools to indoctrinate generations of young Americans to believe not in the promise of America but in a vestigial hoax the Spanish played by offering Puerto Rico “autonomy” in 1898. Go ask the nationalist in Catalonia, now that the same colonial hoax of autonomy was swallowed hook line and sinker by that province in 1931. So if we are going to castigate the President or other federal officials for getting the budget numbers wrong, for not knowing the FEMA program details, let’s remember there are not two Senators from Puerto Rico who he answers to and there are not five members of the House of Representatives heading a House caucus of Puerto Rican members. THAT”S WHY. Finally, it is funny how elected leaders in Puerto Rico call the territory “our country” and seek to usurp federal powers in the name of “autonomy,” then become hyper-technical when a federal official uses the same inaccurate term to incorrectly refer to the territory as a “country.” No one corrects Puerto Rico leaders for falsely stating it is a “country,” but then there is a lot of hyped up derision when a “North American” makes the same mistake. Two votes for statehood are being ignored by the same anti-statehood media and commentators who think a federal bureaucrat’s misuse of the term “country” is newsworthy. Be sure to thank RHC for putting PR in that absurd predicament next time you see him.

    1. The only reason PR is NOT a state is because the Republican Congress ignored the last two times they voted to become a state, and now Trump has declared he would veto the bill anyway.

      1. You opinion that it’s the Republicans fault is just tribalism. President Obama entered office with a filibuster proof Congress. He had the votes to pass anything he wanted during his first two years in office. Nothing was done and nothing was done during Obama’s 8 years in office. There are currently 21 Democratic Presidential Candidates running, NOT ONE has talked about Puerto Rico’s Statehood status. However, they all flew to NY and meet with Al Sharpton and talk about reparations for slavery!

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