We continue our coverage of Puerto Rico, where United Nations experts are warning of “alarming” conditions, now more than five weeks after Hurricane Maria. This weekend, the Democracy Now! team traveled to the island, and on Friday afternoon we sat down with Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz for an extended interview about how Hurricane Maria had changed Puerto Rico since it struck the island on September 20, Trump’s attacks and her vision for the future.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn right now to my interview with the Puerto Rican mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor I spoke with on Friday. We sat down together in the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where the entire mayoral staff is now living. I began by asking her how Hurricane Maria has changed Puerto Rico since it struck the island September 20th.
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: I think September 20th changed the Puerto Rican reality forever. We live in a different San Juan and a different Puerto Rico, not because of what we’re lacking. The majority of the island is still without any power. Only about 40 to 60 percent of the population has water. That doesn’t mean that it’s good water. We still have to boil it or put chlorine in it to be able to drink it. Medical services are really, really bad because of the lack of electricity. The supplies in the supermarkets are not there yet, so people are having a lot of trouble getting the supplies that they need. But still, the fierce determination of people has not dwindled. And to me, that’s been a very—I would say, a big lesson to learn.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about this public power company, the largest in the United States? Do you think there’s an effort in this time, in the aftermath of the hurricane of—an effort to just privatize it?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: For it totally to fail?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yes, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think has to be done about that?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: It cannot be privatized. I am—and a lot of people—totally against, because we are a hundred miles long by 35 miles wide. That’s a monopoly. It doesn’t matter how you want to disguise it. It’s a monopoly. And what we’re doing is we’re putting in private hands the decision as to where our economic development is spread, where the sense of equality or inequality will happen. So, power isn’t just about the power grid. It’s also about the ability that the Puerto Rican people may have in the years to come to ensure that there is appropriate economic development and equally divided amongst all the 78 municipalities in Puerto Rico.
AMY GOODMAN: Disaster capitalism, what does that term mean to you? And do you think that’s happening here, using a crisis to accomplish something that couldn’t be accomplished otherwise?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: You know, I wish I had never been introduced to that term. Also the shock, shock treatment, right? Using the chaos to strip employees of their bargaining rights, rights that took 40, 50 years for the unions to be able to determine. That is something very important. And it just means taking advantage of people when they are in a life-or-death situation. It is the most—an absolute mistreatment of human rights. It means that the strongest really feed off the weakest, until everything that’s left is the carcass.
And what we cannot understand is why, because that is so against the American spirit that we see. We have had in San Juan more than 500 volunteers in a span of four weeks, coming here, leaving their homes, taking their vacation—nurses, Teamsters, AFL-CIO, UFCW, LIUNA workers, just leaving their homes. I met a person from California that sold their Harley-Davidson—I mean, sold their Harley-Davidson to come to San Juan and help for two weeks. You have—you know, the United States has a big heart. You know what it is to help those in need. And then the central government, the federal government in the United States, seems to be just playing a totally different tune. This slowness, this turtle pace of just getting relief to people, life-and-death relief to people, it’s unthinkable.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned death. As we flew in here, we heard about bodies being incinerated at morgues that are not counted. Do you actually know the death toll right now?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: No.
AMY GOODMAN: And is that happening?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: No, we don’t know. It has been reported that 911 deaths have been—or bodies have been cremated since Maria. Why is that happening?
AMY GOODMAN: Nine hundred eleven?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Nine hundred and eleven. Why is that happening? We have no idea. You know, usually when you cremate people at that rate, it’s because you’re trying to ensure that an outbreak of whatever disease doesn’t come out. But whatever it is, we should know about it. And again, I don’t understand why these things are not being openly talked about.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to when President Trump attacked you. I think it shocked many people, because, by then, people had heard of you. You were a familiar image across our TV screens, as you were, what, waist, chest high in water with your bullhorn, helping to save people and evacuate people. So that’s the mayor of San Juan that we became familiar with. And then you have the president of the United States attacking you. What was the quote? First, you had the acting head of the Department of Homeland Security talking about this being a “good news story.”
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Saying that this was a “good news story.” No, that really—that really—that really—I don’t know if I can say the word on TV. But it really upset me, because this was not—this has never been a good news story. When devastation hits and people are dying because they don’t have dialysis, appropriate medical care or food and water, whose mind and whose heart would call this a good news story? So, I hadn’t actually heard her say that. And I’ve actually met her twice after that, and we’ve had good meetings. Good things have come from those meetings. But to me, at that moment, it was like a total lack of connection with reality. Maybe in Trumpville or in Mar-a-Lago.
AMY GOODMAN: So, President Trump says, “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.” He tweeted this from his Bedminster golf resort in New Jersey and went on to say, “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: You know what, what I thought? Poor guy. Poor guy. You know, it must be very difficult to live in a world where reality is very different to what you want it to be. And it’s very easy to try to change the dialogue when you’re failing. It’s like when he gave himself a 10. Well, if it’s a 10 out of 100, I agree, because it’s still a failing grade.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what your meeting with him was like, when President Trump came here? What we saw is the president hurling rolls of paper towels at hurricane survivors.
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yeah. What I heard was a president disconnected with reality and not representing the real values of the American people, a man that said, “This is not a real catastrophe. Now, Katrina, that was a real catastrophe.” He has then rescinded what he says. You know, he says one thing one day, he says another thing another day. It’s very hard to keep up with the man. And who wants to, anyway? But it was—he tried to avoid me. You know, I’m small, so it’s easy for him.
AMY GOODMAN: Where were you?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: I was sitting in a corner.
AMY GOODMAN: Where? Where in—
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: This was at the Muñoz Marín Air Force base. And, you know, I went because you have to respect the presidency. And I went because I represent 350,000 people in San Juan. If it would have been him and me, I would have not wasted my time. But in a democracy, you have to respect the leadership, even though you don’t see eye to eye with the person.
So, he finally—you can see in the picture he had to very—lean over, because he was so far away from me, so he had to reach out. And I said, “It’s not about—it’s about saving lives, Mr. President. It’s not about politics.” And he looked over me and said, “Well, thank you, everybody.” And I kind of chuckled, because if that didn’t bother him, he would have said, “I agree with you,” right? But because it bothered him, then he didn’t say anything. So all he did was—it was a feast of accolades to himself: “Oh, we’ve done such a good job with the Coast Guard. And we’ve done such a good”—and, you know, in the meantime, I have a mayor sitting next to me saying, “Well, let him come to my town.”
And really, the reality is not—have things gotten better in San Juan? Yes, in the past week and a half, FEMA has responded more equitably. And a lot of it has to do with local politics. And I have to say, after my second meeting with Secretary Duke—and he left John Barsa here to be our connection with FEMA; he’s from Homeland Security—things got better. Are they where they’re supposed to be? No. Can I see the light at the end of the tunnel? A week ago I could imagine it, now I can see. But that is not the situation for most of the other 77 municipalities in Puerto Rico. And I’m not going to be such a bad Puerto Rican that I’m going to say, “Oh, things, as long as they’re good for me, then they’re good for the world,” because then I would become Donald Trump. And heaven forbid I should ever be like that man.
AMY GOODMAN: You clearly came into office with the support of many unions.
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, when we flew in from the airport today and you were holding a news conference with Bernie Sanders, there were representatives of a number of unions. And among them were the electrical workers.
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: And they talked about the power company. There’s been discussions about whether you could transform this largest public power company in the country, that has had the biggest shortage and blackout of electricity that we’ve ever seen in this country—
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Mm-hmm.
AMY GOODMAN: —as a, possibly, test case where you start to use solar power.
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: What about this? What do you see happening? Do you see this as an attempt to privatize, or do you see creative ways that Puerto Rico could move forward and be a pioneer in solar energy?
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Well, there are creative ways. Tesla has already come to Puerto Rico and done a humanitarian work at the children’s hospital, where they have energized it with solar panels. I mean, this is a Caribbean island. You know, we get lots and lots of sun, so we should be able to reach goals, that are increasing every year, to move away from our addiction of fossil fuel to non-fossil fuel. And we should also be able to energize communities just using solar power, and perhaps some wind power, if it’s appropriate. But for the first time, at least, I heard today the president of the power company saying that they are—
AMY GOODMAN: Of the union.
MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Of the union—saying that they are looking forward to transforming the system and moving towards a better mix of regular, our grid, and solar power energy. And that was very refreshing to hear. So, for those of them that say, “No, no, the unions just want to keep us one step behind,” that’s not true. That’s just, again, you change the dialogue, you attack, so as to not to be able to defend. It’s a lot easier to attack somebody than to defend what you believe in.
AMY GOODMAN: San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.