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San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Trump, Shock Doctrine & “Disaster Capitalism” in Puerto Rico

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Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz joins us 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. Democracy Now! interviewed Cruz when we visited Puerto Rico last month. She spoke to us in the city’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where her entire mayoral staff was living after Hurricane Maria devastated the island on September 20.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: That was San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. I interviewed her last month in the San Juan’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where she and her entire mayoral staff were living, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. It landed, made landfall on September 20th. I began by asking the mayor how Hurricane Maria has changed Puerto Rico.

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?


AMY GOODMAN: For it totally to fail?


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?


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.


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.


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—


AMY GOODMAN: —as a, possibly, test case where you start to use solar power.


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: So talk about Senator Sanders coming here, who ran for president. Some say if he were the candidate against candidate Donald Trump, he might have won. But he was here in Puerto Rico.


AMY GOODMAN: What did he do here? And what do you think he can do as a senator?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Well, he came here to listen, which is very important. And he came here to see firsthand. He didn’t come here to throw paper towels at people. He came here, and he walked around one of the most devastated areas of San Juan. He talked to the community board there.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did he go?

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Playita. It’s on the way to the airport or on your way from the airport. And it’s a very, very disenfranchised community. The community board, we—the municipalities work to organize them. And they are starting to come into power. And we say that because we really and truly believe that the communities should hold the power of their own destiny. That doesn’t make it easier for us, but it makes it right. And that’s what it’s all about. So, when we talk about Puerto Ricans needing power, it’s not only electrical power that we need, but it’s true power that makes your voice be heard. And one of the things that I think Senator Sanders is going to do, which he has done before for Puerto Rico, is that he can be the echo of a thousand voices that are clamoring for the appropriate help to get.

Listen to this. We get $4.9 billion, and although we’re very grateful, it’s a loan. So, what is the way of treating a country that is $72 billion in debt? Increase their debt by $4.9 billion. That doesn’t make any sense. There should be a comprehensive package that includes education, medical, the medical system, our energy grid and the transformation of that grid, economic development, small business development and reconstruction of homes. And that is—those are the things that we talked to Senator Sanders, and also not allowing this chaos to be a way of devaluing our university, educational system by taking resources out, closing 50 municipalities, which will have to close if the $350 million that the fiscal control board took away. Look, you have $4,900 million. Well, heck, give back the $350 million that you took away from the fiscal control board. So those are the very, very precise things that he could talk about. One of the things that the president of a local teachers’ union said is, “Look, they are telling us they’re going to close schools, because the Army Corps of Engineers has not inspected them.” Well, first of all, get more people to inspect them. And secondly, the Army Corps of Engineers didn’t inspect them to begin with. So, if they have minor damages, let’s get moving in the business of teaching our children how to become better human beings.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of education, whether it’s Harvey, Hurricane Harvey, or Hurricane Irma, while the media covers it extensively, almost 24 hours a day—Puerto Rico dealing with Maria, I would say, less, but still there is, has been significant coverage—flashing the words “extreme weather,” “severe weather,” almost never—and I’m not talking Fox, I’m talking MSNBC and CNN—do they talk about global warming, climate change, climate chaos.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: That’s because some people think it’s a hoax.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we have a very proud climate change-denying president.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: But it’s—yeah, but it’s not a hoax. And we—

AMY GOODMAN: But this is the media, and they’re considered the more liberal media.

MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: And we are seeing the effects of this. Tomorrow, we are expected to have heavy rains in San Juan and in the rest of Puerto Rico. So you had Irma, you had Maria. But Maria didn’t stop, until—just like Harvey, the rain didn’t stop until a few days later. Maria’s rain didn’t stop until a few days later. So, you have global warming. It is happening. It is real. And here it is. There’s no denying it. And we have to deal with the consequences of our actions and take actions to revert that and make sure that we don’t screw it up for the next generations more than we’ve already done.

AMY GOODMAN: That was San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. I interviewed her last month in San Juan’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum, where she and almost her entire staff were living, after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. When we come back, from the aftermath of one hurricane to another. We’ll go Texas to speak with Dr. Robert Bullard. He’s known as the father of the environmental justice movement. What is environmental racism? Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “Almost Like Praying” by acclaimed Puerto Rican playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of Hamilton. That song featuring Rubén Blades and Puerto Rican singers Gilberto Santa Rosa, pop star Jennifer Lopez, among others. Miranda recorded the song after Trump tweeted Puerto Ricans, quote, “want everything to be done for them.” In response, Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted, “You are going straight to hell, @realDonaldTrump. No long lines for you. Someone will say, 'Right this way, sir.' They’ll clear a path,” unquote.

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