Russel Honoré, the retired Army lieutenant general often hailed as a hero for leading relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, blasted President Donald Trump and the administration’s woefully inadequate response to Hurricane Maria on Saturday.
In an interview on CNN, Honoré, who as commander of Joint Task Force Katrina was responsible for coordinating military relief efforts in New Orleans and throughout the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast region after the August 2005 storm, ripped Trump for attacking San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz after she drew the president’s ire for angrily refuting his claim that post-Maria relief efforts are going well.
“The mayor’s living on a cot, and I hope the president has a good day at golf,” Honoré said. In another CNN interview, the former general was even more blunt: “The president has shown again, you don’t give a damn about poor people, you don’t give a damn about people of color and the SOB that rides around in Air Force One is denying services needed by the people of Puerto Rico.”
The last Republican administration, led by George W. Bush, was also heavily criticized and accused of racism following its abysmal initial response to Katrina, which killed as many as 1,836 people as it destroyed much of New Orleans and other smaller Gulf Coast communities and caused more than $100 billion in damage. Rapper Kanye West famously declared during a Katrina relief concert that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
The Trump administration’s Maria relief efforts have drawn similar accusations of racism, especially after the president tweeted about Puerto Rico’s debt crisis as people there were dying and desperate in the wake of the island’s worst storm in generations, and after he suggested that Puerto Ricans are lazy and poorly led. In response to Yulín Cruz’s criticism, Trump tweeted that Puerto Ricans “want everything done for them when it should be a community effort.”
Honoré said much more should have been done much sooner to help Puerto Rico, saying “not giving the mission to the military” was the administration’s first mistake. “Look, we got Army units that go do port openings,” he told CNN. “Not called. We got special forces that could’ve been in every town. Not employed.” Mayor Yulín Cruz had previously said that the administration’s “inefficiency and bureaucracy” were killing her people.
"I'm begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying,” Yulín Cruz pleaded on Friday. "If we don't get the food and the water into people's hands, we are going to see something close to a genocide.”
The back-and-forth between Trump and Yulín Cruz came as the president made what was at least his 62nd golf course visit in just over 250 days in office. Trump had heavily criticized former president Barack Obama for playing too much golf, although his predecessor hit the links far less often. While the president golfed, the situation grew even more dire in Puerto Rico, many of whose 3.4 million residents remain without adequate food, water, fuel, electricity and shelter 11 days after Maria. “We need water and power,” pleaded 40-year-old San Juan resident Michelle Narvaez in an interview with USA Today. “I have a little one 4 years old, and he has allergies and asthma.”
After sparking outrage by calling the government response to the storm “a good news story,” acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke admitted Friday that the situation in Puerto Rico is “not satisfactory.” And while officials report 16 Maria-related deaths in Puerto Rico, experts say the true death toll is likely higher, with some predicting it could rise into the hundreds.
“We’re finding dead people, people who have been buried, [people] have made common graves,” Puerto Rico Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado is quoted in the Miami Herald. “We’ve been told people have buried their family members because they’re in places that have yet to be reached.”
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