NYC council speaker calls response to Puerto Rico 'outrageous'

Neglect has 'racist undertones,' she says

By CATALINA GONELLA AND LINDSEY ELLEFSON , CNN
Headline Goes Here Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito in 2014.

(CNN) - New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Puerto Rican native, slammed the federal response in the wake of Hurricane Maria on Friday, saying the treatment of her home island has "racist undertones."

"It is outrageous, what I would call benign neglect," she told Chris Cuomo on CNN's "New Day," describing her recent trip to view the devastation. "There's a level of disinterest, it seems, to really deal in a focused way with this issue."

President Donald Trump has praised the efforts of US military responders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Puerto Rico, though Thursday he tweeted that they cannot stay "forever."

But Mark-Viverito said she feels the responders don't have enough resources to do their job. She said the federal response to Maria was less than it was in Texas and Florida after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively.

The Democrat called many of the 45 Maria-related deaths in Puerto Rico "preventable," citing the lack of electricity for more than 80 percent of people and reports that some Puerto Ricans have been trying to find clean water by accessing wells on Superfund hazardous waste sites.

"I've been saying that the message from the President yesterday in his tweets was sadistic," she said. "You have a people in crisis, and you're saying you're going to turn your back on them. It's ridiculous."

Cuomo pointed to those who cast doubt on the seriousness of the situation in Puerto Rico or say that the administration is doing enough to help.

"These are apologists for an administration that is reckless and irresponsible," she said. "When it comes to the people of Puerto Rico, we have to be very clear that we are being treated like second-class citizens despite the fact that we've had U.S. citizenship for 100 years."

She noted that the United States invaded Puerto Rico (during the Spanish-American War in 1898, eventually acquiring it from Spain), and "with that invasion comes responsibilities."

"I heard some of the interviews with some of the Republican congresspeople. They see us as 'others.' They see us as somehow foreigners, that the United States doesn't have a responsibility to these U.S. citizens that have also given their life in terms of serving in the military with distinction over the years," Mark-Viverito said.

"So, there is a real double standard -- which I think has racist undertones, that's the way I have to interpret it -- that we are not being treated or given the same treatment as states that have had similar catastrophes. We are not going to let them forget it."

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