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

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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? 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: 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. MAYOR CARMEN YULÍN CRUZ: Mm-hmm. 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.

 

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