Trump’s Tweets About Puerto Rico's Maria Death Toll Are His Worst Gaslighting Yet

Photo: LIONEL CHAMOISEAU/AFP/Getty Images.
Despite overwhelming evidence proving at least 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump has chosen to sully the memory of the U.S. citizens we lost in a series of tweets in which he rejected scientific research and his own government's assessment. It's his worst gaslighting yet.
"3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000," he wrote.
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He added: "This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!"
Trump is lying.
The tweets come just before the one-year mark of Hurricane Maria barreling through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, becoming one of the worst natural disasters the United States has seen in recent history.
An independent study from George Washington University released in late August said Hurricane Maria and its aftermath killed at least 2,975 people in Puerto Rico, most of them poor Puerto Ricans living in hard-hit municipalities. The statistical study was commissioned by the administration of Democratic Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and conclusively found that the excess deaths between September 2017 and February 2018 were likely attributable to the storm. After nearly a year, Rosselló's administration updated the storm's official death toll from 64 to 2,975 based on the GWU study.
This was not news for Puerto Ricans — it just confirmed what the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo in Puerto Rico and several major news outlets have found almost immediately after the storm, as well as what people in the island witnessed every day. A Harvard University study released in May also said the hurricane was likely responsible for at least 4,600 excess deaths between September 20 and until December 31. Research pointed to the interruption of medical care — many times because the lack of electricity, water, and access to healthcare — was the main reason for the increase in deaths. Anecdotally, Puerto Ricans confirm this too.
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That at least 2,975 people died after the storm is not some big political conspiracy to make Trump "look bad." It is a fact.
As we near the one-year mark of Maria, Trump is increasingly facing questions about how his administration handled the disaster given the number of deaths. So he is doing what he does best: Lash out. Deflect. Lie.
Earlier this week, he said he thought the response to the storm in "Puerto Rico was an incredible, unsung success." But because facts don't care about your feelings, let's look at all the ways the federal government failed Puerto Ricans.
In the immediate days after the storm, Trump was more preoccupied ranting about NFL's national anthem controversy and feuding with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz instead of signaling to his administration to focus on hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Per Politico, his lack of tweets and messaging, combined with how he said he didn't consider the hurricane "a real catastrophe," quietly signaled to bureaucrats that Puerto Rico was not among the priorities for an emergency response compared to Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, respectively.
Here's how FEMA reacted: After Harvey, it took less than six days to deploy 73 helicopters over the Houston area to help delivered emergency supplies and rescue people in critical situations. It took at least three weeks after Maria before Puerto Ricans saw a similar amount of choppers.
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Nine days after Harvey, Houston received from FEMA about 5.1 million meals, 4.5 million liters of water, and over 20,000 tarps. The agency also approved $141.8 million in individual assistance to Harvey victims. In that same amount of time after Maria, FEMA just delivered 1.6 million meals, 2.8 million liters of water, and about 5,000 tarps in the island, while approving only $6.2 million for Puerto Ricans. About 30,000 federal emergency personnel were deployed to the Houston area in the first nine days after Harvey hit.
At the same point after Maria, FEMA had sent only about 10,000 people to Puerto Rico.
Before you scream "Puerto Rico is an island!" to justify the emergency response, remember the U.S. reaction to the Haiti earthquake in January 2010. Here's the Washington Post: "Before dawn the next morning, an Army unit was airborne, on its way to seize control of the main airport in Port-au-Prince. Within two days, the Pentagon had 8,000 American troops en route. Within two weeks, 33 U.S. military ships and 22,000 troops had arrived. More than 300 military helicopters buzzed overhead, delivering millions of pounds of food and water."
It was possible to help Puerto Rico with the same urgency the Obama administration helped Haiti. President Trump just chose not to.
FEMA itself recognized its failures in a report published earlier this summer that examined the response to the hurricanes Maria and Irma in Puerto Rico. Another report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said 54% of FEMA's personnel were not qualified for their positions as of October 2017, a month after Maria hit.
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The list of mishaps goes on and on.
These failures, combined with the local government's disastrous handling of the emergency as well, led to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Over the last year, we've learned the names of our muertos: Paulita. Natalio. Raúl. Isabel. José Daniel. Lorraine. Isabel. Leovigildo. Luis. Ramón. José "Pepe." Ángel. Catalina. Iaan. Elidia. Luz. Paula. Manuel. Francisco. Ayesha. Paulina. Leo. Oscar. Alexis. Teresa. Alma. And so many more.
A true leader would offer his condolences to Puerto Rico and promise to fix the institutional failures we witnessed over the last year, so next time a disaster strikes we can try to prevent a loss of human life comparable to the September 11 terrorist attacks. Instead, the president's first mention of the at least 3,000 Puerto Ricans we lost are these despicable tweets. When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Trump said in his posts, "I love Puerto Rico!" His actions prove otherwise.
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