President Donald Trump has yet to run out of criticism for Puerto Rico and its government officials, 13 months after Hurricane Maria’s devastation. The president on Tuesday accused the island territory’s leaders of using federal relief funds to pay off “other obligations,” without evidence.
“The people of Puerto Rico are wonderful the but inept politicians are trying to use the massive and ridiculously high amounts of hurricane/disaster funding to pay off other obligations,” Trump said via Twitter.
“The U.S. will NOT bail out long outstanding & unpaid obligations with hurricane relief money!” he continued.
The president did not specify where he believed the funds were going, but appeared to be referring to the island’s longstanding financial crisis. Puerto Rico’s debt problems preceded last year’s deadly Hurricane Maria, which claimed nearly 3,000 lives, and has been the president’s scapegoat for incomplete recovery efforts.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has frequently tangled with Trump since Maria, wasted no time responding to the smear. Within the hour, Cruz tweeted that none of the relief funds will be used to pay back creditors, which include American hedge funds.
“We finally AGREE on something,” Cruz told Trump.
It was unclear where Trump got the idea that Puerto Rican officials were attempting to alleviate the island’s $70 billion debt with federal relief money.
Trump in mid-September tweeted a quote from Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, in which Dobbs lauded the Trump administration’s efforts to rebuild Puerto Rico and said the island had “one of the most corrupt governments in our country.” Last week, FBI agents raided a San Juan municipal building in an investigation into government contractors.
In July, three current and former government officials were arrested on corruption charges, accused of using $5 million in federal funds to pay employees’ salaries well before Hurricane Maria, between 2013 and 2016.
Trump has a long history of feuding with Puerto Rican officials, especially Cruz, beginning with Hurricane Maria’s September 2017 landfall. Last month, after Trump flatly denied the storm’s new official death toll ― increased in August from 64 to 2,975 ― Cruz slammed his “appalling” lack of respect for the dead.