President Trump’s continued denialism regarding the number of deaths due to Hurricane Maria last year is indicative of a dismissive and retrograde point of view of Puerto Rico, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday.

“First and foremost, there is a systemic issue here, and that is the modern day colonial relationship that the United States has with Puerto Rico,” she said in an interview with CNN. “Puerto Ricans are technically American citizens but do not have the right to vote. They are treated in completely different ways as normal American citizens are. And for that reason you have the chronic neglect of the island, and it is acute situations like this in which Puerto Ricans continue to be treated like second-class citizens.” 

Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old socialist House candidate who beat Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in a shocking primary upset earlier this year, noted that the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was significantly slower and less robust than their response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, as Politico reported earlier this year.

“Puerto Ricans have no right to vote in federal elections. They cannot choose a president,” she said. “They don’t have a representative vote in the House or the Senate, which means that they did not even have the capacity to choose this president, yet they continue to suffer at the hands of this administration.”


Ocasio-Cortez’s comments about modern day colonialism come as Trump has been fixated on the death toll in Hurricane Maria. The latest death toll estimated that about 2,975 people died in the storm, but Trump claims that number was made up by Democrats to make him look bad.

“3000 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,” he tweeted last week. “Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000…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!”

He reiterated the argument on Twitter Friday night.

“When Trump visited the island territory last October, OFFICIALS told him in a briefing 16 PEOPLE had died from Maria.” The Washington Post. This was long AFTER the hurricane took place. Over many months it went to 64 PEOPLE. Then, like magic, “3000 PEOPLE KILLED.” They hired….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2018

….GWU Research to tell them how many people had died in Puerto Rico (how would they not know this?). This method was never done with previous hurricanes because other jurisdictions know how many people were killed. FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER – NO WAY!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2018

On Thursday, when Trump first tweeted denying the death count, Ocasio-Cortez revealed that her own grandfather died in the storm.


“My own grandfather died in the aftermath of the storm. Uncounted,” she tweeted, quote tweeting the president’s original tweet. “Thousands of Puerto Ricans have similar stories. They have lost children, friends, & family members. Instead of finger-pointing, INVEST in the Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico + just transition to renewable energy.”

On CNN, she reiterated that her family’s tragic experience was one shared by many residents of the island territory.

“In the neglect and government inaction, there was so little response, so little connection, you don’t know whether a hospital lost power,” she said. “My grandfather was in a medical facility, and he had passed away in the middle of the night.”

She continued, saying, “What we saw in Puerto Rico was a mass death of 3,000 people. It was the worst humanitarian crisis in modern American history, and many, many people impacted by this storm point to government inaction as the cause of death.”

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