Here’s why Trump’s latest claims about Puerto Rico are wrong

A man in San Juan, Puerto Rico, places a pair of sandals in front of the capitol building June 1 to represent those killed by Hurricane Maria. (CNS photo/Thais Llorca, EPA)   

Yesterday, President Donald Trump tweeted that hurricanes Irma and Maria did not kill 3,000 Puerto Ricans. The assertion runs contrary to recent findings announced by Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rossello.

“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,” the president said on Twitter. “If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”

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Jose Dueño, S.J., and I reported from Puerto Rico last November, less than two months after the hurricanes. We met José Luis Vázquez, who lives in the mountainous village of Las Marías. Some of his neighbors died when mudslides swept away their homes.

We accompanied Father Carlos Francis Mendez, the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, which serves the area. It was undoubtedly a small sample. There are only so many people with whom you can speak in a two-week period, but we knew the death count was much higher than 64, which was the official tally for months after the storm.

We heard stories about people who died in connection to the hurricanes, like one man whose tractor fell over a cliff while he was trying to clear away trees from a mountaintop road. Debris isolated remote towns for weeks. The island went without clean water and electricity for months, increasing the risks of disease and endangering hospital patients and nursing-home residents. How many died in those days? We heard stories about people near the coast, cast into the sea by hurricanes, never to be seen again.

Right now, the United States is being hit again by another storm. The nation has set its sights on those suffering through Hurricane Florence. But we should also remember those thousands who died in Puerto Rico last year.

See our full coverage, including an award-winning series of short documentaries produced by Mr. Dueño.

Short documentaries

Local priest mobilizes rural parish after Hurricane Maria

Puerto Ricans face the psychological trauma of Hurricane Maria

How Catholic students in Puerto Rico are stepping up after Hurricane Maria

Reports

Puerto Rico death toll could be 70 times higher than originally reported, study says

What the hurricanes revealed about Puerto Rico 

How a rural Catholic Church is serving survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

How Catholic university students are responding in Puerto Rico

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Stanley Kopacz
2 months ago

It's like arguing with a random number generator. The man is an interminable source of nonsense. I've stopped listening. There is no there there.

Esperanza Y Paz
2 months ago

First, any death is one too many and any death is to be deplored. That said, the official death toll is 64. Any other number is based on studies - studies! - that provide estimates - estimates! - of what could have, might have, possibly should have been considered hurricane related mortalities!!! Sorry, but that's not how it works. The official death toll is based on reported actual casualties that are cited by name. And that's all it is and ever will be.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

There eventually will be a name and cause of death for each person who died in and during the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. Until then it will be just rhetoric. The real question is why this was written? It is just another hit piece on Trump.

Robin Smith
2 months ago

No, that's not "all it is and ever will be." That isn't how people's lives are counted.
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/puerto-rico-death-…
"The 95 percent confidence interval, or the range in which researchers can reasonably expect the precise total to fall, is from 2,658 to 3,290 dead. Any of these numbers—from the low to the high end—would make Hurricane Maria one of the most massive disasters of any kind in modern American history."
Would you be good with your parent's or kid's death not being counted??

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Who said anything about not being counted. I said eventually everyone will be counted.

The sad thing is that it is almost a year later and there is no list. This is all about influencing voters from Puerto Rico now in Florida. Ironic thing is that they will vote for the same political philosophy that caused the havoc in Puerto Rico.

Ed Hassett
2 months ago

A death certificate will most probability not list hurricane as cause of death. Kidney failure or heart will be listed but the cause is most surely the hurricane. In January, my wife died from the progressive ravages of dementia. The deat cert said cause was failure to thrive

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

There certainly could be a list of those who died by direct causes such as the author lists, mud slides, disappeared, drowned, young people etc. . There are lots of ways of identifying deaths that are unusual

Stanley Kopacz
2 months ago

Mudslides? If you can't get medicine or dialysis or life saving procedures because of the hurricane, you belong on the list of victims.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

If you can't get medicine or dialysis or life saving procedures because of the hurricane, you belong on the list of victims.

Yes and the author mentions mud slides.

Randal Agostini
2 months ago

What has the headline got to do with this article. Every death is tragic, but these deaths were not caused by the President and the administration tried their best to ameliorate the resultant hardships. It would seem that Puerto Ricans were more at fault, with deficient infrastructure and resources, which have nothing to do withy this administration. America represents a Catholic Institution and I have no idea why it insists on continually promulgating a hypocritical vendetta against this President, which is most unchristian.

Robin Smith
2 months ago

The headline might be clickbait, but the body is accurate.
Question for you: Why do you, personally, continue to believe whatever the man says despite being proven a liar, almost 5,000 lies, since he took office? Would you keep believing your kids if they lied like that?

E.Patrick Mosman
2 months ago

Exactly what did President Trump do to cause the death of even one resident of Puerto Rico? Did he turn a switch and destroy the poorly maintained power grid that led to a loss of electrical power throughout the island? Did he release tons of water to wash out roads and destroy bridges? Did he order an incompetent local bureaucracy to stand down and await help from the USA? Did he order hospitals and first responders to not install generators or maintain them or store adequate fuel supplies? Blaming President Trump is simply more fake news.

Robin Smith
2 months ago

He won't be sued for a murder, but he will be blamed for the collective mess. He's the commander-in-chief & it's his shoulders it falls on. You've blamed Obama for much, MUCH less.

Toby Gillis
2 months ago

Robin, he is CinC to the armed forces and that is all. Also, if my parent or kid died the last thing I would be worried about was what Gubment list they made it on.

E.Patrick Mosman
2 months ago

Just the idea that the President or even anyone would be thought of as a murderer for deaths due to a hurricane is evidence of sheer TDS madness.

There was no problem on getting containers of needed materials,food, water and other supplies to the country as photos showed the docks were "chock a block" full of containers that could not be delivered due to lack of local trucks and drivers. Just another attempt to the blame President for the failure of the local Democrat governor of Puerto Rico and Mayor of San Juan. And another excuse for their failure:
"The emergency plan centered on the use of diesel generators to replace lost electricity"
What other sources of emergency supply of electricity are available and isn't it the responsibility of the local government and every critical location to maintain its own adequate supply of diesel fuel?
The Federal government cannot be the end all and be all of emergency needs.
Another anti-Trump whiner who provides every reason why Puerto Rico is a different and more difficult disaster area from Florida and Texas and then blames President Trump for the difference in personal and government responses. The TDS disease is rampant.

John Walton
2 months ago

I still hold that the number of 3,000 deaths is highly implausible. In fact, this number is a surmise extrapolated from a very small sample size.

I realize that very few Jesuits are entering the physical and mathematical sciences these days, but perhaps America's editors could find one knowledgeable in probability and statistics to examine the methodology and defend or destroy the thesis.

Edwin Hess
2 months ago

To begin with, why is President Trump responsible for the deaths that occurred during preparation for the storm, during the storm itself, and even for those deaths that happened for a week or so after the storm? How can he be responsible for deaths caused by a mudslide or for the death of a man on a tractor who backed off a cliff? After the storm, the ability to deliver aid was greatly hampered by a poor infrastructure and that can only be blamed on the people who were running the government for the last 5 or 10 years, not President Trump. We must also acknowledge that we are talking about an island and not part of the mainland where people, equipment and materials can be rushed in with ease and where most people have a car and can easily flee to safe areas before the storm.

Stanley Kopacz
2 months ago

So he can take credit for the economy and not blame for American deaths under his watch. Typical. I thought he was the Great Messiah who would fix everything. Puerto Rico may very well be the future of us all. Climate disaster plus poor infrastructure and no preparation.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Trump gets credit for deregulation and tax cuts which are helping to stimulate economy. Basics were there for economic expansion but were being suppressed by high business taxes and regulations. For that part he gets credit. For tariff policy we will have wait and see where it leads.

Consumer optimism and stock market went up on election expecting these things.

Puerto Rico was a basket case of ineptness and that is to blame if there were excessive deaths. Author and others should read Niall Ferguson to understand differences between Latin and English America. Baked in from the start and still there.

E.Patrick Mosman
2 months ago

.
"poor infrastructure and no preparation." So who had been, was still in charge and was responsible for these failures in Puerto Rico Puerto Rico. Certainly not the Federal government but the local democratic politicians who failed in their responsibilities to their people and defend their failures by blaming the President,major cases of TDS.

Stanley Kopacz
2 months ago

Democrats can't save us from Republicans. Republicans can't save us from Democrats and neither will save us from the 1%. Instant runoff voting NOW.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

One of my favorite websites is by Betsy Newmark. Her blog is http://betsyspage.blogspot.com/.

She hates Trump but is honest about what he has accomplished. Here is a recent blogpost by her which expresses what much of his supporters probably believe. Search for the comment if interested. She exposes liberal intolerance and hypocrisy better than anyone I found.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Quote part 1 - I get that Trump is really quite contemptible in various ways. I've never liked him - even back when he was just headlines in gossip columns about his wives or bankruptcies. I didn't support him for the nomination or vote for him. I can't stand his constant mad, solipsistic tweeting. I've liked and supported some of his actions such as the court appointments, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and his support of that country, backing out of the Iran deal, deregulatory actions, and the tax cuts.

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Quote part 2 - Perhaps that's worth having a buffoon in the White House and the lowering of standards. I find myself just ignoring many of the most egregious stories about him just because I can't stand so much crazy. I don't buy that he's playing some sort of three-dimensional chess to expose how awful his opponents are. I don't find the stories in the Woodward book so very unbelievable. I believe the denials from people like Generals Kelly and Mattis, but I wouldn't be at all surprised that two honorable Marines who have sacrificed for this country would be astounded at seeing Trump in action sometimes

E.Patrick Mosman
2 months ago

"and the lowering of standards." Not sure how you measure the standards but having a President play hide the cigar, leave a deposit on a blue dress in the White House, suffer impeachment proceedings, lie under oath, lose his law license, have a number of sexual harassment complaints set a very low bar for the Presidency. In my "Say it ain't so Joe" moment you didn't vote for Hillary the "Enabler" or did you?

J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Quote part 3 - However, Trump does possess one magic power - he drives his opponents so crazy that they expose themselves to be little better than he is. They can oppose Brett Kavanaugh for all the reasons they do, but do they have to cheat and lie just to burn him? There is something so shameful in the tactics that some of them have embraced. Cory Booker has made himself into a joke. He's still going around and pretending he's Spartacus even though he's been exposed as a total grandstanding blowhard.

Carl Kuss
2 months ago

I don't think Trump is capable of distinguishing Puerto Rico from "other shithole countries" (to use his language) whereas Puerto Ricans are as American as I am. But the reason why 3000 people died in the hurricane there cannot be reduced to Trump. Trump formulates the attitude too many of us have toward the poor, towards people who are different and needy. Most of us act like racists, misogynists, homophobes, plutocrats and egoists but formulate our actions in politically correct terms. Trump will die and go away. But will we change?

Stefan Svilich
1 month 3 weeks ago

America Magazine is running a story using stats to make the President look bad. Not surprised am I. Bet you a nickel that if President Obama were still President, no math games would be played and the death count of 64 would as settled as The Resurrection.

Stefan Svilich
1 month 3 weeks ago

America Magazine is running a story using stats to make the President look bad. Not surprised am I. Bet you a nickel that if President Obama were still President, no math games would be played and the death count of 64 would as settled as The Resurrection.

Stefan Svilich
1 month 3 weeks ago

America Magazine is running a story using stats to make the President look bad. Not surprised am I. Bet you a nickel that if President Obama were still President, no math games would be played and the death count of 64 would as settled as The Resurrection.

Stefan Svilich
1 month 3 weeks ago

America Magazine is running a story using stats to make the President look bad. Not surprised am I. Bet you a nickel that if President Obama were still President, no math games would be played and the death count of 64 would as settled as The Resurrection.

Stefan Svilich
1 month 3 weeks ago

America Magazine is running a story using stats to make the President look bad. Not surprised am I. Bet you a nickel that if President Obama were still President, no math games would be played and the death count of 64 would as settled as The Resurrection.

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