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Puerto Rican Businessman: Florida Governor Doesn’t Want to Promote Aid

Roberto Figueroa Caballero sits on a small table in his home that was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in La Perla neighborhood on the coast of San Juan on Oct. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

WASHINGTON – Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) doesn’t like or want to promote the fact that his state is preparing to accommodate 100,000 Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, a Puerto Rican businessman said today.

“(Scott) doesn’t like it. He doesn’t want to promote it, but he knows it’s a reality. As opposed to Haitian immigrants and Cubans, you don’t have any means to control it,” David E. Lewis, vice president of Washington, D.C.-based Manchester Trade Ltd., said at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “It’s a free market. We’re all American citizens. We can pick up and go wherever we want, whenever we want.”

Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency in Florida following Hurricane Maria, and issued an executive order to all 67 counties asking officials to accommodate displaced Puerto Ricans.

“With families displaced by Hurricane Maria already present and still arriving in Florida, it is critical that our state is prepared to provide the resources they need upon entering our state,” Scott said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the governor announced that Orlando’s Florida Virtual School will accept up to 20,000 Puerto Rican students so that they can attend school while the island recovers from the ravages of Hurricane Maria.

Lewis, who was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, but grew up in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico, previously served as assistant secretary of state for Puerto Rico and held a director position with USAID. He noted that the governor has prepared four different airports in Florida to receive Puerto Ricans, which are preparing resources for lining up housing and education.

Officials from Puerto Rico, the American Red Cross and the Department of Homeland Security all detailed conditions on the island following Maria, which was 1 mph short of a category 5 classification. According to Luis Fortuño, the 10th governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, 92 percent of the island was without power as of Thursday, and 55 percent without water supply.

Brad Kieserman, vice president of disaster operations and logistics at the American Red Cross, said that there are about 9,000 people in shelters being run by the commonwealth. Kieserman said that every government at every level is making a “true effort to care for their citizens.”

“It is singularly unhelpful for there to be a lot of blame and ego and all of this going on, and as a non-government employee I feel that I can say that,” he said, without directing the criticism at anyone in particular.

President Trump recently criticized San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who he accused of leading a politically motivated attack on his administration’s relief efforts. The Red Cross has sent 500 workers to Puerto Rico, while there are currently 17,000 federal employees deployed to the island.

Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant secretary for Public Affairs at Department of Homeland Security, said that FEMA and federal responders have dealt with a “uniquely challenging hurricane season,” noting efforts in Texas and Florida, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Thursday marked the 44th straight day of 24-hour operations for federal emergency response, he said.

He noted that about 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s gas stations are now open, but cell phone service is expected to return sooner than power for residential and commercial purposes on a large scale.

“There’s been challenges, but I think we’ve turned a corner on that,” Hoffman said.

Fortuño said that he has never seen Puerto Ricans in the state he witnessed while on a visit following the storm. Puerto Ricans, who he described as joyful people who truly enjoy life, “have been hurt like no time before” in the aftermath of Maria.