FEMA Official: San Juan Mayor 'Not Participating Substantially' With Any Efforts of FEMA Field Office
A FEMA official is accusing San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz of not participating substantially with any of the efforts of the FEMA joint field office in San Juan.
Yulin Cruz became a focus of the media's attention last week, after she blasted the United States government's relief efforts while wearing a T-shirt that read "HELP US WE ARE DYING."
During an appearance on Fox and Friends Sunday, FEMA Deputy Administrator Dr. Daniel Kaniewski complimented Governor Ricardo Rosselló, saying that "we've had a strong and collaborative relationship with the governor." He also complimented most of the mayors, saying that FEMA has had a good working relationship with 77 of the 78 municipalities.
"Your answer leaves out one of the 78," Fox and Friends host Pete Hegseth pointed out. "Do you believe that San Juan has been a good-faith partner -- a part of the unified effort?
"I can just say that the mayor of San Juan has not participated substantially in any efforts of the joint field office," Kaniewski replied.
"That's where all three levels -- federal, commonwealth and the locals -- work together to develop plans, to execute those plans, and to deliver aid to those in need," he explained. "Other mayors have been participating. They're connected to us either by satellite phone in far-off areas all around Puerto Rico, as well as being on site." Kaniewski pointed out that "this is in San Juan where this joint field office is" (Yulin Cruz's city).
The mayor of a neighboring city concurred with Kaniewski that the mayor of San Juan has not been attending the FEMA meetings.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner over the weekend, Guaynabo Mayor Angel Perez Otero said that Yulin Cruz has been AWOL from meetings with FEMA and U.S. military officials: "I've seen other mayors participating. She's not," said Perez Otero.
Despite days of praise for the government's effort from Puerto Rico's governor, Yulin Cruz has become the new face of the island in the media with her sharp criticism of the administration's efforts.
Asked if he has seen similar shortfalls and non-communication from the administration, Perez Otero said "that's not been my experience." He added, "There is a lot of politics in Puerto Rico."
A female police officer from Guaynabo called into a New York radio station in tears last week, complaining that Yulen Cruz was not allowing anyone to distribute supplies while Puerto Ricans were "dying of hunger."
She accused the mayor of being more concerned with politically expedient optics than with getting help out to the people and suggested that the U.S. send military troops to take over relief operations from corrupt and inefficient local government officials.
Kaniewski told the Fox and Friends hosts that "we had commodities pre-staged, we had personnel pre-staged -- either on the island or just off the island on ships -- but that's not enough to sustain operations for weeks and months, so we realized early on that we would need to have substantial support from the U.S. mainland."
The FEMA website posted details of the Hurricane Maria response and relief operations on September 21 -- one day after the hurricane struck Puerto Rico.
FEMA "pre-positioned commodities at its Distribution Center and Warehouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico," the press release said. "Commodities including meals, water, cots, and blankets are ready for distribution to the Commonwealth as requested."
Kaniewski told Fox and Friends that "there were planes loaded with personnel, with supplies -- ready to go in the aftermath of the hurricane," but unfortunately the damage was so devastating to the communications network, pushing assets from the mainland to the island was "like trying to push a bowling ball through a straw."
Hegseth had one more key question for the FEMA official. Why would the mayor "not participate in that command center if it's in San Juan?" he asked.
"I can't answer that question," answered Kaniewski. "I can only say that we are very focused on disaster operations here, and to the extent that she or any other mayor wants to provide input in the process, we not only welcome her -- but we expect that kind of of guidance."
He concluded that "our planners on the ground need her input."
“It is unfortunate that the San Juan mayor wants to sort of go against the grain,” said Mulvaney. “We’d love to have her on the team as we all pull in the same direction. My understanding is that as of yesterday, she had not even been to the FEMA operation center in her own city.”