Skip to content Skip to footer

Puerto Ricans Protest Trump’s Visit, Denounce Militarization Amid Lack of Aid Distribution

Democracy Now!’s correspondent Juan Carlos Du00e1vila traveled to the town of Utuado to speak with residents seeking help.

As President Trump travels to Puerto Rico two weeks after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria, we go to the island for an on-the-ground report. Democracy Now!’s correspondent Juan Carlos Dávila traveled to the town of Utuado to speak with residents who have yet to get help other than a few bottles of water. He also joins us live in the capital San Juan from a protest against Trump’s visit.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we end today’s show in Puerto Rico, where President Trump travels today, some two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, destroying its electrical grid and leaving more than half of Puerto Rico’s three-and-a-half million residents with no access to clean water. Food and fuel continue to be in short supply, and the Federal Communications Commission says nearly 90 percent of cellphone towers remain out of service.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s visit comes just two days after he called Puerto Rican leaders who have criticized his hurricane response “politically motivated ingrates,” and said Puerto Ricans, quote, “want everything to be done for them.”

In a minute, we’ll go to San Juan for a live update from a protest against Trump’s visit today, but first we turn to a report from the interior of Puerto Rico filed by Democracy Now!’s Juan Carlos Dávila, our correspondent on the ground there. He traveled to the town of Utuado to speak with residents who have yet to get help, other than a few bottles of water.

LEONILDA MALDONADO GUZMÁN: [translated] Here’s the mattress. I tried to dry it, but I can’t sleep on it. Everything is damaged. Everything got broken, and water filtered in, everything from here to there. My name is Leonilda Maldonado Guzmán. My house is damaged because water got inside of it, and part of the roof is gone. I can’t sleep here, so I have to go to my neighbor’s house. I haven’t seen any help here. We haven’t seen anything. It’s like we don’t exist. In Utuado, we feel abandoned, because no help has arrived. As in other parts, there’s elderly people here. Most of us can’t communicate with our families. We don’t have medicine. Nobody has come to help. My house is damaged. I have asthma. I have many health problems.

ADA ALICIA: [translated] This is my daughter’s room. Water leaked through here. If you look, you can see everything falling apart. My name is Ada Alicia, and my daughter’s name is Gigi Avilette. My daughter is a cerebral cancer patient. She has leukemia. Everything got wet, all the living room, her room. She lost her TV, video games, all of her things. And every time it rains, we lose more. Little by little, we’ll lose everything.

JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: [translated] What do you need?

ADA ALICIA: [translated] We need support and compassion, along with everyone here, help with the water, with the food distribution, housing for sick people. This house is not safe for us anymore. We need FEMA to help us with federal or municipal authorities — anything to get this girl out of here.

ARITZA MEDINA GONZÁLEZ: [translated] My name is Aritza Medina González, and I live on Borinquen Street in the town of Utuado. Everything was sealed and covered up during the storm. After the roof flew away, all the water began running in, and it got into the room and continued down. Look how it is. I was cleaning water from here. The authorities in charge of giving the help should speed up their efforts and organize by different sectors. Get organized, and give us help we need. We cannot continue living like this. By coming here to clean bit after bit every day, I’m going to end up with an infection in my lungs, because they don’t provide us with masks, and we don’t have the money to buy them. Really, we’re going through a very tough situation. This is an emergency, a total emergency, really a complete disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: Voices from residents of Utuado in Puerto Rico. Special thanks to Juan Carlos Dávila, who is joining us now in San Juan, joining us by telephone for an update on a protest that is currently underway against President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico today.

Juan Carlos, welcome to Democracy Now! Thank you for that report. Talk about this protest today. What are people demanding?

JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: Good morning, Amy. Yeah, so the protest is starting to get organized. People are arriving from different organizations, different community groups. And the idea of this protest is to call out Trump about his comments in regard to Puerto Rico, also to call out Trump about climate change. And that is something very important that one of the organizers of the protest, Mariana Nogales, is emphasizing, that Puerto Ricans here are seeing the effects of climate change. And they want to make that point very clear and call out Trump for climate change. There’s also organizers here from Mothers Against the War, and they are denouncing the militarization of Puerto Rico and how much military is walking and driving around the streets and not necessarily providing the help that is needed for the people.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Juan Carlos, there are reports that the president, during his visit, will meet with the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who he has been so heavily criticizing over the past few weeks. Any sense of what’s — how that’s being reported on the island, if at all?

JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: So, what has been said here is that the president, the White House, was in communication with the mayor of San Juan, and they agreed to meet, but without her giving any comments or without her — without letting her give her opinions. So it’s like a meeting where she has no voice. That’s basically what it seems like it’s going to be like. So we are still waiting to see if that meeting is going to take place, if the mayor is going to meet with President Trump or really attend a briefing where she cannot speak.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk more about the president’s plan for the day? He’s going to be there for a few hours, is that right, Juan Carlos?

JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: Yeah, for a few hours. He’s scheduled to be back in D.C. in the late afternoon, early evening. So, Trump is scheduled to arrive here around 11:45. And he’s going to be landing in the base, Muñiz, which is next to the San Juan international airport. That’s usually a Air Force base where the presidents, when they come and visit, go. And then, later, he’s going to meet in an aircraft carrier, the USS Kearsarge. And he’s going to meet there with the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, and governor of the Virgin — of the US Virgin Islands, Kenneth Mapp. And so, they are — he’s going to fly into the base and then is going to fly out of Puerto Rico, off the island, to an aircraft carrier to meet with the governors of Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.

It’s still unclear where he’s going to head out around the island. It is said that he’s going to visit and talk with first responders, also that he’s going to be talking with people and families that have been impacted or severely impacted by these hurricanes. But it’s still unclear at this time where is he heading. Earlier today, I heard Héctor Pesquera, the secretary of public security here in the island, and even he doesn’t have a clear idea where Trump is going to be at, if he plans to go outside of the metropolitan area, and where is he going to be at if he plans to go outside of the base and the aircraft carrier.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Juan Carlos, what about the situation right now on the ground? I’ve heard reports that some cellphone service, especially in the metropolitan area, San Juan metropolitan area, has come back, but obviously the interior of the island is still in terrible shape. Could you talk about what you’ve been able to see?

JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: Yeah, for sure. And that’s one of the — that’s one of the issues for the protest being called out today. One of the complications — I was just talking to one of the organizers — is that they are unable to communicate with people. Sonia Santiago from Mothers Against the War, she knew about the protest when she was able to call her daughter from New York, and she told her that there was a Trump protest. So, there’s really very limited — the access to the internet is very, very bad here. And the cellphone reception is a bit better here in San Juan. It’s a bit better here, obviously, in the convention center. But outside of certain key areas in the metropolitan area, people are very incommunicated. Like the town I assisted — like the town of Utuado I visited yesterday, people have no communication there. People at this point have not heard from their relatives.

And this also creates a big problem because FEMA is asking a lot of people to fill applications for help online, and people cannot even call in certain places. And in places like the town of Utuado, they are — there are still roads that cannot be transited. It’s very hard to get gasoline up there, so people have a difficulty to get gasoline, people have difficulty driving through the roads, and people have difficulty getting online or giving a call. And FEMA is asking them to fill an application online so they can get help.

AMY GOODMAN: Juan Carlos, we only have 30 seconds, but how is your family? I know it was really tough for you to get there.

JUAN CARLOS DÁVILA: So, my family is in the west side of Aguada. I think something very beautiful is that that town is two hours away from the city, always has been feeling that they are not taken care very good, so they have taken a lot into community efforts there, and people are building a strong sense of community. Help there has not arrived, but the people there are taking matters into their own hands. They are surviving. They’re sort of people who have — grow crops. They are — so, people are helping them with their own resources.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, thank you so much, Juan Carlos. And I’m so glad, Juan, that you were able to reach your sister, as well.

Briefly, we wanted to update you on where Truthout stands this month.

To be brutally honest, Truthout is behind on our fundraising goals for the year. There are a lot of reasons why. We’re dealing with broad trends in our industry, trends that have led publications like Vice, BuzzFeed, and National Geographic to make painful cuts. Everyone is feeling the squeeze of inflation. And despite its lasting importance, news readership is declining.

To ensure we stay out of the red by the end of the year, we have a long way to go. Our future is threatened.

We’ve stayed online over two decades thanks to the support of our readers. Because you believe in the power of our work, share our transformative stories, and give to keep us going strong, we know we can make it through this tough moment.

We’ve launched a campaign to raise $43,000 in the next 6 days. Please consider making a donation today.