San Juan mayor hails Holyoke as haven for Hurricane Maria refugees

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, answers questions during an hour-long press conference at the Willits-Hallowell Conference Center on the campus of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 11/7/2019 6:08:19 PM
Modified: 11/7/2019 6:08:07 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — When Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in fall 2017, the most obvious image of the destruction it caused were the photos of destroyed homes, falling bridges and other infrastructure that appeared in the news.

Less seen, however, were pictures of those forced from their homes, many whom moved to cities on the mainland, including thousands who sought refuge in Holyoke. For San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, deaths and the displacement of people from their homes should be seen as the social cost of climate change, which scientists say is making events like Maria stronger and more likely to occur.

“We are all climate survivors, and they’re climate change migrants,” Cruz said Thursday at Mount Holyoke College.

Cruz was at Mount Holyoke to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the school’s Weissman Center for Leadership. She also visited campus last spring, when Mount Holyoke created a program for its professors to teach science to 40 young girls in San Juan during a monthlong STEM summer camp.

Speaking at a roundtable with reporters, Cruz praised Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse and others in the city for their action as families from Puerto Rico arrived in Holyoke, which boasts the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans of any mainland city.

“It was very refreshing to see a mayor that understood the complexity of his job was to open his arms to everyone,” she said.

Cruz, known as a vocal critic of the administration of President Donald Trump, spoke at length about the effects of Hurricane Maria.

She pointed out that Puerto Rico has received only $14 billion of the $42 billion in disaster relief that Congress allocated. She also noted that federal housing officials admitted at a congressional hearing last month that they had knowingly missed legally mandated deadlines to provide hurricane relief funding to the island.

Close to half of the U.S. territory’s municipalities are on the brink of financial collapse, Cruz said. Some 1.3 million Puerto Rican residents need assistance just to put food on the table, she said, and as many as a million people don’t have a medical plan because Puerto Ricans don’t receive the same Medicaid benefits as citizens on the mainland, despite paying the same money into the program.

“I think the Puerto Rican example is an example of how lives are lost when governments look the other way, when racism and bigotry take over,” she said. She later added, “We are continuously dismissed, discriminated and bullied by the president, and his words foster a lot of pain and foster a lot of violence.”

Cruz, who a co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president, said she supports Sanders because he has initiated solutions to Puerto Rico’s crisis before running for president, including a bill for 100 percent Medicaid parity and a $146 billion “Marshall Plan” for the territory. She also highlighted Sanders’ advocacy for Medicare for All and his recent immigration platform that, among other things, calls for the break-up of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Cruz was also quick to point out that Holyoke City Councilor Jossie Valentin — who is heading Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign in Massachusetts — was in the room.

“I’m pretty sure we’ve never had an argument about the politics within our different camps, because there’s one thing that we both understand,” she said. “And that is that Donald Trump must be defeated.”

Cruz is running for governor of Puerto Rico in 2020. Just this year, a mass popular uprising led to the ouster of former Gov. Ricardo Rossello amid a corruption scandal and outrage over violent and homophobic text messages exposed by the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico. In those messages, Rossello joked about shooting Cruz.

Cruz said that she doesn’t believe in privatizing essential services, unlike other candidates. She doesn’t believe in charter schools and vouchers, and said she will continue to fight against the unelected fiscal control board that now has control over many decisions on the island. She has also promised to hold a constitutional assembly to decide the political status of Puerto Rico.

“We are a colony of the United States,” she said. “We don’t like being one; the American people don’t like having one. So we have to sit down and solve this issue.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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