On Wednesday morning, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D–IL) gave the following speech on the floor of the House of Representatives:
Here are the prepared remarks his office gave to the press:
It has been three weeks.
Three weeks since the eye of Hurricane Maria crossed over Puerto Rico.
Three weeks and there are still parts of the island that have not had contact with FEMA yet.
For most people that has meant no power. And most still don’t have running water.
Hospitals and clinics are hit hard, as the New York Times reports.
The daughter of one man who died because he couldn’t receive oxygen treatment told the paper “Because of the electricity situation, a lot of people died, and are still dying.”
Forty percent of the island still lacks running water because of the blackout, which still affects 85 percent of the island. As a result, many people are bathing in streams and receiving water from huge tanks, the Times reports…
And this is after three weeks in the most powerful nation on earth!
This is unacceptable.
Our response to Hurricane Maria and the people of Puerto Rico is a national and international embarrassment and tragedy.
Our own citizens in our own Caribbean colonies of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and we have not helped them.
I spoke with Chicago Firefighters yesterday who have been in Puerto Rico for about a week and they tell me it is worse than we are being told.
They said they are still making contact with towns where people come up to them and say thank God, FEMA is finally here. And they have to tell them, no, we’re not from FEMA, we’re from Chicago.
Last week, a group of my colleagues and I got together. We represent large Puerto Rican communities here on the mainland in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio and Florida.
All of us have been contacted by our constituents who are desperate to get loved ones out of Puerto Rico.
After three weeks, they have run out of patience and are not interested in excuses.
They want their parents or their Tía with cancer or their cousin on dialysis off the island. Period.
They want a plane ticket to get them the hell out.
Our communities are ready. Lorain, Ohio, Hartford, Boston, Orlando, New York, Newark and my hometown of Chicago – we are all ready, but the problem is transportation.
If you have money, connections or internet access, you can probably find a flight if you are willing to pay.
I know this because when I was in Puerto Rico two weeks ago, I saw Land Rovers and Jaguars parked at the private airport in San Juan – because if you have the money, you have already put your loved ones on a flight out.
The individuals from FEMA have been doing a fantastic job given the constraints: logistics, heat, roads, rain, and bureaucracy at all levels of government locally and federally.
They are heroes, but I think now FEMA and military resources should focus on the task of evacuating the elderly, the sick, and the vulnerable from the island.
Look, this is the way FEMA works: They will not take on a task unless the Governor asks them to. And the Governor is not likely to go to FEMA to ask them to help get thousands and thousands of his constituents off the island.
Number 1, it is a difficult request for any local official to make. Captains of industry and leaders on the island want to make sure there are Puerto Rican workers there to rebuild and to buy their products. I get that. But those same captains of industry and political leaders have already in most cases gotten their relatives off the island to safety.
But Number 2, we know the Governor has to be extremely careful how he asks for anything because we all know the President does not take criticism very well – or even the hint of criticism.
The Governor doesn’t want to get black-balled by the President who might go off on a Twitter rant at any moment unless he is praised and stroked every step of the way.
But our Puerto Rican constituents don’t vote for the Governor of Puerto Rico, they vote for us and expect us to help them and their families when they are in danger.
They are demanding help getting their family members out and I think FEMA and the U.S. military can the job, they just need the orders from the people in charge.
Let’s be clear, if anyone wants to leave Puerto Rico, they should have our help in doing so. For thousands, it is a matter of life and death and survival.
That is what is needed to help Puerto Rico.
We don’t need the President tossing paper towels to storm victims like he was tossing a ball to a dog, or maybe tossing peanuts to squirrels at the park.
We need airplanes, ships and helicopters to get people the hell out.
Otherwise it will be worse than “Let them eat cake.” It’s “let them die.”