Who is the Puerto Rico mayor standing up to Trump over hurricane relief?

Fighting for Puerto Rico.
Fighting for Puerto Rico.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, the mayor Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan, garnered international attention this weekend after she pleaded to President Trump and his administration to send more help to the US territory in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. Trump rebuked her, saying Puerto Ricans wanted everything done for them, and that Cruz showed “poor leadership ability.”

However, the 54-year-old mayor is emerging as a passionate political force. Cruz, who has been living in a shelter after her home was destroyed in the hurricane, is at the forefront of efforts to help Puerto Rico recover from the destruction created by the storm more than a week ago. She has toured the US news circuit, raising awareness about the island’s dire condition, and on Friday (Sept. 29) Cruz held a press conference at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, which is being used as a government center and holds some supplies, and made this desperate plea for help:

I will do what I never thought I was going to do: I am begging. I am begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy. We will make it with or without you because what stands behind me is all due to the generosity of other people.

On Saturday, she responded to Trump’s tweeted comments, saying, “It’s not about politics, it’s not about petty comments, it’s about moving forward, putting boots on the ground and saving lives.” She also said that aid from various sources had increased to Puerto Rico on Saturday morning. “It’s a good start,” she said but a lot more still needs to be done. Cruz also tweeted this morning to clarify that there is one goal: to save lives.

Cruz was born and grew up in the San Juan. She spent 12 years living in the continental US and during that time earned an undergraduate degree in political science from Boston University and an advanced degree in public management and policy from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After returning to Puerto Rico in 1992, she began her career in politics, starting out as an advisor for the San Juan mayor and for the president of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.

She won her first seat in parliament in 2008—after losing a race in 2000—as a member of the Popular Democratic Party. The party has been extremely important to the history of Puerto Rico. It led the process when the territory created its constitution, and since then has regularly controlled the position of governor. 

In 2012, she was elected the San Juan’s third female mayor. According to Our Revolution, a progressive American political action organization, she won through a “grassroots effort.” Our Revolution says she has made San Juan “the first and only municipality” on the island where employees have the right to collective bargaining, made steps towards a local version of a universal health care plan, and is an advocate for gender equality, LGBT rights, and rights for disabled people.

In June 2016, she spoke out against PROMESA, the US law created under President Obama that mandated an oversight board to run Puerto Rico’s finances, as it was unable to repay its debts and filed for a form of bankruptcy. Because Puerto Rico isn’t a US state, it doesn’t have representatives in the US Congress, and doesn’t vote in the presidential elections. On Democracy Now!, Cruz said:

What the Congress has done, what the president of the United States has done, what the judicial system has done, is they have unveiled to everyone, the international community and everyone in Puerto Rico, that we are a colony of the United States. PROMESA is a broken promise to the people of Puerto Rico. They have put their backs towards the rights of Puerto Rican people, and they cannot move forward an agenda which will help the development of the Puerto Rican economy.