(Bloomberg) -- Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello sought to ease tensions Sunday between some in the U.S. territory and President Donald Trump over efforts to recover from Hurricane Maria’s devastation, as the administration continued lashing out at San Juan’s mayor for demanding more from the federal government.
But Rossello also said it was time to reflect on how Puerto Rico got to where it is now, lamenting a century-long history of unequal treatment for the 3.4 million islanders, who are U.S. citizens, as compared to their mainland counterparts. Maria left the island’s vulnerable infrastructure in shambles, and its battered energy grid alone could cost billions to rebuild.
“I invite you to reflect on the reality that even after the storm hit Puerto Rico, even when it was evident that it was a disaster in the United States, only half of U.S. citizens on the mainland knew that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens,” Rossello, who aligns with Democrats and has lobbied for Puerto Rico to become a state, said Sunday in San Juan.
As a result of Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status, he said, it gets just one third the health care funding of mainlanders and battles widespread poverty. He also said the island’s 150,000 veterans get unequal treatment despite a very high per-capita military participation rate.
Rossello was also careful to praise Trump, state governments and lawmakers, who he said have responded in a “bipartisan or nonpartisan basis.” Trump has been criticized for his response to the disaster and has lashed out at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz repeatedly on Twitter over the past two days.
Trump said Cruz and others in Puerto Rico had displayed “such poor leadership ability” in being “not able to get their workers to help.” She, in turn, accused him of politicizing a disaster and said the focus needed to be on saving lives.
That’s not to say Rossello is playing down the crisis. He warned again Sunday that a slow or inadequate response could prompt a “massive exodus” of Puerto Ricans to the mainland.
“I know that there is more that we need to do,” he said. “But it is important that we recognize that the president, state governments are helping, are putting their resources. And just because one of them, or some of them, haven’t put it in a tweet, does not mean that they are not working for Puerto Rico.”