Puerto Rico Oversight Board members have talks in Washington

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Two Puerto Rico Oversight Board members met with members of Congress Thursday and Friday.

Board Chairman José Carríon III, member Ana Matosantos, executive director Natalie Jaresko, and board staff people met with members of Congress and federal officials, said an Oversight Board spokesman. There was no word on the topic of the meetings.

The quality and adequacy of the federal response to Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, are in dispute.

On Thursday, in a CNN video, acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke said about the federal response, “I am very satisfied [with] the amount of progress that has been made…. I know it is a really good news story in terms of our ability to reach people.”

When shown the video by CNN on Friday, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz said, “When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from a building – I’m sorry, that really upsets me and frustrates me.

“Damn it, this is not a good news story,” Yulin Cruz Soto continued. “This is a ‘people are dying’ story… This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen.”

Reporters on the scene, in stories in the Associated Press, The New York Times, and the Huffington Post, all told a similar story. Puerto Rico residents said they were running out of food and water and had limited contact with federal aid workers.

The Trump administration said it was taking various steps to improve the situation. It assigned to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers the task of restoring power to the island. It appointed Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to oversee the military’s role in responding to Maria in Puerto Rico.

Concerning the longer term, Trump tweeted Friday morning, “Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of [Puerto Rico’s] rebuilding!”

According to Reuters, Trump said Friday at a National Association of Manufacturers conference, “Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort, which will end up being one of the biggest ever, will be funded and organized and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island.”

In other Washington-related Puerto Rico news, the U.S. Natural Resources Committee plans to hold a members forum Wednesday on Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The hearing at 3 p.m. will discuss potential legislative actions within the Committee’s jurisdiction to reinforce ongoing rescue and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Despite reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Oversight Board’s own website that it would meet Friday, no such meeting took place. Nor does the board plan to meet for at least the next week, said its spokesman.

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