On Fifth Trip to Puerto Rico Since Hurricane Maria, Governor Cuomo Announces Agricultural Trade Partnerships Between New York and Puerto Rico
New Agricultural Trade Opportunities Expected to Generate More than $1 Million in Economic Impact to Both Puerto Rico and New York
Comes on the Heels of Governor's New York Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Recovery Initiative and Ongoing Support to Repair and Strengthen the Power Grid and Infrastructure in Puerto Rico
Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued an open letter to President Trump calling on him to visit Puerto Rico amid the ongoing crisis resulting from the federal government's failed response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Governor issued the letter on the second day of his visit to the island leading a New York delegation to support the New York Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative.
The Governor also announced new agricultural trade partnerships between New York and Puerto Rico to strengthen both the Puerto Rican economy and the ties between the two communities as Puerto Rico continues to recover and rebuild. The Governor pledged to help Puerto Rico rebuild their agriculture and food supply systems, and work with local farmers, the University of Puerto Rico, and other partners to provide technical assistance and expertise to rebuild the industry. Ten months after the devastation of Hurricane Maria, agricultural trade between New York and Puerto Rico is rapidly growing with the expansion of New York-grown apples, cabbages, and onions into Puerto Rico and watermelon, mangoes, and pumpkins grown in Puerto Rico becoming available in New York. Conservative estimates say these agricultural trade opportunities will exceed well over $1 million in economic benefit to both New York and Puerto Rico.
The announcements were made while in Puerto Rico leading a delegation of SUNY and CUNY presidents and students, as well as nonprofit partners, labor leaders, and elected officials, to support the ongoing efforts on the island. This trip marks the Governor's fifth trip to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, and part of the third deployment of SUNY and CUNY student volunteers since the initiative began. More information is available here.
AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.
PHOTOS will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.
A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is below:
Governor Cuomo: Good morning. It's been a long morning. It's my pleasure to be joins to my right by Rubin Diaz Jr. who is the borough president of the Bronx. New York City's great Public Advocate Tish James. To my left, Assemblyman Marcos Crespo who has taken a very active role in New York on the organizing of the Puerto Rico effort and I can't thank him enough.
This has been our fifth visit to Puerto Rico. We learn more every visit and we did again today. As you know, we started initially with an emergency response effort. Over 1,000 New Yorkers came down, over 4,000 pallets of material had been delivered in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane to make sure we were doing everything that we could. We've now shifted gears into what we call our rebuilding effort, where literally we have people on the ground to rebuild. We're working with community-based partners and not-for-profit organizations, All Hands & Hearts and Heart 9/11, and that has been going very, very well. We have 500 students from SUNY and CUNY who have taken time off from their summer vacations to come and help. SUNY and CUNY is the State University of New York and the City University of New York, and those 500 students are doing good work and they're also very excited and pleased to be here.
We're going to make several additions and changes given what we've learned. Number one, we want to increase the number of students who are coming to help. Everybody says that they have been a great success. We have 500 who are here. You should know that we had over 3,000 applicants for the 500 spots. So, the number of students who wanted to come was much larger than the number we believed we could accommodate. We now think that we can actually accommodate more students, so we're going to go back to see if we can increase the number of students who are coming to help.
Second, we want to focus on economic restoration and a very big toll has been taken in the agriculture community - about 80 percent of the agriculture economy has been decimated. New York is a big buyer of the products that Puerto Rico produces, agricultural products. We're going to send down a team headed by the Agriculture Commissioner that will come during the SOMOS weekend, which brings New York legislators down to Puerto Rico. And we will work with the Puerto Rican agricultural community to see how we can help them get up and running, and how we can be more aggressive about buying products from Puerto Rico to help that community and that sector of the economy.
Third, we have a joint tourism effort with Puerto Rico, which we started several years before. It predated the hurricane. And we will be working with the Governor's office to see if we can increase that join tourism promotion, where we work with airlines and tourist agencies to develop the tourism between New York and Puerto Rico. We want people coming to Puerto Rico. We want to stimulate that part of the economy. And many people had heard of the hurricane and they weren't sure about the condition of Puerto Rico. We want them to know that Puerto Rico is not just a great place to live, but it's a great place to visit. And New York is beautiful too, but people from New York might want to vacation out of New York and if they do, we want them to think about Puerto Rico and we want to increase those joint efforts.
I also would like to address the federal government's response once more. We spent many months - this has now been 10 months believe it or not. And we spent many months criticizing the federal government for an inappropriate response. And the federal government said for many months, no we're doing everything we can do. It's going great. It's going great. The President applauded FEMA, applauded the recovery effort. We now know that was all baloney, as we would say in New York. We'd actually say something else in New York, but we'll leave it at baloney for now.
That was not true. What the President of the United States said was not true. And I'm not saying that as an elected official, it's not a political debate. The federal government put out a report that said, the federal response was ineffective, anemic, FEMA was not prepared, they did not have an appropriate response for Puerto Rico. That is the federal government controlled by President Trump. That is the same federal government and the same president who, for months, said the response to Puerto Rico was laudatory. The federal report was not by the Congress, was not by the Democrats. It was by the President's agency. And it refuted everything the President said. So the President said for many months, this has been a great response. Federal government comes out with a report, the federal report says, it was not a great response. It a poor response. FEMA wasn't ready, they were shorthanded, they weren't prepared, and the rebuilding effort has not been what it should have been.
That is now documented. That is not a political dispute, even in this heated political climate. That is a fact. Now, the President of the United States should respond to that fact. Mr. President, you were wrong. You were wrong for months. Everything you said turned out not to be true. Your own federal government says the response was inadequate. What are you going to do? I suggest number one he starts with an apology to the people of Puerto Rico. Why? Because he was wrong. Because what he said was not true. And when you say something that is not true and you then find out the facts and you're the President of the United States, it's incumbent on you to say, I was wrong and I apologize. Because what I said was wrong, and even more, because my federal government did not do the right thing in helping the people of Puerto Rico. That's step one.
Step two, the President should say, well now that I understand the response was not adequate, I'm going to make it right. How do you make it right? Puerto Rico asked for $94 billion dollars in a recovery plan. All they have gotten is a $5 billion loan. That is disgraceful. That is disgraceful. So now, Mr. President, that you know you were not helpful to the people of Puerto Rico, fund the recovery effort that they need to rebuild. That is the least you can do.
And third, Mr. President, I'm going to send him a letter, I'm going to invite him to come back to Puerto Rico. Come back to Puerto Rico. The island that he disrespected. The island that his agencies failed to serve. Come back to Puerto Rico, look for yourself at the damage. Look at the number of homes that still need help. Look at the devastation to the economy of Puerto Rico. Understand what your tax reform bill did to Puerto Rico, and how the tax reform bill actually hurt the economy at a time when the island needed it most, decimating the pharmaceutical industry, which was the mainstay of one of the largest sectors of the Puerto Rican economy. Come and look at the damage that was exacerbated by your lack of federal response. I will even come with you, Mr. President. Remember that you came from New York originally, Mr. President. And remember how important the Puerto Rican connection is as a New Yorker. Come back to Puerto Rico. Apologize for the mistake, say that you will make it right, provide funding for the reconstruction effort and provide help for the struggling economy. Puerto Rico never needed paper towels, Mr. President. They needed funding assistance to rebuild the economy. People needed roofs on their homes. They needed clean water. They didn't need paper towels. Come back and fix the wrong. Come back and right the wrong that is now indisputable, because your own federal agency said it.
Puerto Rico suffered a disaster at the same time that Florida and Texas had a disaster. There is no difference between Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. They are all home to American citizens. And they all deserved the full response of their federal government. Puerto Rico did not get it. Florida did, Texas did. Puerto Rico did not get it. Puerto Rico was neglected, abandoned and disrespected by this administration. And they did not deserve it.
My last point is, I've been to Puerto Rico many times. As I mentioned, I was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton and I did a lot of work in public housing and I've been to Puerto Rico many times during the Clinton administration. I also did emergency assistance in Puerto Rico during that time. That was the time of Hurricane Georges and I was here for the reconstruction effort at that time with Governor Rosselló I. There was a Governor Mario Cuomo I, so I can say that. Every time I come to the island, I am impressed. And on this visit, what really has struck me is in the middle of all the pain, and all the neglect and all the disrespect, if there was a—people who had a right to be angry, if there was a, people who had a right to complain, it is the Puerto Rican people. They have a total right to say, I am so angry, I am so annoyed at what happened to us. That is not the Puerto Rican way. Every place we went, we were met with smiles, optimism, gratitude, thanks.
The character and the spirit of the Puerto Rican people is beautiful and resilient and strong and contagious. And it is that optimism and that charitable positive instinct that makes this island so special. Yes, it's beautiful and yes Mother Nature blessed it. But it's the people that are the most special. And that's the greatest asset of Puerto Rico, and every time I come I leave inspired.