U.S. President Donald Trump has made comments about wiping out Puerto Rico's US$73 billion debt to help the island get back on its feet after the death and devastation wrought by Category 5 Hurricane Maria.
Though he offered no details on his plan that will certainly ruffle feathers for Wall Street investors, Trump said, “We’re going to do something.” Speaking to Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera, he noted that the Caribbean island's “whole debt structure” needs to be looked at, adding, “You know, they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out. You can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that.”
The remarks come on a visit to Puerto Rico yesterday, almost two weeks after the hurricane hit the island. Victims were offended when Trump started throwing paper towels and toilet paper at a crowd, some saying they felt like the president was treating them like animals.
Trump had been criticized earlier for his lack of response and empathy for the people of Puerto Rico, which is a colony of the United States.
He decried Puerto Rican authorities for their inept handling of the disaster while, at the same time, praising his administration's response.
“Such poor leadership by the Mayor of San Juan and others in Puerto Rico who are not able to get their workers to help,” Trump tweeted. He added that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort."
Long before Hurricane Maria's heavy winds and rain wreaked havoc on the island, Puerto Rico was hampered by a slew of austerity measures and a crippling 10-year recession, Puerto Ricans have organized mass protests and demonstrations to demand an audit of the public debt.
According to reports by the Debt Audit Commission and the ReFund America Project, roughly US$36.9 billion of the total US$73 billion dollar debt is illegal. The amount owed to creditors either involved “extra-constitutional” debt-saddled with predatory interest rates or “toxic” interest rate swaps.
The death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has now reached 34, according to the spokesperson for Governor Ricardo Rossello, who said that the worst hurricane to hit the U.S. territory in more than 90 years caused around US$90 billion worth of damage.