WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump said during a visit to Puerto Rico to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Maria that he believed the Caribbean island’s debt would have to be eliminated.
“We’re gonna have to wipe (the debt) out. That’s gonna have to be – you know, 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,” Trump said in a Fox News interview on Tuesday in Puerto Rico.
The US commonwealth, which says its $70 billion debt load is unpayable, filed for a form of bankruptcy protection in May that was the biggest-ever local-government bankruptcy filing in US history.
The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico – created by the US Congress with the task of resolving the debt crisis and creating the necessary foundation for economic growth on the island, which has been racked by a decade-long recession – said on Tuesday the immediate priority was to attend to the humanitarian crisis triggered by Hurricane Maria.
The death toll from Maria, which devastated the island’s electrical grid and other infrastructure when it came ashore on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 hurricane, has risen to 34, according to Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
The hurricane, which left the entire island without power and has forced people to wait in massive lines for food, fuel and cash, also caused an estimated $90 billion worth of damage.
Trump, who went to Houston a couple of days after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding in Texas in August, came under fire in the media for waiting nearly two weeks to travel to Puerto Rico.
The president took to Twitter on Wednesday to show his frustration with the media coverage of his administration’s hurricane response.
“Wow, so many Fake News stories today. No matter what I do or say, they will not write or speak truth. The Fake News Media is out of control!” Trump wrote.
The president sparked further controversy when he appeared to downplay the extent of the disaster that befell Puerto Rico.
“If you look at a real catastrophe like (2005’s Hurricane Katrina), and you look at the tremendous hundreds of hundreds of hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here with a storm that was really totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this ... you (Puerto Rican and US federal authorities) can be very proud” that the death toll is not higher, Trump said on Tuesday on the island.