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Victor Torres blasts federal response, Donald Trump tweets on Puerto Rico

Declaring that “Americans are dying as we speak,” state Sen. Victor Torres blasted the Puerto Rico federal disaster relief efforts in an impassioned call at the Florida Capitol Thursday.

Torres, an Orlando Democrat who’s been active in the Florida-side of the relief efforts since Hurricane Maria devastated the island three weeks ago, also criticized President Donald Trump‘s Thursday tweet that had declared federal relief agencies cannot stay in Puerto Rico forever.

He joined key members of the Florida House Democratic Caucus including state Reps. John Cortes of Kissimmee and Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.

Torres, a former Marine who is Puerto Rican, blamed a lack of coordination between the U.S. Military, working with FEMA and government officials in Puerto Rico in transporting and delivering the relief supplies, and called the preparation and response to the disaster by the federal government “inadequate.”

“Americans are dying as we speak,” Torres said. “While fellow Americans have generously rallied to donate relief supplies and money to support recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, the federal government has been too slow to respond to this disaster and there is a total failure of coordinated relief efforts to provide supplies and support to the island.

“There are tons of donated supplies like food, water, medicine and other vital resources that are either sitting in warehouses here on the mainland waiting to be sent to Puerto Rico, or even worse, containers of supplies sitting in the seaports and airports on the island that are not being distributed to people who are in desperate need.”

Torres noted that 80 percent of Puerto Rico still is without power and nearly half the island has no drinking water or functioning sewer services.

And then Thursday came Trump’s latest tweets, which also quoted journalist Sharyl Attkisson declaring that Perto Rico survived the Hurricanes and “now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.”

“A total lack of accountability says the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure were disaster before the hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend,” Trump tweeted.

“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.

“Just this morning, the president tweeted that Puerto Ricans cannot expect relief workers to stay there forever,” Torres replied Thursday. “No one expects FEMA to be there indefinitely, but we should all expect and demand them to stay until they complete their job of aiding fellow Americans.”

‘LIP’ money falls short of initial estimates

At the height of a budget showdown earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott boasted that his friendship with President Donald Trump‘s administration would result in Florida getting $1.5 billion to help the state’s hospitals.

But months later, the final amount will be considerably smaller, a top state Medicaid official said Wednesday. Instead the state will have about $790.4 million in supplemental Medicaid funds to spend this year.

Beth Kidder, a deputy secretary at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, told the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee that the agency has $303 million in funding commitments from counties to help fund the Low-Income Pool. The money will be used to draw down $487 million in federal Medicaid dollars bringing the total available to just more than $790 million for the supplemental program widely known as LIP.

“The $1.5 billion is not $1.5 billion,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, said.

Kidder told the panel that the size of the Low-Income Pool has always been contingent on the receipt of matching local dollars to fund it. While the state in the past has been able to fully fund the program, the federal government has changed its expectations on how money can be spent. For instance, money can no longer be used to help offset losses hospitals incur while treating Medicaid patients. Under the new rules, only charity care can be considered for reimbursement.

The restrictions, Kidder said have made it “onerous and difficult for funders” to agree to provide the required local matching dollars. She also noted that the state didn’t get final approval of what is known as a Medicaid 1115 waiver and accompanying special terms and conditions until August, after local governments had already prepared budgets. The Medicaid 1115 waiver gives the state the authority to operate its mandatory Medicaid managed-care program as well as the LIP program.

Kidder tried to remain optimistic, though. She told the committee that the $790.4 million in LIP funds for fiscal year 2017-2018 is more than the $590 million Florida had for the program last year. Additionally, she reminded lawmakers that the Trump administration agreed to keep available a $1.5 billion LIP program for the next five years.

“It’s out there, it’s a target,” she said of the $1.5 billion annual commitment.

Under the approved waiver, three groups of providers can tap into LIP funds: hospitals, medical school faculty and federally qualified health centers. All of them must agree to certain requirements to get the money. For instance, hospitals must agree to sign contracts with at least half of the standard Medicaid health plans that operate in their regions.

Meanwhile, the Agency for Health Care Administration posted details on how it plans to distribute the $790 million in LIP funding. More than $654 million is being directed to 204 hospitals, $85 million is being directed to eight medical faculty teaching practices and another $50 million is allocated to federally qualified health centers.

The federally qualified health centers, though, say they have problems with a provision in the Medicaid 1115 waiver’s special terms and conditions that requires all reimbursements to the clinics to be made by managed-care organizations, rather than the state paying bills directly.

Kidder told lawmakers that the agency has met with the federally qualified health centers to discuss the concerns, including a meeting Wednesday.

Florida Association of Community Health Centers President Andy Behrman told senators that the Wednesday meeting with state officials was a “good move forward” and that there may be a way to solve some of his members’ concerns.

He said the clinics don’t want to walk away from $50 million but that they need to be protected.

The state has asked counties contributing matching dollars to the LIP program to send signed letters of agreement to the state by Nov. 15 and to send the funds to the state the following month.

After the state receives the funding, Kidder said, it will submit a proposed budget amendment to legislative leaders for approval. The budget amendment will include a 2017-2018 LIP distribution model that shows the government entities that contributed the funds as well as the funding distribution by provider.

The amendment will be approved within 14 days of submission unless the chair and vice chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission or the Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives oppose the amendment in writing.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Gwen Graham vows to enact clean power plan

With President Donald Trump‘s announcement Monday he would be ending the federal clean-power plan initiated by his predecessor, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham vowed she would enact a “Florida clean power plan” to continue to seek carbon reductions and increase renewable energy.

Graham and her Democratic rivals, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King all have previously vowed to resist attempts to role back carbon emissions plans, and to pursue clean energy in Florida, and in particular to support and promote expansion of solar power in the Sunshine State.

Now Graham says she’ll specifically stick to the goals former President Barack Obama had set with his federal order, to work toward a 32 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, compared with what Florida was producing in 2005. That would require significant decreases in coal-fired power. She said that would save the average consumer $85 a year in power bills.

“Donald Trump and the politicians in Tallahassee have their heads in the sand. Our state is already feeling the effects of climate change and sea level rise — a single hurricane just destroyed countless homes, took dozens of lives and knocked out power across our entire state,” Graham stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “I was proud to support President Obama’s Clean Power Plan in Congress, and, as governor, I will fight for Florida to enact a clean power plan to meet those goals.”

Arguing that an aggressive and comprehensive renewable energy policy would combat climate change, protect clean air, create jobs, and lower energy prices, she added, “Florida can’t afford to wait for the federal government to act. As governor, I will implement a renewable energy standard, cut carbon emissions and create clean energy jobs.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable energy accounts for less than 2.5 of Florida’s energy portfolio, the news release stated.

“As governor, I will work with Democrats and Republicans to cut the regulatory red tape that prevents homeowners from purchasing solar energy and I will appoint PSC commissioners who understand the threat of climate change and the need to support clean energy,” Graham said. “It’s not just crucial to combating climate change, it makes economic sense. We can protect our beaches from oil drilling, our water from fracking and make the Sunshine State the Solar State, all while creating good paying jobs.”

Trump campaign Florida chief Karen Giorno seeks national Republican post

Karen Giorno, a former Donald Trump campaign senior adviser and Florida campaign director, announced Friday she is a candidate to be the state’s National Republican committeewoman for the Republican National Committee.

Giorno’s candidacy comes after the Republican Party of Florida’s previous national committeewoman, Sharon Day, stepped down in August to serve as U. S. ambassador to Costa Rica.

“I congratulate my friend Sharon Day as she begins her new role as United States Ambassador to Costa Rica and thank her for her leadership and contribution to the RPOF and the RNC,” Giorno said in a statement she released. “I am excited to run for National committeewoman and offer my talents to the Republican Party as we continue to build on our victory from the November 2016 election.”

Giorno’s career has spanned three decades in the political world, as a consultant and operative working with presidential candidates and campaigns, four American presidents, and the governor of Florida. She was the first female state director for the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign, serving that role in Florida from October 2015 to March 2016.

After leading that historic primary win, Giorno was promoted by Trump to the position of southeast regional political director, overseeing the delegate operations of eleven states from March to June 2016.

Once the national campaign was in full swing, she was again promoted by Trump to senior campaign adviser and Florida chief strategist from July to September 2016 to prepare the state for the general election. As the campaign shifted gears once more, she was elevated to the national leadership team and moved to Trump Tower in New York City as a senior adviser and director of voter engagement for Trump coalitions. In that role, Giorno was responsible for mobilizing targeted voter blocks and women voters in the pivotal swing states.

“In these challenging times, our core beliefs are being tested every day, and I intend to fight with the same passion, energy, and drive used to help guide the President to his historic victory in the Florida primary, the Florida General Election and across this great nation,” Giorno said.

“I have the organizational, strategic, and fundraising skills honed over three decades in politics, that will help advance our Conservative Agenda and lead the way to new Republican victories in Florida and throughout the 50 states.”

Stephanie Murphy calls Donald Trump’s North Korea rhetoric ‘reckless,’ calls on him to stop it

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a chair of the Democratic Caucus’ National Security Task Force, called President Donald Trump’s North Korea rhetoric “reckless” Wednesday. She and other task force leaders sent him a letter urging him to knock it off.

Murphy, of Winter Park, and the other two task force chairs made it clear they recognize that North Korea’s “dangerous and destabilizing actions are the root cause of tensions between North Korea and the international community,” yet also declared that they believe Trump’s “reckless rhetoric and muddled messages to allies have made the problem worse.”

Those comments were made in a press release the caucus issued Wednesday, and Murphy repeated them in a Facebook post later.

In the letter itself, Murphy and her fellow chairs U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, and Jimmy Panetta of California informed Trump they believe he’s making matters worse. The letter also spells out what they believe he should be doing with regards to North Korea, insisting on diplomatic negotiations, while increasing and actually enforcing economic sanctions.

“Nevertheless, we believe your rhetoric in response has been counterproductive, escalating an already dangerous situation.”

The letter also told Trump they believe he is mismanaging U.S. alliances with East Asian countries including South Korea, and is failing to fill key staff offices in the U.S. State Department that deal with the Koreas and other East Asian countries, calling the matters “self-inflicted wounds.”

The Democratic National Security Task Force chairs’ letter advised Trump they believe can chart a course that avoids both “capitulation to or catastrophic war with North Korea.”

“Rather than using reckless rhetoric and sending muddled messages to our allies, the U.S. should pursue a comprehensive strategy toward North Korea that consists of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense,” it states.

The Democrats called on Trump to increase and enforce economic sanctions, and enhance diplomatic negotiations, citing, as a role model, President Ronald Reagan‘s efforts to deal with the Soviet Union.

They also urged him to establish crisis-management channels with North Korea to clarify intentions and minimize the risks of misunderstandings that could lead to war.

“Responsibility for addressing the serious threat from North Korea lies squarely with the Trump administration,” Murphy, a former Defense Department intelligence analyst, stated in the news release. “I am concerned by the President’s approach to date, which has been characterized more by tough talk than by strong, smart, and steady actions that make our country and our allies safer. U.S. policy toward North Korea should consist of economic pressure, strong and steady diplomacy, and credible deterrence and defense.”

Florida Latinos down big time on Donald Trump, GOP, polling shows

With Florida’s Cuban population, the state’s Latino vote has generally skewed more conservative than other states with large groups of Hispanics.

In the Donald Trump era, new polling shows that’s no longer the case.

Taken two weeks ago, a Latino Victory-Latino Decisions poll of 369 Florida Latinos gives only 36 percent support to the president; 64 percent oppose his efforts in the first eight months of the Trump administration.

Polling also showed only 21 percent saying they “generally agree” with the GOP on most issues and are likely to vote Republican in the future. Another 35 percent felt that the Republican Party was so anti-Latino they will never support them in the future.

“I want to say that we expected Florida to be an outlier. Florida had been a Republican Latino stronghold for generations, but attitudes have shifted in the last eight months,” said Cristóbal J. Alex, president of the Latino Victory Project, during a conference call.

“Despite being a more conservative population, relative to other Latinos in the U.S., this poll finds that a clear majority of Latinos in Florida are upset and oppose Trump policies,” said pollster Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions.

Referring to Trump’s pardon of controversial former Phoenix, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his rescission of President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, Alex said the president “hasn’t missed an opportunity to demonstrate his disdain for Latinos,” which helped unite the country’s disparate Latino groups.

“The poll is significant because it’s proof that President Trump and the Republican Party are alienating Latinos of all backgrounds and all political stripes,” said Congressman Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat.

Soto cited Trump’s “terrible tweets” in the past week about Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. They had been “ricocheting and reverberating” across the state, he said.

The poll showed that only 20 percent of those surveyed believed Trump’s comments about the violence which occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August was strong enough, while 64 percent said they didn’t go far enough.

Soto said that Latino groups are now looking at a Trump attack one group as an attack on the entire demographic, particularly incendiary comments made during his campaign kickoff in summer 2015.

It was then Trump famously talked about Mexicans crossing the border: “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

“It’s going to have a big effect when it comes to the election in 2018,” Soto said, referring to Democrat Annette Taddeo‘s victory last week over state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the hotly contested state Senate District 40 race in Miami-Dade County.

In her win, Taddeo became the first Latina-Democrat in the Legislature’s upper chamber.

The poll also shows 74 percent of Florida Latinos opposed Arpaio’s pardon; only 32 percent support a proposed border wall on the Mexican border. Taddeo says the pardon sent the message that, in Trump’s eyes, “looking Latino or speaking Spanish is reason enough to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.”

However, a platform of opposing Trump in 2018 won’t be enough for Florida Democrats, Taddeo said.

“We need to give Latinos and all Americans a reason to vote Democrat,” she said, adding that part of her winning platform was talking about the quality of public schools, access to health care, affordable housing and retiring with dignity.

The bilingual survey of 369 Florida Latinos, taken between Sept. 12-19, carries a 5.1 percent margin of error. The poll did not list the breakdown of Republicans versus Democrats surveyed. Instead, full data was weighted to match the adult population in the 2015 census for age, gender, education, nativity, ancestry and voter registration.

Keith Perry challenger boasts $73K September haul

One of the two Democrats running for Gainesville-based Senate District 8 showed $73,000 raised in her inaugural campaign finance report, putting her within striking distance of incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry’s 10-month total.

Kayser Enneking, MD, filed for SD 8 on Sept. 1 after mulling a run for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, which is much more favorable to GOP candidates than SD 8.

“I’m honored by the outpouring of support since announcing my candidacy less than a month ago. Voters are ready for a leader who understands the importance of access to health care and public education. We need thoughtful solutions in Tallahassee. The legislature should be working on problems faced by their constituents not the issues of special interests. Our campaign is about giving a voice to every family and making Tallahassee finally work for us,” Enneking said.

Enneking’s first report is not yet available through the Florida Division of Elections, but her campaign touted the $72,900 haul, as well as Enneking’s Gainesville roots in a Wednesday email.

The press release describes Enneking, a physician at UF Health, as a lifelong local and “a product of Gainesville public schools” who decided to launch her first campaign for elected office “because she is concerned with the direction of our current legislators.”

Among her gripes with Perry, who spent six years in the House and was elected to the Senate last year, is his no-vote on Medicaid expansion.

“This important program funds care for pregnant women and children. It supports rural hospitals and nursing homes. It drives job creation in Senate District 8. It is a travesty that Florida missed out on 5.9 billion dollars in funding in 2016 by not expanding Medicaid.”

The press release also made sure to poke at Perry’s fundraising numbers by pointing out Enneking’s haul bests his efforts over the last six months combined.

Perry hasn’t put out his September numbers yet, but through the end of August he had raised about $108,000 since filing for re-election in December, and much of that money came from early in the year. He has about $100,000 of that money on hand.

Perry will also have to pause his fundraising efforts during the 2018 Legislative Session, which will give his challengers another 60 days to catch up.

SD 8 was drawn to be more favorable to Democratic candidates as part of the court-ordered rebalancing of the districts last year.

Despite containing nearly 30,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, Perry won by 4 points against former Democratic Sen. Rod Smith in one of the more hotly contested – and expensive – races in 2016.

President Donald Trump was also able to take the district, though his win came by only fractions of a point.

Enneking does face a primary opponent in Olysha Magruder, though she has not been able to jump start her fundraising efforts since filing in June. Through the end of August Magruder had raised about $2,900 and had most of that money on hand.

Donald Trump in Puerto Rico, lauds administration’s relief effort

On the ground in Puerto Rico nearly two weeks after a hurricane ravaged the island, President Donald Trump heaped praise Tuesday on his administration’s relief workers and, more selectively, Puerto Rican officials after earlier dismissing critics of the federal response as “politically motivated ingrates.”

Trump told officials and relief workers assembled in an airplane hangar that the low death toll from Hurricane Maria — he was told 16 or 17 — was a tribute to the relief efforts. “We’ve saved a lot of lives,” he said, and singled out Gov. Ricardo Rossello for “giving us the highest praise.”

The help didn’t come cheap, he said: “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.”

“But that’s fine,” he said, “because we’ve saved a lot of lives.”

The most prominent critic, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, attended the first event, in an airport hangar, shaking Trump’s hand as he went around a table greeting officials before sitting in in the shadow of a hulking, gray military plane.

“How are you?” he asked. Her response could not be heard. He thanked her. Days earlier, Cruz said the Trump administration was “killing us with the inefficiency,” pleading for more effective federal leadership in the crisis.

Air Force One brought the president, first lady Melania Trump and aides to Puerto Rico in the late morning. They were expected to spend more than five hours on the ground, meeting first responders, local officials and some of the 3.4 million people whose lives have been upended by a hurricane that, in the president’s words, left the island U.S. territory “flattened.”

The plane descended over a landscape marked by mangled palm trees, metal debris strewn near homes and patches of stripped trees, yet with less devastation evident than farther from San Juan.

At least in his first moments on the island, Trump remained focused primarily on the reviews his administration is getting. “He didn’t play politics at all,” he said of the governor, making clear that he considers those who have criticized him to be politically driven. Trump misstated Maria as a Category 5 hurricane; it was Category 4 when it hit Puerto Rico.

“I appreciate your support and I know you appreciate ours,” he said. “Our country has really gone all out. It’s not only dangerous, it’s expensive. But I consider it a great honor.”

Before leaving Washington, he said Puerto Ricans who have called the federal response insufficient “have to give us more help.”

Large-scale protests against Trump, talked about in advance, failed to materialize by early afternoon, with only a few handfuls of people gathering around San Juan to decry his criticism of local politicians.

As he headed out from the White House to visit the island, Trump told reporters that “it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done.”

The trip is Trump’s fourth areas battered by storms during an unusually violent hurricane season that has also seen parts of Texas, Florida, Louisiana and the U.S. Virgin Islands inundated by floodwaters and hit by high winds.

Nearly two weeks after the Puerto Rico storm, 95 percent of electricity customers remain without power, including some hospitals. And much of the countryside is still struggling to access such basic necessities as food, fresh water and cash.

Trump’s visit follows a weekend in which he aggressively pushed back against critics, including Cruz. Trump responded angrily on Twitter, deriding the “poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help.”

“They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” he added, scoffing at “politically motivated ingrates” who had criticized the federal work, and insisting that “tremendous progress” was being made.

Cruz had begged the administration to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.”

Trump and his wife were to meet Navy and Marine Corps personnel on the flight deck of the USS Kearsarge as well as the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Even before the storm hit on Sept. 20, Puerto Rico was in dire condition thanks to a decade-long economic recession that had left its infrastructure, including the island’s power lines, in a sorry state. Maria was the most powerful hurricane to hit the island in nearly a century and unleashed floods and mudslides that knocked out the island’s entire electrical grid and telecommunications, along with many roads.

Trump and other administration officials have worked in recent days to reassure Americans that recovery efforts are going well and combat a perception that the president failed to fully grasp the magnitude of the storm’s destruction in its immediate aftermath.

While early response efforts were hampered by logistical challenges, officials say that conditions, especially in the capital, have improved.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are now more than 10,000 federal officials on the ground on the island, and 45 percent of customers now have access to drinking water. Businesses are also beginning to reopen, with 60 percent of retail gas stations now up and running.

The Health and Human Services Department says federal medical teams with their own equipment and supplies have been sent to help provide care at Centro Medico, a major trauma center in San Juan. Additional teams have been sent to five hospitals in other parts of the island.

The department has also placed a liaison in each hospital that’s open, to make sure the facilities can get timely shipments of fuel needed to keep generators running, as well as medical supplies.

For many, however, Washington’s response isn’t enough. On Monday, the nonprofit relief group Oxfam announced that it would be taking the rare step of intervening in an American disaster, citing its outrage over what it called a “slow and inadequate response.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

San Juan mayor in hurricane spotlight after Donald Trump tweets

In Puerto Rico’s hurricane-ravaged capital, it seems Carmen Yulin Cruz is everywhere these days: handing out bags of ice, wading through chest-deep floodwaters, hugging people in need of comfort.

Cruz has long won attention across the island for her hands-on style of leadership in San Juan. But this week she rose to international prominence as a target of Twitter attacks by U.S. President Donald Trump — including one tweet Sunday calling her and others “politically motivated ingrates.”

The insult came hours after “Saturday Night Live” portrayed Cruz in a skit highlighting the latest controversy for the 54-year-old former human resources executive, who occupies one of Puerto Rico’s most powerful posts and has become something of a divisive figure on the island of 3.4 million residents.

Some of Puerto Rico’s mayors have praised federal hurricane relief efforts, while others have joined Cruz in saying they have been insufficient and slow-moving.

In a U.S. territory whose relationship with the mainland is usually the single most prominent political issue, Cruz backs independence but is a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports maintaining the territorial status quo. A graduate of Boston University and Carnegie Mellon, she is also a former member of the island’s House of Representatives.

She first grabbed headlines in 2012 when she ran against San Juan’s three-term incumbent mayor, cobbling together a campaign committee in just three days after her party’s original candidate dropped out. Despite being a virtual unknown for many, she cruised to a surprising win by securing the support of a coalition of left-leaning interests from the LGBTQ community to university students to financially powerful unions.

“Imagine what I’ll do when I’m the mayor of San Juan,” she told reporters in August 2012, three months before the vote.

Once in office Cruz launched a million-dollar urban renewal program, renovated public parks and plazas and unionized San Juan employees as promised during her campaign. She aligned herself with Puerto Rico’s large and long-marginalized Dominican minority. She also made the poor a priority, working to secure federal funds to improve conditions for thousands on an island with a nearly 45 percent poverty rate.

“Her commitment has been through actions, not words, with the impoverished people of San Juan,” political analyst Nestor Duprey said, adding that those efforts continued after the hurricane.

“She has demonstrated an empathy and commitment to her people that have taken her to work day and night, very quietly at the beginning,“ Duprey said.

That changed Friday when Cruz was asked about acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s comment that the federal response to Hurricane Maria was “a good news story.”

Appearing on television in a black shirt with white letters that read, “HELP US, WE ARE DYING,” Cruz argued that federal aid had been slow to reach Puerto Rico following Maria, which knocked out power to the entire island.

“If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy,” she said.

Criticism of his administration’s response apparently didn’t sit well with Trump, who took to Twitter the next day to defend it as “an amazing job.” He singled out the mayor, accusing her of “poor leadership ability,” and added, without elaborating, “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

Neither Cruz nor her spokespeople responded to requests for comment. Since Trump’s tweets she has sought to emphasize a message of unity for the good of Puerto Rico in her own activity on the social media platform.

“I recognize the good heart that the (Federal Emergency Management Agency) people have. They want to help. But they just don’t have the resources,” she said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Cruz was born in the city over which she now presides, and is married with a daughter from a previous partner.

Telegenic and media-savvy, she has been criticized for micromanaging and for wearing herself down to the point where she loses her voice. She has been hospitalized a couple of times for asthma problems.

Critics have questioned Cruz’s management style, noting that some early supporters, including people who occupied key positions, have resigned or been dismissed.

She also took heat for offering a job to Puerto Rican independence militant Oscar Lopez Rivera, whose prison sentence was commuted in January by then-President Barack Obama. Rivera was released from prison in May after serving 35 years for his involvement with a group that claimed more than 100 bombings in the 1970s and ’80s that killed or maimed dozens on the U.S. mainland.

In public appearances Cruz has a penchant for hugging people and sometimes crying during interviews, prompting some to praise her sincerity while others call her overly dramatic.

In recent days she has gone before news cameras repeatedly, issued more emotional pleas for help and tweeted images of her helping islanders in the hurricane’s aftermath, repeatedly emphasizing the slogan “One goal: saving lives.”

Hector Ferrer, the president of Cruz’s party who had a public falling out with her this year over political differences, said that while Cruz may be in the media spotlight, there are plenty of others working hard to help Puerto Rico recover.

“I’m going to communities to hand out water and food — without journalists and without photographers,” he said. “There are 78 mayors who are performing miracles with the resources they have. We have to recognize everyone’s work.”

But Ferrer said he respected Cruz’s efforts to help Puerto Ricans.

“The mayor operates on a different platform and is able to attract more attention, and I commend her for that,” he said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Attacks in Havana hit U.S. spy network in Cuba

Frightening attacks on U.S. personnel in Havana struck the heart of America’s spy network in Cuba, with intelligence operatives among the first and most severely affected victims, The Associated Press has learned.

It wasn’t until U.S. spies, posted to the embassy under diplomatic cover, reported hearing bizarre sounds and experiencing even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, individuals familiar with the situation said.

While the attacks started within days of President Donald Trump’s surprise election in November, the precise timeline remains unclear, including whether intelligence officers were the first victims hit or merely the first victims to report it. The U.S. has called the situation “ongoing.”

To date, the Trump administration largely has described the 21 victims as U.S. embassy personnel or “members of the diplomatic community.” That description suggested only bona fide diplomats and their family members were struck, with no logical motivation beyond disrupting U.S.-Cuban relations.

Behind the scenes, though, investigators immediately started searching for explanations in the darker, rougher world of spycraft and counterespionage, given that so many of the first reported cases involved intelligence workers posted to the U.S. embassy. That revelation, confirmed to the AP by a half-dozen officials, adds yet another element of mystery to a year-long saga that the Trump administration says may not be over.

The State Department and the CIA declined to comment for this story.

The first disturbing reports of piercing, high-pitched noises and inexplicable ailments pointed to someone deliberately targeting the U.S. government’s intelligence network on the communist-run island, in what seemed like a bone-chilling escalation of the tit-for-tat spy games that Washington and Havana have waged over the last half-century.

But the U.S. soon discovered that actual diplomats at the embassy had also been hit by similar attacks, officials said, further confounding the search for a culprit and a motive.

Of the 21 confirmed cases, American spies suffered some of the most acute damage, including brain injury and hearing loss that has not healed, said several U.S. officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the investigation and demanded anonymity. They heard an unsettling sound inside and in some cases outside their Havana homes, described as similar to loud crickets. Then they fell ill.

Over time, the attacks seemed to evolve.

In many of the more recent cases, victims didn’t hear noises and weren’t aware an attack was occurring, identifying the symptoms only later. That has raised concerns among investigators that the attacks may be getting more sophisticated and harder to detect, individuals briefed on the investigation said.

Though the State Department has called all the cases “medically confirmed,” several U.S. officials said it’s unclear whether all of the victims’ symptoms can be conclusively tied to attacks. Considering the deep sense of alarm among Americans working in the embassy, it’s possible some workers attributed unrelated illnesses to attacks.

Almost nothing about what has transpired in Havana is perfectly clear. But this is Cuba.

For decades, Washington and Havana pushed their rivalry to unprecedented levels of covert action. The former enemies tracked each other’s personnel, turned each other’s agents and, in the case of the CIA, even mounted a failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government in the 1961 “Bay of Pigs” invasion.

There were hopes, though, that the two nations were starting to put that bitter history behind them after renewing diplomatic relations in 2015. When the attacks first occurred, the U.S. and Cuban governments were hard at work on clinching new commercial and immigration agreements. No new spat among intelligence services was publicly known.

Eleven months on, the U.S. cannot guarantee the threat is over. Last week, the State Department warned Americans to stay away from Cuba and ordered more than half the embassy staff to leave indefinitely. The U.S. had previously given all embassy staff the option to come home, but even most of those struck by the mysterious attacks had opted to stay, individuals familiar with the situation said.

For those staying and new arrivals, the U.S. has been giving instructions about what to watch and listen for to identify an attack in progress. They’re also learning steps to take if an attack occurs that could mitigate the risk, officials said.

But the U.S. has not identified whatever device is responsible for the harm. FBI sweeps have turned up nothing.

So to better identify patterns, investigators have created a map detailing specific areas of Cuba’s capital where attacks have occurred, several individuals familiar with the matter said. Three “zones,” or geographic clusters of attacks, cover the homes where U.S. diplomats live and several hotels where attacks occurred, including the historic Hotel Capri.

Since first disclosing the situation in August, the United States had generally avoided the word “attacks.” It called them “incidents” instead until last Friday. Now, the State Department deems them “specific attacks” targeting Americans posted in Havana, without saying what new information, if any, prompted the newfound confidence they were indeed deliberate.

The most obvious motive for attacking Americans in Havana would be to drive a wedge between the U.S. and Cuba. If that’s the case, the strategy appears to be succeeding.

Last week’s embassy drawdown added to the growing friction between the nations. And an accompanying new travel warning deemed Havana’s hotels unsafe for visitors, threatening to drive down tourism, a backbone of Cuba’s economy.

In Havana, American diplomats are frantically selling off possessions — from mattresses to canned goods to children’s toys — and hunting for jobs and places to live in the United States. Many have spent years overseas and don’t have homes waiting for them in the United States.

“Heartbroken? Me too, but this will make you feel better,” one seller posted in a chatroom for foreigners in Cuba, under a picture of a Costco artichoke hearts jar selling for $6.

For Cubans, it may be no better. The U.S. has been providing 20,000 visas a year to Cubans moving to the United States. It has issued thousands more to Cubans wishing to visit family in America. The reduction in U.S. staff in Havana means visa processing there has been suspended indefinitely.

Cuba has vehemently denied involvement or knowledge of the attacks. Some in the U.S. government believe the Cubans may be telling the truth, officials said.

When President Raul Castro denied any culpability in February, he did so on the sidelines a meeting in Havana with five visiting U.S. members of Congress, the AP found. The U.S. had raised complaints about the attacks to Cuba just days earlier through diplomatic channels.

But the visiting lawmakers knew nothing of the attacks taking place in the country they were visiting.

Nor did they know that Castro had used the occasion of their meeting to pull aside Jeff DeLaurentis, then the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, to say privately that his government was equally alarmed and willing to help.

The lawmakers all declined to comment. Cuban officials say they’re disappointed in the U.S. retaliatory measures, but will continue cooperating with the investigation.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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