As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria, the mayor of its capital city has come under an international spotlight.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz has been outspoken since the hurricane ravaged the island of about 3.5 million U.S. citizens on Sept. 20, pleading publicly for more federal aid in the relief effort and criticizing a U.S. official’s statement last week that the federal relief effort was “a good news story.”
President Trump later in the week slammed Cruz on Twitter for “poor leadership,” adding that “they” want “everything to be done for them.”
A San Juan native who studied on the mainland
Cruz, 54, was born in San Juan and went on to become an honor student, student council president and athlete who set records in track and field, according to her biography on the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce website.
Cruz went to college and graduate school on the mainland, earning a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Cruz worked as a human resources executive after attending college, including at Westinghouse, Colgate-Palmolive, Banco Popular and the U.S. Treasury Department.
Return to Puerto Rico
After 12 years living on the U.S. mainland, Cruz returned to Puerto Rico in 1992 to try her hand at politics. She began as adviser to the mayor of San Juan and to the president of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, according to the Chamber of Commerce biography.
She was elected in 2008 as a representative-at-large to the House of Representatives.
Winning San Juan’s mayoral race
A member of the People’s Democratic Party, Cruz has been mayor of San Juan since she won a 2012 election against Jorge Santini, an incumbent who had held the office for 12 years.
During the election, she told El Nuevo Dia media outlet that she was building relationships with unions, students, volunteer groups, environmentalists and feminists both in and outside of San Juan.
A strong voice and advocate
Since the hurricane hit, Cruz has emerged as prominent voice on need for aid since hurricane. On Friday, she made an impassioned pleas with the Trump administration for more federal assistance, saying FEMA has “collapsed” in Puerto Rico and residents have not received help quickly enough.
“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy,” Cruz said in a tearful speech. “If we don’t get the food and the water into people’s hands, we are going to see something close to a genocide.”
This came after Trump had slammed her on Twitter for what he called “poor leadership.”
“…Such 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. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job,” the president wrote.
Earlier in the week, Trump had brought up the island’s debt crisis, tweeting, “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..”
Cruz told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” today that with the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, the focus should be on “saving lives.”
“Let us not talk about the debt; let us not talk about the cost of reconstruction. Let’s just talk about saving lives right now,” Cruz said. “You put the people above the debt. People’s lives and avoiding death above the debt. That’s just how it’s done.”