In late September 2017, as Puerto Rico struggled to address the damage from Hurricane Maria, mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto of the United States commonwealth’s capital city, San Juan, spoke out about its worsening humanitarian crisis, which has been exacerbated by a sluggish federal response:
Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto told the world of the “horror” she was seeing as she waded through San Juan’s flooded streets. And the desperation on the island, parts of which may remain without power for months.
Until then, Cruz had not been a well-known politician outside the island.
But after she criticized Washington’s response to the hurricane this week — “save us from dying,” she pleaded on cable network — President Trump took direct aim at her on Twitter.
“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan,” he wrote Saturday. Democrats must have told her to say nasty things about him, he claimed.
Immediately after this, rumors popped up about Cruz and her leadership (or lack thereof), up to and including a snippet from a Puerto Rico radio program purporting to be an interview with a police officer (but without any corroborating evidence or citations to support her claims; not even a name from the radio show caller claiming to be a police officer):
On September 28th A cop from Puerto Rico was able to get a call through a Hispanic radio station in New York (La Mega). She is telling what she is seeing as a cop in the aftermath or Maria and the government’s injustice
Radio Announcer: What is your name?
Police Caller: I cannot give my name because I work for Puerto Rico’s Police Department. I need to pass this information out because the stuff that is being brought from the U.S. is not being distributed. They are not allowing the Puerto Rican people to receive the donations.
Radio Announcer: What part of Puerto Rico are you calling us from right now?
Police Caller: I am right now in Guaynabo.
Radio Announcer 2: Wow.
Radio Announcer 3: But what information do you have? What have you seen?
Police Caller: The Mayor, Carmen Yulin, is not allowing anyone to distribute… We need… what Puerto Ricans need is that the U.S. armed forces come in and distribute the aid. And that they stop the governor, Rosello, and the mayor, Yulin, on doing what they are doing… It’s an abuse, it looks like communism, in our own island (sobbing)… (sobbing continues, inaudible translation due to cries)…
Police Caller (cont.): People are helping us, but they are not accepting it, they are not accepting anymore help supposedly: “they have to wait for the license, that there are no buses.” …Let me tell you something Boricuas (Puerto Ricans) are dying of hunger (crying continues) … This is a bureaucracy, everything has to be protocol, the lines are stretched. …We can only give one box of water per person (sobbing continues). …The medics here, people are dying, the hospitals are in crisis.
Police Caller (cont.): I am embarrassed, as a Boricua to work for Puerto Rico’s police and see that we cannot do anything. There are dozens and thousands and thousands of food and when people ask we cannot give anything away because [Mayor] Carmen Yulin says that we cannot take anything out; because everything is a soap opera, everything is a show and there have to be cameras here and there. ….Because you know they are just looking for votes for the upcoming years.
Radio Announcer 2: Wow
Police Caller: And the governor won’t move unless there is a camera behind him; [Mayor] Carmen Yulin won’t move unless there is a camera behind her. This is how we are living in Puerto Rico, meanwhile artists are giving money and the people of Florida are sending stuff, and I don’t know how many more people are helping because we have very limited communication, very limited, and we have no idea what’s going on outside; and the people who are sending stuff, they have to come in; they have to come to help Puerto Rico and distribute what is being wasted …because what else are we going to do? You tell me, what are we going to do?
Radio Announcer #2: Of course the desperation..
Radio Announcer #3: We are with our hearts broken listening to you describing this situation which is heartbreaking when we know that so many people are helping …this is a police officer speaking.
Police Caller: I’ve been for one hour and a half just trying to download an application because the phones that they give to us I cannot use them as a police officer due to security measures. But I need to speak for the people because the people are suffering. Because I, as a cop, and other partners are seeing it. A lot of people have been posting videos (sobbing – inaudible) …and no-one is paying attention.
Radio Announcer #3: We are truly sorry for this situation, we did not know that..
Police Caller: If Cuba and Venezuela want to help and we are grateful for that; and that the government denies their help, the government denies Cuba’s help. …That they reject Venezuela’s help, …Look for God’s sake! Tell me how is that possible, we need help.
Radio Announcer #3: We are going to send this message out so that it gets to where it needs to get to…
Police Caller: We want the U.S. to come in, that the strongest forces come in and take the governor out, he is not doing anything, he is just going around and around, …and everyone is like: “oh, look how nice, the governor, he is going in the mud, he is going in the water”, And where is it? Pardon the expression: WHERE IS THE FOOD?
Police Caller (cont.): Look, grab the food, grab the sausage can and take it to the families! Stop the show! The governor is just doing a show, is all a show. There are many mayors that are suffering because they cannot do anything for their people.
Radio Announcer #2: What are they doing with the food? Is it being kept in storage because they are not allowing to give it out?
Police Caller: They are not doing anything, and they tell the harbors (ports) that they cannot bring stuff anymore. If the U.S. government doesn’t get involved they will finish us. We are going to end up worse. …Worse than Cuba, Africa, or worse than Haiti. We are living in an era that you don’t want to see, people are desperate. The gasoline, people are already killing each other. Not to rob you, they are doing it so they can be the firsts to get food and take it to their families.
Police Caller (cont.): Do you know what it is when a woman approaches me and tells me “I don’t have any more.” “I don’t know what else to give my kids because I don’t have anymore.” “Water and crackers”!
Radio Announcer #1: Sweetie, thank you for calling us and using this medium to denounce this situation; and good thing that it was you who explained this so that people don’t think that we are making up stuff; because this has nothing to do with politics. This is a very serious situation.
Police Caller: Very Serious (sobbing continues)
Audio/video cuts off
Despite this lack of evidence, the rumors were immediately picked up and distributed as fact.