DANICA COTO | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — U.S. presidential candidate Julian Castro joined dozens of high-profile Latinos in Puerto Rico on Monday to talk about how to mobilize voters ahead of the 2020 elections and increase Latino political representation.
The group condemned President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall, and Castro also criticized Trump for his response to Hurricane Maria, which hit the U.S. territory in September 2017 and is estimated to have caused more than $100 billion in damage.
“The administration failed to prepare for the hurricane, it failed to coordinate a swift response and has failed in the recovery process as well,” Castro said. “What’s worse, … the president … has talked about possibly taking money that had been earmarked for Puerto Rico recovery and instead investing that in a border wall. To do so is completely objectionable, immoral and should never happen.”
Castro spoke at the Latino Political Summit in the capital of San Juan, the third such summit organized by the Latino Victory Fund, a political action committee based in Washington, D.C.
The former housing chief for former president Barack Obama said his background also helps him understand the process of recovering from a natural disaster and how to improve on that.
“This work is nothing new to me,” said Castro, who also was mayor of San Antonio, Texas, for five years. The 44-year-old grandson of a Mexican immigrant so far is the only Latino in the Democratic field.
Castro’s first trip as a presidential candidate comes during the largest government shutdown in U.S. history. He is also scheduled to meet with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a well-known Trump critic who said at the summit that the notion of a border wall was “racist” and criticized the administration’s response to Maria.
“We were left to die by the U.S. government … and we didn’t have to die,” she said, noting that an estimated 2,975 deaths have been attributed to the hurricane and its aftermath.
Cruz also said she worried that Puerto Rico isn’t getting hurricane recovery funds quickly enough as the island continues to struggle in the storm’s aftermath.
“We need all the advocates that are here to go back to the United States and help us get the word out: The money isn’t getting to the municipalities,” she said.
During the summit, Latino Victory Fund President Cristobal Alex said Trump has attacked Latinos, surrounded himself with white nationalists and separated children from their parents at the border.
“It’s absolutely critical that we defend our community,” he said. “We need to have representation. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. We’re working very, very hard to get a seat at that table.”
He said the Latino community is coming together like never before to step up against the U.S. president: “Donald Trump may prove to be the greatest Latino political organizer of all time.”