US

AOC’s aunt says Trump is NOT to blame for lack of aid to the struggling island

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s angry tweet about her grandmother’s damaged home in Puerto Rico and accusations about ‘blocked’ Hurricane Maria aid sparked a new storm – with one right-wing commentator starting a GoFundMe page that raised $104,000 to help her ‘abuela’.

But the fiery congresswoman might not have the unequivocal support of one member of her family for her online outburst.

AOC tweeted two pictures of grandmother Clotilde Rivera’s ruined ceiling with the words: ‘Just over a week ago, my abuela fell ill. I went to Puerto Rico to see her – my 1st time in a year+ bc of COVID.

‘This is her home. Hurricane Maria help hasn’t arrived. Trump blocked relief $ for PR….

‘And for the record – my abuela is doing okay. It’s not about us, but about what’s happening to Puerto Ricans across the island.’

DailyMail.com tracked down 81-year-old Clotilde’s home to a quiet community just outside the picturesque coastal city of Arecibo – located 40 miles west from capital San Juan – on the island’s beautiful north coast.

And when we politely approached the two-story flat-roofed residence, we were met by a woman who told us emphatically after viewing AOC’s tweets: ‘I am her aunt. We don’t speak for the community.’ 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shared images on social media last week showing her grandmother’s severely damaged house in Puerto Rico

DailyMail.com tracked down the home of AOC's grandmother to a quiet community just outside the coastal city of Arecibo on Puerto Rico's north coast

DailyMail.com tracked down the home of AOC’s grandmother to a quiet community just outside the coastal city of Arecibo on Puerto Rico’s north coast

Blue tarps are seen atop Clotilde Rivera's, home which appears to still sustain damages since the passing of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma in 2017

Blue tarps are seen atop Clotilde Rivera’s, home which appears to still sustain damages since the passing of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma in 2017

A woman who identified herself as AOC's aunt told us, 'We are private people, we don't talk about our family. We don't speak for the community'

A woman who identified herself as AOC’s aunt told us, ‘We are private people, we don’t talk about our family. We don’t speak for the community’

The relative, who refused to give her name, added: ‘We are private people, we don’t talk about our family.’ Ironically for AOC, she also refused to blame former President Donald Trump for thousands of Hurricane Maria victims being unable to get money to repair shattered homes.

However she did express sympathy for those who still need help after the 2017 disaster, which damaged 90 per cent of the island’s 1.3million dwellings and killed 2,975 people.

The area where AOC’s grandmother lives experienced some of the worst devastation on the island when the category 5 storm swept through after making landfall on September 20.

AOC's Puerto Rican-born mother Blanca Cortez (pictured) now lives in Eustis, Florida, and Clotilde has lived with her there. Her US-born father Sergio Ocasio Roman died of cancer in 2008 while she was at Boston College

AOC’s Puerto Rican-born mother Blanca Cortez (pictured) now lives in Eustis, Florida, and Clotilde has lived with her there. Her US-born father Sergio Ocasio Roman died of cancer in 2008 while she was at Boston College 

Her aunt said: ‘In this area people need a lot of help. Many people have needed it for the past four years and haven’t had anything.’

Yet she did not pin that on Trump, adding: ‘It’s a problem here in Puerto Rico with the administration and the distribution of help. It is not a problem with Washington. We had the assistance and it didn’t get to the people.’

AOC had tweeted of her abuela – Spanish for grandmother: ‘She had a place to go and be cared for – what about the thousands of people who don’t?’

Clotilde’s house is in a quiet street about a quarter mile from the rolling waves of the Caribbean and a popular sandy beach enjoyed by locals and tourists.

AOC’s tweeted photos appear to show the second floor, with a drooping ceiling. Outside, a set of iron stairs leads up to what appears a separate entrance on the upper level. A small black car was parked under cover beside the home, which is fronted by a large metal fence.

It was not clear from our visit if the aunt lived at the house as well, on the lower floor from where she emerged.

However it does appear Clotilde is still living there.

When we asked the relative if we could speak to Clotilde about her circumstances, she went back into the house on the lower level. About 15 seconds later she emerged saying: ‘She’s not talking to anybody.’

From the tweets, it appears the grandmother’s ceiling has experienced water damage. Certainly the flat roof has a blue tarp covering some of it, still a common sight on houses in Puerto Rico that have not been fully repaired from Maria damage.

The reason why the home is still in that state if it was damaged by the hurricane remains unclear.

AOC blamed the damage on former President Donald Trump for blocking aid to the island ravaged by Hurricane Maria

AOC blamed the damage on former President Donald Trump for blocking aid to the island ravaged by Hurricane Maria 

One image of AOC's grandmother's home shows a room where there is a dresser and more ceiling panels falling down

One image of AOC’s grandmother’s home shows a room where there is a dresser and more ceiling panels falling down

Another image shows a room with just a chair and several plastic buckets to catch water coming rom the ceiling, which is falling down in several spots

Another image shows a room with just a chair and several plastic buckets to catch water coming rom the ceiling, which is falling down in several spots

Conservative Matt Walsh raised more than $104,000 to help repair the home, but the congresswoman refused it

Conservative Matt Walsh raised more than $104,000 to help repair the home, but the congresswoman refused it 

Walsh, a blogger for Daily Wire who launched the fundraiser, confirmed on Saturday that 'someone in AOC's abuela's family told GoFundMe that she won't take the money, even though AOC previously claimed that her grandma was in dire straits (and it was Trump's fault)'

Walsh, a blogger for Daily Wire who launched the fundraiser, confirmed on Saturday that ‘someone in AOC’s abuela’s family told GoFundMe that she won’t take the money, even though AOC previously claimed that her grandma was in dire straits (and it was Trump’s fault)’

Commentator Matt Walsh, a blogger for right-wing leaning Daily Wire, created headlines when he raised more than $104,000 to help repair it through a GoFundMe appeal.

He said it was rich that someone on $174,000 a year and who drives a Tesla would beg on twitter for help – then revealed AOC’s family would not take the money raised.

Conservative blogger Matt Walsh

‘This is a problem we could’ve solved not just for abuela but they could’ve taken the money, fix the ceiling, bought her some furniture she clearly needs, and then could’ve taken the rest of the money and helped the neighbors, they could’ve helped the whole community, but they didn’t want to do that,’ Walsh stated

Walsh had written: ‘One cannot be certain of the cost to repair grandma’s house, but surely most of the work could be completed for the price of AOC’s shiny Tesla Model 3.

‘Sadly, virtue signaling isn’t going to fix abuela’s roof. So we are. Let’s all kick in to help save AOC’s abuela’s ancestral home.’

While proudly proclaiming her Puerto Rican heritage, Bronx-born AOC, 31, has said little publicly about where her family come from on the island.

However her relatives near Arecibo – which has the feel of a gentle country town – did publicly rejoice when she was voted in as US Representative for the 14th district of New York in 2018, which covers her home borough and Queens.

They gave an enthusiastic interview to the island’s daily newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, and even posed in front of grandmother Clotilde’s house.

First cousin Wally Allende said of AOC: ‘She loves coming to Puerto Rico. As a child, she spent her vacations here with us, not at Disney or anything like that. Now he usually comes at least every year.’

And he revealed while the world knows her as Alexandria, to them she was simply ‘Sandy’.

An aunt, Gladys Roman – not believed to be the relative who spoke to Dailymail.com – said: ‘She is a very talented young woman. She inherited sweetness from her mother, but strength comes from her father.

‘She is very persistent and brilliant, and when she believes in something no one can stop her.’

AOC’s Puerto Rican-born mother Blanca Cortez now lives in Eustis, Florida, and Clotilde has lived with her there. Her US-born father Sergio Ocasio Roman died of cancer in 2008 while she was at Boston College.

Other cousins on the island are Jose and Javier Allende. Aunt Gladys added to the paper: ‘She’s not afraid of anything.’

Certainly AOC would have found the area she visited each year as a child somewhat different to the surroundings of her apartment in Washington DC.

Ocasio-Cortez' family comes the municipality of Arecibo, Puerto Rico (pictured). The eye of Hurricane Maria passed through Arecibo

Ocasio-Cortez’ family comes the municipality of Arecibo, Puerto Rico (pictured). The eye of Hurricane Maria passed through Arecibo

Sandra Jimenez, 53, stands next to the ruined upper floor of the house she was finishing off constructing when Maria hit. Her roof, which had just been completed, was blown clean off

Sandra Jimenez, 53, stands next to the ruined upper floor of the house she was finishing off constructing when Maria hit. Her roof, which had just been completed, was blown clean off

Arecibo is a municipality on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, located 40 miles west from the capital San Juan

Arecibo is a municipality on the northern coast of Puerto Rico, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, located 40 miles west from the capital San Juan 

Damaged homes are seen in the neighborhood of AOC's grandmother after both Hurricanes Maria and Irma ripped through the island

Damaged homes are seen in the neighborhood of AOC’s grandmother after both Hurricanes Maria and Irma ripped through the island 

Behind her grandmother’s home runs a road with several ruined or half repaired properties, forlornly overlooking an area of scrubby grass and trees where cars have been dumped and chickens peck and scratch around.

Bordering the charming store and café-lined square in Arecibo lies the city hall containing the municipal government, which has jurisdiction over where AOC's gran lives. Inside, planning director Leslie Orama offered a possible solution to the roof dilemma facing the US politician's relative.

Bordering the charming store and café-lined square in Arecibo lies the city hall containing the municipal government, which has jurisdiction over where AOC’s gran lives. Inside, planning director Leslie Orama offered a possible solution to the roof dilemma facing the US politician’s relative.

The surrounding streets are essentially middle class, with many homes brightly painted in yellow or orange. Yet among them, many gutted houses abandoned after Maria stand out like missing teeth. Locals we talked to said their owners upped and left, unable to afford repairs after being denied financial help.

Immediately after the hurricanes, 98 per cent of homeowners with damaged property applied to the Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) for cash to rebuild. Forty per cent were turned down because of eligibility rules that include being able to prove they own the property.

Marcelina Ramos, 81, who lives 200 yards from AOC’s gran in the same street, fought to get $4,000 for rebuilding after Maria tore into her roof and flooded her home.

She told DailyMail.com: ‘It was crazy. Everything fell down, there was water everywhere, coming into the house from two points.

‘FEMA gave me money, but it wasn’t enough to fix this place. I just had to take what they offered to try to make it habitable.

‘Others in this street just gave up. Their houses were destroyed and they couldn’t fix them. We hear they plan to come back some day, but who knows. Many just left the island and went to Miami.’

Marcelina, who is helped by son Elier, 53, added: ‘We agree with what AOC is saying. There still isn’t enough help.’ 

Immediately opposite, Sandra Jimenez, 53, stood next to the ruined upper floor of the house she was finishing off constructing when Maria hit. Her roof, which had just been completed, was blown clean off.

She said: ‘I did all the paperwork, they came and checked the house, but I received no money. It’s been so long now that I have no faith I will get help.’

Marcelina Ramos, 81, who lives 200 yards from AOC's gran in the same street, fought to get $4,000 for rebuilding after Maria tore into her roof and flooded her home

Marcelina Ramos, 81, who lives 200 yards from AOC’s gran in the same street, fought to get $4,000 for rebuilding after Maria tore into her roof and flooded her home

Marcelina, who is helped by son Elier, 53, added: 'We agree with what AOC is saying. There still isn't enough help'

Marcelina, who is helped by son Elier, 53, added: ‘We agree with what AOC is saying. There still isn’t enough help’

AOC also claimed in her string of tweets about her gran and Maria that eligibility rules for rebuilding cash had been tightened – and that developers were making a killing because people were forced to abandon their homes.

Proving ownership in order to get cash remains the toughest requirement for many islanders. About half of homes built on the island never had permits according to the Puerto Rican Builders Association.

Many other homes were simply built on vacant land. And inheritance on the island is often informal and without any paperwork, so it is impossible to prove a person has the title deeds to a property.

Bordering the charming store and café-lined square in Arecibo lies the city hall containing the municipal government, which has jurisdiction over where AOC’s gran lives. Inside, planning director Leslie Orama offered a possible solution to the roof dilemma facing the US politician’s relative.

She said simply: ‘If we can get the name of the lady, we might be able to reach some other funding that could be helpful for her to ensure that she lives under appropriate conditions.’

Orama said if people had been refused by FEMA, they could go to the municipal government for possible help through various grants now available.

She added: ‘There are City Development Block Grants and they have a lot of programs, including regular funding to help people fix their homes.

‘If the citizen comes and we are able to help, we will make every effort to support them.’

She denied AOC’s statement that relief ‘hasn’t arrived’, adding ‘that’s not the case’. Yet she admitted problems, saying: ‘It is just that it has been limited in the amount that can be handed to the people that were affected, because of the process itself.

‘It might require objective evidence that people might not be able to provide. One of those is proof of ownership. What’s happening is not that the money is not there, it’s just the requirements to get the help makes it difficult to receive it.’

The city official also cited past corruption – but said it was in the claims, not the distribution. She added: ‘I know that the federal government has been making sure that the money goes to the right places. It is not that I support the way they are acting or working, but I understand that they might be ensuring that all the support is handled correctly.

‘Sometimes the claims are not real. Or people even damage their own stuff in order to get money. Some people do the right thing, some people don’t.’


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