(CNN) — Progressive Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Sunday that many of the victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico blame government failure for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people on the island in the aftermath of the storm.
“What we saw in Puerto Rico was a mass death of 3,000 people,” Ocasio-Cortez said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It was the worst humanitarian crisis in modern American history, and many, many people impacted by this storm point to government inaction as the cause of death.”
The New York Democrat, who has said her grandfather was among those who went uncounted as fatalities due to the hurricane, said Sunday that government failure during the storm was part of a larger, “systemic issue.” Namely, she said the issue is the “modern-day colonial relationship” between the United States and Puerto Rico.
“Puerto Ricans are technically American citizens but do not have the right to vote [in federal elections],” she said. “They are treated in completely different ways as normal American citizens are. And for that reason you have the chronic neglect of the island. It is acute situations like this in which Puerto Ricans continue to be treated like second-class citizens.”
“They did not even have the capacity to choose this President, yet they continue to suffer at the hands of this administration,” she added.
Ocasio-Cortez’s comments come after President Donald Trump last week denied that nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
“Three thousand people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths. As time went by it did not go up by much. Then, a long time later, they started to report really large numbers, like 3000.”
Earlier this month, the island’s governor formally raised the death toll from Hurricane Maria to an estimated 2,975 from 64 following an independent study conducted by researchers at George Washington University commissioned by the island’s government.