Puerto Rican protesters from around Florida plan to mark the anniversary of Hurricane Maria by driving past President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in a caravan next weekend, then gathering for a rally and vigil across the Intracoastal Waterway in West Palm Beach.
Organizers have told local governments to expect about 30 vehicles with signs and flags for the drive past Mar-a-Lago on Sept. 22 and about 1,500 people for the gathering later in the day at the Meyer Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach.
The events were planned before Trump created an uproar Thursday by claiming the hurricane’s death toll was being inflated by Democrats “to make me look as bad as possible.”
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017. A George Washington University study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government estimated that, over the next five months, there were 2,975 more deaths than would normally be expected on the island.
Trump disputed that estimate in a pair of tweets Thursday morning.
“3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico. 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…” the president tweeted.
Trump added in a second tweet: “…..This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible when I was successfully raising Billions of Dollars to help rebuild Puerto Rico. If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them onto the list. Bad politics. I love Puerto Rico!”
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats blasted the president’s tweets. The state’s leading Republicans also disputed Trump. Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and governor nominee Ron DeSantis all defended the Puerto Rican death estimate.
Marcos Vilar of Orlando-based Alianza for Progress, one of the organizers of the Sept. 22 events in Palm Beach County, called Trump’s tweets “very callous and completely disrespectful and derogatory … After two years of tweeting, nothing surprises you but even having said that it does strike a chord. This was a very painful moment in our history.”
Organizers said they are coordinating bus rides from the Tampa and Orlando areas as well as from Miami and Broward County for the Palm Beach County events.
“We’re looking to make a very peaceful statement … We also intend to hold the president accountable,” said Vilar.
The event has also been added to the “Baby Trump Tour” by Trump opponents who bring a 20-foot-high balloon depicting the president as a baby.
Protesters have told the town of Palm Beach to expect about 30 vehicles for the caravan past Mar-a-Lago, Town Manager Kirk Blouin said.
“They really don’t need a permit … I was advised they were very cooperative,” said Blouin.
Alianza for Progress pulled a permit for the Meyer Amphitheatre that estimates a crowd of 1,500, according to West Palm Beach officials.