Tuesday

22nd Jun 2021

Trump allegedly wanted to swap Puerto Rico for Greenland

  • US president Donald Trump reportedly said "Puerto Rico was dirty and the people were poor" (Photo: whitehouse.gov)

On 18 August 2019, US president Donald Trump won worldwide attention as he suggested he might buy Greenland, the world's largest island, and its 57,000 inhabitants, from Denmark.

It now appears he may also have considered swapping Puerto Rico and its more than 3 million people in exchange for Greenland.

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Miles Taylor, a former chief of staff to US secretary of homeland security Kirsjten Nielsen, said on MSNBC, a US television network, that the president told him and other staff, who were travelling to Puerto Rico, of his ideas.

"One time before we went he told us not only did he want to purchase Greenland. He actually said he wanted to see if we could sell Puerto Rico. Could we swap Puerto Rico for Greenland? Because in his words, Puerto Rico was dirty and the people were poor", Taylor said on August 19th.

Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, a Greenlandic member of the Danish Parliament, told EUobserver that she was appalled to learn of this latest development.

"If correct, it illustrates once again an understanding of other human beings which is completely unhinged. It underscores that we have to be careful that we are not swallowed by the US. We need the US as a military ally and security partner, but this tells us that we are not seen as a partner. It is stripped of all respect for other people," she said.

The president's ideas, if confirmed, are particularly sensitive in Greenland and Denmark, where a history of earlier US acquisitions and offers is well known.

In 1917, the US bought the West Indies, now the US Virgin Islands, in the Caribbean, from Denmark for $25m, and in 1947 the US formally offered to buy Greenland from Denmark.

The US military runs and regularly upgrades Thule Air Base, which is part of the US missile defence system, in the far north of Greenland. A US consulate in Nuuk, the capital, was reopened in June as Greenland's Arctic strategic value to the US is mushrooming.

In the US, Miles Taylor has joined other former officials from the Trump administrations who are organised in "Republican Voters Against Trump" and he has endorsed the democratic candidate for the presidency, Joe Biden.

After Miles Taylor's appearance on TV, president Trump claimed he never met Taylor and called him a "lowlife", but he has not commented on the allegation that he suggested swapping Puerto Rico for Greenland.

Puerto Rico, a Spanish colony for four centuries, has remained an unincorporated territory of the US since Spain ceded the territory to the US in 1898 after the Spanish-American war.

On 18 August 2019, when the president confirmed his wish to buy Greenland, he was asked if he would consider swapping a piece of US territory for Greenland, to which he answered: "Well, a lot of things could be done".

His proposal to sell Puerto Rico was then first reported on 21 August 2019, when Elaine Duke, a former acting secretary of homeland security in Washington, told the New York Times that the president had suggested in her presence that the US might "divest" itself of Puerto Rico. She did not mention a possible Puerto Rico-Greenland swap.

The government of Greenland, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Danish kingdom, has not commented on the latest reports, nor has the government of Denmark.

Last year, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen called the discussion of a possible US take-over of Greenland "absurd", which caused president Trump to cancel a state visit to Denmark.

In the US, Cristóbal Alex, a senior advisor to Joe Biden's campaign to defeat president Trump in the presidential elections in the US in November, last week, issued a statement saying that the alleged suggestion to sell Puerto Rico "confirms what we already know".

"Since he came into office, president Trump's policies toward Puerto Rico can be summarised as disrespect for human life, inaction in the face of tragedy, and often, overt racism and discrimination," the statement said.

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