US President Donald Trump is reported to have considered selling the island of Puerto Rico after it was devastated by a hurricane in 2017.

Trump is said to have inquired as to whether the US could "divest of that asset," claimed one of his former senior officials. That request came two years before he asked whether he could buy Greenland from Denmark.

Puerto Rico, in the Caribbean, has a population of more than three million and is a territory of the US. However, it is not a state and so its residents cannot vote in US presidential or other elections.

In September 2017, the island was hit by Hurricane Maria, a category 5 storm with winds of almost 300km/h. It followed another huge storm, Hurricane Irma, that had struck just weeks before.


Maria killed 2975 Puerto Ricans and caused $137 billion (US$90nbn) worth of damage. According to the US Office of Coastal Management, seven weeks after the storm hit half the island was still without power.

In an interview with the New York Times, Elaine Duke, who was acting Secretary of Homeland Security during the storm, said Trump raised selling Puerto Rico in the aftermath of the natural disaster.

"The President's initial ideas were more of as a businessman, you know," Duke said.

"'Can we outsource the electricity? Can we can we sell the island? You know, or divest of that asset?'" she said Trump aked her.

Duke said after the President raised the idea it was "never seriously considered or discussed".

Puerto Rico asked the US Government to help fund basic services following the hurricane. While Washington DC did pump money into Puerto Rico, Trump also took aim at the local handling of the crisis.

A month after the hurricane, Trump accused Puerto Rico of a "total lack of accountability", and said that the island's electric supply and other infrastructure "was a disaster before [the] hurricanes".

The Puerto Rican flag flies in front of Puerto Rico's Capitol in San Juan. Photo / AP
The Puerto Rican flag flies in front of Puerto Rico's Capitol in San Juan. Photo / AP

He threatened to pull federal agencies helping with the aid effort off the island.


Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital, said Trump was "incapable of empathy and frankly simply cannot get the job done".

Initially the death toll following the hurricane was stated as 64. However, a year later that jumped to almost 3000 following an analysis which looked at immediate deaths as well as those caused in the months following by poor healthcare, lack of electricity and dirty water.

Trump disputed the revised figures. In a tweet at the time he said, "3000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico".

He claimed only "six to 18 deaths" had occurred due to Maria and the revised death toll was due to the "Democrats in order to make me look bad".

He added "I love Puerto Rico."


In 2019, Trump confirmed that he had looked into buying Greenland. The world's largest island, close to the North Pole, is a self-governing territory of Denmark.


"Essentially it's a large real estate deal. A lot of things can be done. It's hurting Denmark very badly because they're losing almost $1.6 billion (US$700 million) a year carrying it," he said.

"So, they carry it at great loss, and strategically for the United States, it would be nice. And, we're a big ally of Denmark and we help Denmark, and we protect Denmark."

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the request was "an absurd discussion" and Denmark had no intention of handing over control of the island to the US.

Affronted, Trump then cancelled an upcoming trip to Denmark and said in an aside the PM's rebuke was "nasty".

"You don't talk to the United States that way, at least under me," Trump said in Washington. "I thought it was not a nice statement, the way she blew me off."