WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump was greeted by shouts of "We love you in Puerto Rico" as he took the stage Friday for a celebration at the White House of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Julissa Arce Rivera, a Chicago native born to Puerto Rican parents, kicked off the celebration by singing several Spanish-language songs, before Trump took the stage, flanked by two Hispanic members of his cabinet.
U.S. Labor Department Secretary Alex Acosta and U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza joined Trump and first lady Melania as the president spoke of the recovery effort in Puerto Rico following two devastating hurricanes and his commitment to those who are "suffering" under the Communist regime in Cuba and the Socialist regime in Venezuela.
"We're working every day to secure a future of peace, prosperity, and sovereignty for every American citizen and we hope for a future of freedom and prosperity throughout the entire western hemisphere," Trump said.
Comments on Cuba, Venezuela
Trump said he refuses to lift sanctions on Cuba until its government "delivers full political freedom" to the Cuban people, and he said he stands with the people of Venezuela "who are suffering under the ruthless socialism of the Maduro regime."
"Communism is the past, freedom is the future," he said.
Trump said his administration is working hard to help the island of Puerto Rico, which he pronounced three times in a Spanish accent, telling the crowd "We love Pueeerto Rico."
"They're rebuilding and the spirit is incredible," Trump said of the Puerto Rican people.
Acosta praises Trump
Labor Secretary Acosta spoke of his Cuban-born parents, who immigrated to the U.S. prior to his birth, and how they struggled to offer him a better life than they had.
"Though my parents did not attend college, they worked incredibly hard to give me all those things they've never had," he said. "Your presidency and your administration very much stand for the principle that hard work and merit, far more than outward physical characteristics, is what matters."
Carranza told a story about her swearing-in ceremony, in which the secretary told her it was remarkable to live in a country where "someone could go from learning the value of a dollar at a very young age to, one day, putting her name on it."
"I’ve had my share of barriers to success, each of which motivated me to work smarter, save wisely and never stop acquiring an education by whatever means possible," she said.
Despite securing a higher percentage of the Hispanic vote during the 2016 presidential election than 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Trump has faced criticism during his tenure from some Hispanics over his hard stance against illegal immigration and his proposal to cut legal immigration.