FCC chair proposes $950 million for broadband in Puerto Rico, USVI
Pai circulates draft order to harden networks, deploy gigabit fiber and 5G
SAN JUAN — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft order to agency commissioners that would provide approximately $950 million in funding to “storm-harden, improve, and expand broadband networks” in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
This is the second round of funding under the FCC’s Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and Connect USVI Fund and follows $130 million in extra funding the commission provided to restore hurricane-damaged networks in Puerto Rico and the USVI since 2017.
The draft order will be considered at FCC’s monthly meeting Sept. 26, according to a release that included the following statement by Pai:
“The FCC took numerous steps to help restore communications in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following the devastating one-two punches delivered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. But even as we were responding to immediate needs, we knew that we needed to have a long-term strategy to expand broadband availability in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, improve broadband networks on these islands, and help protect these networks against future storms. That’s why we created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and the Connect USVI Fund.
“This draft Order would deliver on that strategy by allocating about $950 million in federal universal service support for Stage 2 of the Funds. Significant work has been done to restore connectivity. Now, this new funding would support deployment of the networks of tomorrow, including gigabit fiber and 5G, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It would also help ensure that Americans living there will be able to fully participate in the digital economy and remain connected when they need it most. Our goal is simple: to provide everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with digital opportunity.”
Puerto Rico Ports chief, shippers assure supply availability as Dorian skims Florida
Retailers insist on repeal of inventory tax amid hurricane season
SAN JUAN – The executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority (APPR), Anthony Maceira, met Tuesday with the Puerto Rico Shippers Association and its president, Eduardo Pagán, and assured the availability of food and merchandise on the island during the peak of the hurricane season.
In addition, they discussed concerted actions that shipping companies have taken to ensure the arrival of supplies to the island. Gov. Wanda Vázquez welcomed the meeting, a Ports release says, “noting that her administration is fully collaborating and made itself available to help the shipping companies ensure the arrival of merchandise to Puerto Rico” during the hurricane season.
As Hurricane Dorian’s path took it up along the east coast of Florida, the U.S. Coast Guard ordered the closure Monday of the Port of Jacksonville, from where 90% of the merchandise is shipped to the island.
“Anticipating this situation the shipping companies [ordered] the departure of vessels in advance last week from Florida and New Jersey with merchandise to Puerto Rico. In the past few days, we have been receiving such vessels, and the closure of the Port of Jacksonville is estimated to last only a couple of days, which represents a minimum delay. In addition, there is merchandise on the island for between 20 to 30 days, which rules out that there will be a shortage of food and other products,” Maceira said.
This week (Aug. 31 to Sept. 6), the island will be receiving about 40 different cargo vessels, the Ports official added.
For his part, Pagán clarified that the cargo ships that left the island for Jacksonville will “only experience a minimum delay” while the stateside port is reopened, which is expected Thursday.
“It should be noted that after the experience with [Hurricane] Maria two years ago, many food distributors have increased their inventory of supplies on the island between July and November. In addition, we have agreements with other ports, both inside and outside the United States, to use them if necessary to transport merchandise to Puerto Rico,” Pagán said.
Meanwhile, the president of the Puerto Rico Retail Trade Association (ACDET by it Spanish initials), Iván Báez, again urged the government and the legislature to end the inventory tax, “because of the food safety risk it represents for Puerto Rico,” as the closure of the Port of Jacksonville was announced.
“The elimination of the inventory tax is urgent. The crisis we suffered after the scourge of Hurricane Maria exposed the precariousness of our supplies and our vulnerability. We reiterate that the current tax prevents having the necessary inventories maintained to meet the needs of our people,” Báez said in a statement.
He stressed that a large part of the food, basic necessities and supplies consumed on the island are shipped from the Jacksonville port and the island’s stores are on high alert.
“Although the Puerto Rico Ports Authority assures that supplies would [only] be delayed 48 hours to reach our shores, the truth is that in an emergency, there are no guarantees and we have been lucky that the recent threats have not become complex emergencies. We depend on products from other latitudes and if the port that supplies us with more than 80 percent of the imports on the island is paralyzed, we are completely helpless,” he stressed.
Báez also pointed out that during the last legislative session, ACDET, along with other private sector leaders, mayors, the executive branch officials and lawmakers agreed to identify alternatives to the tax. However, he said, despite the insistence of ACDET and the coalition of associations that have joined the private sector’s appeal, no results have been achieved.
—CyberNews contributed to this report.
Puerto Rico’s Parallel18 teams up with Google Developers Launchpad
Affiliation to reap benefits of knowledge, network sharing to support island’s startup ecosystem
SAN JUAN – Startup accelerator Parallel18 broadened its resources network by joining Google Developers Launchpad‘s group of regional partners. The collaboration grants access to Google’s global network resulting in gained insight and learning of best practices of startup accelerators around the world.
Google Developers Launchpad is a branch of Google that operates a global acceleration program to help startups grow. As part of its strategy to support innovation ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley, the organization teams up with top independent accelerators across Latin America, Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Parallel18 is a startup accelerator created by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust to attract and create high-impact startup companies that can scale abroad. The trust is a nonprofit created in 2004 to promote investment and the financing of research and development as a catalyst for job creation and the retention of highly qualified talent. Since its founding in 2015, Parallel18 has worked with more than 200 startups from Puerto Rico, the states, Latin America, Europe and Asia and has gained international attention for the local tech and innovation network it supports.
The “parallel18 Powered by Google Developers Launchpad” initiative will connect the Puerto Rican organization to some of the world’s top accelerators, allowing it to share information and leverage resources. Parallel18 will also be afforded access to Google’s global network, Silicon Valley-based startup programs and “20 years’ worth of Google research and best practice insights on building businesses, products, and teams at a massive scale,” the startup accelerator explained.
Parallel18 said the new resources will help its startup portfolio, which already includes some of the fastest-growing companies in the region, scale its businesses exponentially.
“This alliance with Google Developers Launchpad instantly widened our network of speakers and expert mentors, which are the key to offer a business development curriculum that is of the highest quality and relevant to the entrepreneurs we serve,” said Eduardo Padial, operations manager at parallel18, in charge of the acceleration curriculums.
“Our alumni consistently highlight the educational component and the mentorship with local and international experts as Parallel18’s greatest value. By teaming up with Google Developers Launchpad we reaffirm our commitment to support young innovative companies in their journey to scale globally,” Parallel18’s executive director, Sebastian Vidal, said in the related press release.
“During the past few years, we’ve been working to create new bridges between Latin America and the United States. Puerto Rico is one of the most promising entry points to the Hispanic market in America, and thanks to Parallel18, all startups, both in the Island and everywhere else in the world, can benefit from our Launchpad program and mentor network,” added Kevin O’Toole, global head of Strategy, Operations and Partnerships for Google Launchpad.
As part of the collaboration, experts from Google’s network will join the Startups of Puerto Rico Speaker Series to offer conferences and workshops open to the community.
“In the coming years, markets outside of Silicon Valley will increasingly impact the global startup and technology ecosystem. And while it’s easier than ever to start a company, access to success methodologies, expert mentors, and ecosystem best practices for building companies remain unevenly distributed,” O’Toole pointed out of one of the challenges the Google program aims to address.
Backing Puerto Rico gov ‘is the ticket’ to disbursement of federal recovery funds
Former official optimistic that DC’s impression of Vázquez will turn tide
By Agustín Criollo Oquero and Philipe Schoene Roura
SAN JUAN — Amid the stagnation of congressionally approved Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program funds, the Puerto Rico Transportation and Public Works secretary under the administration of former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, civil engineer Carlos Pesquera, said the key to achieving quicker disbursement is in the backing the new governor receives from different sectors of the island.
In an interview with Caribbean Business, however, Pesquera was optimistic that Gov. Wanda Vázquez’s governing style will send a strong message to Congress after Washington lost confidence in former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration.
For the engineer, who is an expert in federal fund matters, the fiscal discipline message sent to Washington must be strong and firm.
“I think there is an important point and it is that once the governor projects that she has the support of the Puerto Rican people and all sectors of the island, they will respect her. For me, this is a matter of she needing to worry more about here than there,” Pesquera said.
“Once she goes to Washington and tells them that the island supports her, I have no doubt that they will listen to her. They know everything that happens here. The important thing, it seems to me, is the support that Puerto Ricans give to the governor. The ticket to get those funds to arrive is to show that we support her,” he assured.
The former secretary said Vázquez has managed to win the support of the citizenry so far and suggested she use the capital obtained in such a short time as governor to demand before Congress that the reconstruction process of the island after hurricanes Irma and María be addressed immediately.
“I believe this is the message that needs to be delivered to Congress and rub it in their face,” he said in reference to the pejorative tone with which President Donald Trump has referred to Puerto Rico affairs since the 2017 hurricanes.
Pesquera criticized the attitude of the local government of not confronting Congress and demanding the disbursement of FEMA and CDBG-DR funds once and for all, as stipulated in the Stafford Act of 1988, also known as Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act. He insisted that it is not charity, but a legal right as citizens of the United States.
The Stafford Act constitutes the legal authority for most federal disaster response activity, especially with regard to FEMA programs, and covers U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico.
“FEMA is not here because someone likes us…. They are here because the Stafford Act creates protocols for when an emergency like Hurricane Maria occurs, and when this happens the people of FEMA arrive and although it is true that for Medicaid we are not equal, for FEMA we are,” stressed the also former New Progressive Party candidate for resident commissioner.
Pesquera also noted that the law considers Indian territories and tribes and said that “there is no way for the president [Trump] to run from that responsibility, that Puerto Rico be attended after the disaster as we deserve. But municipalities, agencies and the State have to be part of that request to confront these federal agencies, with respect, but with firmness.”
Nearly two years after hurricanes Irma and Maria struck Puerto Rico, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has ironed out the bureaucratic and policy conflicts between commonwealth and federal officials that were slowing the process to determine needed permanent works projects involving infrastructure rebuilding and resiliency, according to the FEMA official in charge of local infrastructure.
A U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued last month said commonwealth agencies were complaining they were receiving conflicting directives from FEMA officials, who, for their part, expressed concern that local agencies could be encouraged to draw out the process to obtain more funding for permanent works due to the way cost factors could be determined in the alternative procedures program approved for the island. This has led to delays in the phases FEMA applicants must follow to get funding for specific projects, the report states.
“Many of those concerns have actually been addressed since that report came out; FEMA has strengthened the leadership of the operation here with additional FEMA staff with greater experience,” Gregory Bosko, FEMA infrastructure branch director for Puerto Rico, told Caribbean Business during an interview at the federal agency’s island headquarters, where 1,000 of the agency’s 3,000 employees on the island are stationed.
Puerto Rico emergency plan published ahead of TS Dorian
Chief of staff: Certain parts must remain confidential
SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rico governor’s chief of staff, Zoé Laboy, said Tuesday that the island’s Joint Operational Catastrophic Incident Plan would be released after Tropical Storm Dorian passed Puerto Rico.
However, later in the evening, the 244-page plan was published. See it here.
“That plan is going to be made public. What’s happening is there are certain things that are confidential for security reasons and those are the things for which the plan will be evaluated, for those things that for security reasons should not be public will be redacted but the rest of the plan will be made public as soon as we are done with Dorian,” Laboy said in a Radio Isla interview earlier Tuesday.
She said former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares had not signed the plan nor had it been ready during the past two years. However, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and Public Safety Secretary Elmer Román signed the plan a few days ago.
“On the one hand, I am sad that it was not available before but the governor signed the plan. I saw it. I certify that [it was signed]. That plan is very detailed; in fact, it was done in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] and Homeland Security. The plan includes what each agency will do 180 days, 90 days and the entire time before the [weather] phenomenon arrives,” she added.
Puerto Rico is under a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch amid the close approach of Tropical Storm Dorian.
Global commercial real estate shifts could benefit Puerto Rico economy
Economist says Opportunity Zones, tech and trade war open window to growth opportunities
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico’s commercial real estate sector has the potential to be a big contributor to the island’s post-hurricane economic recovery, due to a combination of technological innovations in manufacturing and retail logistics, as well as to the disruption of global supply chains as a result of the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, according to a stateside real estate trade economist.
“You have huge opportunities here. Puerto Rico is on the path of reinventing itself,” Kiernan K.C. Conway, chief economist for CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member), a U.S. trade organization for professionals working with commercial real estate, said Friday during CCIM’s Puerto Rico chapter’s 15th-anniversary luncheon held at a Condado hotel.
Conway, who is also director of research and corporate engagement at Alabama Center for Real Estate at the University of Alabama, said he was “impressed” with the designation of 97 percent of Puerto Rico as qualifying for Opportunity Zone incentives—an action he noted will enable the island’s commercial real estate sector to take advantage of the global shifts in retail logistics, including continually evolving technologies in warehousing and shipping.
The economist said that the burgeoning growth of online retailers has led to a shortage of facilities that can quickly and efficiently process and ship massive amounts of merchandise. With e-commerce supply chains growing between 25 percent and 30 percent a year, demand for distribution space is so great that builders and developers can’t keep up, he said, noting that e-commerce has taken up 20 percent of total warehouse space in the United States, up from 5 percent just a few years ago.
“Logistics is a great opportunity for Puerto Rico. Online retailers are transforming warehouse construction to the point that demand is exceeding supply,” said Conway, noting that abandoned malls and factories in the states are being converted to warehouses for online retailers such as Amazon, given the high cost of building new structures. “Foreign direct investment is flooding into places with logistics. But you got have to get the infrastructure, such as the electrical grid, right.”
Technology-driven logistics and shipping have brought prosperity to cities such as Charleston, S.C. and Birmingham, AL., which had seen a decline due to closing of factories and military bases, Conway said. They have also become centers for robotics and hi-tech research, he said.
In fact, the southeastern United States—stretching from Texas to Florida—is that fastest growing region of the country, producing half of its gross domestic product, Conway said. Central Florida has become a big generator of STEM-related jobs, he said, noting that the world’s most modern steel plant is being built there. Florida is also considering legislation to legalize driverless trucks, which would be monitored by an air-traffic-control-like system, he said.
“This is a region with a trillion-dollar economy. There is great potential here for Puerto Rico’s economy to form partnerships,” he said, noting that Florida is the state with the most ports.
“Florida is a good bellwether for you guys, because what can’t get tucked away in Florida is finding its way to Georgia, Alabama, and maybe some of that stuff can go south to Puerto Rico,” Conway told Caribbean Business, noting that the island’s distilled spirits industry has great potential to increase exports given U.S. millennials growing tastes for premium and high-end drinks.
Moreover, the trade war between China and the United States has disrupted global commerce to the point that countries such as South Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand are taking advantage of the situation to attract manufacturing and logistics companies, Conway said. The Trump administration’s tax policies have also led to a record number of U.S. manufacturing companies returning to the country, he said.
“Why can’t Puerto Rico benefit from this? You have the proximity to the ports in Florida” he said.
Conway acknowledged, however, that “outdated” legislation such as the Jones Act of 1920, which requires shipping to U.S. ports on U.S.-flagged ships, could limit the island’s ability to take advantage of these opportunities. He urged the Puerto Rico government to form alliances with powerful trade groups such as the National Association of Realtors to lobby Congress to make needed changes to federal policy that would allow for local economic growth.
“On the U.S. side, ports such as Charleston, Savannah, and Miami are able to do things you can’t due to the Jones Act, so fixing that one wrinkle, that impediment could accelerate things,” he said. “That’s why I think you need the help of the industry groups like CCIM. They can say, ‘Look, if you really want to see Puerto Rico back on its feet, these outdated things have to be addressed.’”
The economist also acknowledged that the island also faces great perils if the U.S. housing bubble blows up and another great recession comes about.
“We’re headed towards another real estate disruption, and you guys are going to feel it. You’re not going to be immune from it,” said Conway, who advised former Federal Reserve chairmen Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan on the real estate industry, and regularly briefs the Fed. “On the bank side, the regulators, the FDIC and everybody will paint a broad brush and say no more real estate loans, we are going to make you hold more capital; we are going to shut down construction loans, because construction costs are greater than the value of the property. You guys will get caught in that broad paintbrush. You have to tell the story of what’s happening here to the ratings agencies.”
Conway said his organization, which has offered help the local industry, recognizes that Puerto Rico “is an area of the United States that has been treated unfairly and punitively.” He said it was “disingenuous to pick on Puerto Rico” due to the local corruption cases, noting that politicians in major cities such as Atlanta, Miami and Chicago have been convicted of corruption. He said the mass protests that led to the ousting of former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló last month show that people in Puerto Rico took action to safeguard the integrity of recovery efforts.
“That is quite a testament. Capital loves that story. That’ll bring more capital,” he said. “I was talking to some ratings agency guys in New York and they commented that given all the things Puerto Rico has had to deal with, how they handled this transition of power and the turmoil, is absolutely amazing. One of them said that maybe Hong Kong and China should take a cue from Puerto Rico on how to handle this.”
Fiscal board director talks Puerto Rico debt with Associated General Contractors
Stresses consensual restructuring needed to regain access to markets
RÍO GRANDE, Puerto Rico — The executive director of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board, Natalie Jaresko, insisted on the importance of reaching agreements with bondholders outside the courts so the island can regain access to capital markets, economic development can resume and her panel’s presence is no longer needed.
Jaresko made her remarks Friday afternoon as part of a discussion the board director held with members of the Associated General Contractors of America, Puerto Rico Chapter, at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar resort in this northern coastal town.
“We have to overcome the bankruptcy as soon as possible. We have been working hard to solve this challenge and I can literally tell you that we are weeks away from reaching it,” Jaresko predicted.
The fiscal oversight board is preparing to present a $35 billion debt-adjustment plan and a plan to restructure some $50 billion in unfunded pension liabilities
“This is a milestone, a plan that achieves an agreement beyond what we have today, which once approved by the federal court, will pull Puerto Rico out from bankruptcy. We signed agreements with retirees, with active civil citizens and with a key group of bondholders who are willing to do what is necessary to close this chapter in the history of Puerto Rico,”Jaresko said.
“The retirees have been mistreated for decades since the retirement fund needed to finance their benefits was underfunded and eventually went bankrupt. Our agreement ensures that this does not happen again because it establishes an independent pension reserve trust to ensure that PayGo benefits can be paid regardless of the future economic or political situation,” she added.
Jaresko specified that the Official Committee of Retirees in Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy-like process agreed to a moderate cut that will apply only to those with a pension of more than $1,200 a month, representing 40% of the pensioners.
Meanwhile, a group of bondholders accepted a combined haircut that represents more than 60% of the government’s liabilities, which will result in a reduction of the $35 billion in outstanding commonwealth-related bonds to $12 billion. Debt service, including principal and interest, over the next 30 years would be cut by about half, to $21 billion from $43 billion.
“The agreement guarantees that Puerto Rico’s debt will be sustainable in the future and that payments, including Cofina [Spanish acronym for Sales Tax Financing Corp.] never exceeds $15 billion per year, or 9% of the state’s income.
“These agreements are the result of years of tough negotiations, litigation, an audit of the debt that seeks to invalidate part of the GO [general obligation] debt and great consideration to what is best for the people of Puerto Rico. I firmly believe it is a good plan, the best plan given the difficult situation in Puerto Rico,” she said.
Labor an issue
During her presentation, which lasted a little more than half an hour, Jaresko touched on the issue of the labor reform promoted by former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and said that although changes were achieved, “the private labor market continues to be over-regulated, confusing and expensive.”
“The legislature has not agreed to apply the same employment rules that exist in 49 of the 50 states, and it is a shame since the best time to implement this type of labor reform is when employment opportunities grow, rather than later when the economy slows down after the stimulus from federal disaster funds [for recovery from Hurricane Maria in 2017],” she said.
Utilities, infrastructure are critical
Jaresko also spoke of the importance of a restructuring agreement reached for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), which cut the debt by 30%.
However, for Jaresko, the federal funds to rebuild Prepa’s transmission and distribution system remain a challenge. Regarding critical projects, Jaresko suggested that contractors submit proposals to the board for the repair of roads, aqueducts, low-cost housing and other infrastructure.
The director announced she was also attending Friday the inauguration of a board-approved $5.3 million project to expand the Fajardo landfill, which serves the northeastern part of the island. The expansion will allow the generation of 4 megawatts by converting gas to energy.
“The engineers estimated that the window to dispose of the garbage was only available for three more years and this expansion represents an additional 20 years of operational capacity for this critical infrastructure,” she said while suggesting that the generation of energy must be diversified to be able to the solid-waste management crisis on the island.
“The fiscal oversight board is not the economic development board of Puerto Rico, but I, like the board members, are deeply committed to helping find the right path in favor of Puerto Rico. We cannot be effective without your help. I want that dialogue and it seems to me that Puerto Rico needs that dialogue because we need to work to achieve economic development,” Jaresko concluded.
Follow Limarys Suárez on Twitter @Limarys_Suarez
Second meeting with Puerto Rico gov gives fiscal board ‘confidence’
Chairman says he feels panel ‘will be able to effectively collaborate with the Government’
SAN JUAN – Members of Puerto Rico’s Financial Oversight and Management Board met Thursday with Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced to discuss various fiscal topics.
Vázquez met with the board’s chairman, José Carrión; executive director, Natalie Jaresko; and several members. They discussed issues such as Act 29, the public debt’s restructuring and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa).
“There is an openness to talk and look for an alternative that meets the need for fiscal responsibility and the concern of the governor,” Carrión replied to questions from the press.
In a ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain, who oversees the in-court proceedings to restructure the island’s debt, allowed the board to continue demanding that municipalities pay into the Health Insurance Administration (ASES by its Spanish acronym) and the pay-as-you-go pension system.
Former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló had signed Act 29 for the central government to cover those payments, reducing municipalities’ financial burden, to the tune of nearly $320 million this fiscal year.
After meeting with Vázquez on Tuesday, Joe Román, the president of the Associated Mayors of Puerto Rico, which comprises the minority Popular Democratic Party’s (PDP) municipal heads, said the legislation “was created by both the Mayors Federation and the Mayors Association [, and] the Financial Oversight and Management Board agrees with one part of Act 29 but they don’t agree with the health insurance part and this matter is in court.”
Loíza Mayor Julia Nazario said the governor would seek, along with all the mayors, options to pitch the board.
“The commitment is that we will be with [Vázquez], bringing options because she clearly let us know that the law has little chance of sustaining itself,” Nazario said.
Despite that, Román warned that the mayors gave Vázquez “one month to present the results,” adding, “We focused on Act 29 [in the meeting with the governor] because it’s the sustenance of the municipal governments. It’s important that it is addressed immediately and that this uncertainty does not continue…about what will happen with the municipal government funds…. This way, it will bring calm and stability to the citizenry, who are the ones that receive the essential services directly.”
“In continuing our working relationship with Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, today we met to discuss items of our ongoing fiscal agenda. We are pleased to have had this, our second meeting with her, as it allows us to continue moving forward towards the objectives set forth in PROMESA [Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act] to achieve financial stability, fiscal responsibility and renewed access to financial markets for the benefit of the people of Puerto Rico. Today’s meeting has given us confidence that we will be able to effectively collaborate with the Government of Puerto Rico in the execution of our mandate under PROMESA,” Chairman José Carrión said in a statement after the meeting.
Thursday’s meeting was also attended by the newly appointed ex officio member of the board, Elí Díaz-Atienza, as well as Omar Marrero, the executive director of Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority, among other officials.
—CB’s María Miranda and CyberNews contributed to this report.
U.S. district attorney: More corruption arrests coming
Expected in next few weeks; carjacking task force planned
SAN JUAN — The U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez Vélez, said Wednesday that more arrests for government corruption and other violations will be carried out by mid-September.
Rodríguez made remarks upon arriving at La Fortaleza for the first meeting of federal and state law and order agencies with newly sworn Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced.
Could we see arrests before the end of August, Rodríguez was asked. “Eh … or early or mid-next month,” she replied.
Will they be for public corruption, Caribbean Business inquired. “A little of everything. Anyone who breaks the law; I have said it many times, that whoever violates the law, let them abide by the consequences,” she said.
The chief prosecutor said her presence in the governor’s La Fortaleza mansion was due to a security meeting with federal and state agencies with the governor, and upon leaving the conclave, she added that the Vázquez asked them to establish an inter-agency team to address carjackings.
“The governor asked us to create a task force to investigate the increase in carjackings in Puerto Rico, and we are going to ask the most affected municipalities by this type of crime to give us three to four municipal police officers for the task force,” Rodríguez Vélez said during a press conference held when the meeting ended.
A total of 382 carjackings have been reported in Puerto Rico this year, or 34 more cases than reported for the same period last year.
“Today we discussed several security issues and especially talked about carjackings. We need to establish strategies where we share resources and create a task force to address the problem in Bayamón, Caguas, Carolina, Guaynabo and San Juan,” Public Safety Secretary Elmer Román said.
Román added that the police tourist area units will be reactivated.
“The governor asked us to work together in certain areas of forensic analysis, ballistics in Forensic Sciences, to accelerate the solving of cases,” he said.
How are violent crimes cases going to be solved when Forensics still has a dearth of pathologists to perform autopsies, Caribbean Business asked.
“There is an open call for forensic pathologists; the salary is going to be adjusted to be higher, and we are looking for talent through the associations to bring those pathologists. We believe that with eight to 10 pathologists, we will solve the situation in Forensics,” Román replied.
In an aside with the press before meeting the governor, the district attorney said the appointment of federal prosecutor Olga Castellón, who currently serves as attorney general, expires next month.
“Prosecutor Castellón will return, God willing, on September 30 to our office,” Rodríguez said.