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Gov. Rosselló’s chief of staff the latest in a string of resignations

By on July 23, 2019

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and Trade & Export Co. Executive Director Ricardo Llerandi. December 2017 (Courtesy)

Fiscal board hopes for swift political process to resolve governance crisis

SAN JUAN — A day after hundreds of thousands of people flooded one of Puerto Rico’s main highways to the metropolitan area and others fought Police Strike Force units guarding his official mansion, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said he acknowledged the protests but will only comment on government matters for the time being.

However, his chief of staff resigned and the congressionally established Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico issued a statement saying it expects officials and lawmakers to stem the “crisis” brought about by the governor-related scandals.

Meanwhile, citing threats against his family, Ricardo Llerandi, who was serving as the governor’s chief of staff, administrator of La Fortaleza and executive director of the Trade and Export Co., submitted his resignation.

“In order to carry out an orderly transition and because these are three complex functions,” Llerandi wrote in his letter. His resignation officially comes in effect July 31.

Saying he “will always be grateful for the trust” the governor placed on him to serve those positions, Llerandi added that he was blessed with “having an extraordinary team” and “the best years of my professional life leading the PR Emprende initiative,” which he said he will always remember: “Working with wonderful people from the business world to help create new businesses, young entrepreneurs and business expansion….”

The “enormous privilege of serving my island led me to deliver the best of myself every day, and the family and personal sacrifice I took on, confident that the agenda of changes of the administration is the agenda of changes that Puerto Rico needs,” he told the governor.

However, the “last days have been extremely difficult for everyone. At this historical juncture, it is up to me to put the wellbeing of my family over any consideration. The threats received can be tolerated as an individual, but I will never allow them to affect my home. My wife and children are everything to me. That is my main duty,” Llerandi assured.

Adding that the governor convinced him to give him his support when Rosselló said, “We cannot wait, there will be no Puerto Rico to govern if we do not take the step now,” Llerandi, however, signed his resignation letter “asking God to continue illuminating you every day.”

The board, meanwhile, noted in its own statement Tuesday that: “The public outcry by residents of Puerto Rico over the last two weeks reflects a justified crisis of confidence in government institutions” that it has watched “with admiration for the fortitude of the people of Puerto Rico and with sadness for the crisis that made the protests necessary.”

Also Tuesday, one of the faces of the movement to oust the governor, singer René Pérez, has called for another national strike to be convened at the San Juan banking district in Hato Rey on Thursday at 9 a.m.

Demonstrators take over signage on Las Américas Expressway as tens of thousands call for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s ouster. (CB)

The governor, who has put the onus on the legislature to determine whether he is fit to continue in power, said he will remain in office.

In a statement issued Tuesday by his office, La Fortaleza, Rosselló said: “Yesterday, as in the past few days, I have remained attentive and silent about the demonstrations carried out as part of the right of citizens to their free expression. When one party speaks legitimately, the other is responsible for listening carefully.

“The people are speaking and I have to listen. This has been a period of total reflection and making decisions that are being executed according to the concerns of the people of Puerto Rico and their best interests. For the moment, the future expressions that I will issue will be about the actions we carry out as part of the Government’s work, as promised and expected by the People.”

In its release after the governor’s, the board said the “people of Puerto Rico deserve a well-functioning, responsive, sustainable government that operates with integrity and transparency,” and that, “for far too long government in Puerto Rico has failed to treat the island’s residents with the respect that they deserve.”

The fiscal oversight panel stressed that “the responsibility to restore integrity and efficiency to government lies with the elected officials, who must implement civil service and procurement reforms, centralize financial management, increase transparency in the tax credit and incentive system, and improve enforcement of laws that promote transparency and accountability. Most of all, however, elected officials and government employees must understand and accept that their job is to serve the people of Puerto Rico, not insiders, special interests or their own political careers.”

The board further noted that under the authority it was conferred by the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, it “will steadfastly continue [its] efforts to restructure Puerto Rico’s debt and to ensure fiscal balance that prioritizes critical needs in the government—including education, health care and public safety,” adding, “In the meantime, we hope the political process swiftly resolves the current governance crisis so Puerto Rico can move forward to rebuild trust and to focus government on those it is here to serve.”

On Sunday, Rosselló announced via Facebook Live that he was not seeking reelection in 2020 and was stepping down from the New Progressive Party (NPP) presidency. However, he said he will stay in power and was willing to face whatever the legislature had in store for him.

In his first interview in the past week, Rosselló spoke with Fox News, whose anchor, Shepard Smith unmercifully questioned his decisions, such as when asking for the name of at least one person who supported him. Rosselló finally mentioned San Sebastián Mayor Javier Jiménez, who has been consistent in that the “Constitution provides mechanisms to interrupt the tenure by which a governor was elected by popular vote.”

Several officials have resigned in the aftermath of the governor and his inner circle’s leaked text messages, which were offensive and laid bare political machinations, as well as the corruption charges leveled against two former agency heads and contractors.

The most recent departures include the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture’s chairman, Eduardo Arosemena; Gerardo Portela, the government’s chief investment officer, president of the Economic Development Bank and executive director of the Housing Finance Authority. José Santiago, who was temporarily named the governor’s representative to the fiscal board, also stepped down.

Even closer to the governor, his father, Pedro Rosselló, the former two-term governor, resigned as a member of the NPP’s Governing Board, saying he was “disaffiliating” himself from the party, as well as the Statehood Commission, which was established by his son to achieve Puerto Rico’s admission as a state. Some three other commission members have called for the governor’s resignation, a member of the advocacy group, Zoraida Fonalledas, said in a letter to the governor. She is also the national committeewoman of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico.

House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez tasked a group of attorney’s to investigate whether any of the leaked messages constitute a crime. He said he should be receiving that report by tomorrow, when he would announce a decision regarding whether to initiate impeachment proceedings in his chamber.

Former Bar Association President Julio Fontanet told Caribbean Business that any action taken by the House, in terms of charges against the governor should be the subject of formal investigations as well.

“Impeachment is a political trial, it is not an ordinary court case. They would vote and the determination or the sentence to be imposed is the destitution or the impeachment of the governor. That’s the only determination senators would make. That is not, however, an impediment so that subsequently the governor be judged criminally in court.”

He explained that the House would have to investigate the leaked messages further and gather evidence. For example, he said, lawmakers could interview the supervisor of Puerto Rican Independence Party Sen. Juan Dalmau’s wife. In the governor’s chat, the post that she serves at the Financial Institutions Commissioner’s Office was mentioned as one that should be occupied by an NPP supporter.

Fontanet said that were her supervisor to allege that someone raised the issue, it could constitute discrimination, or a violation of Article 167 of the Penal Code.

An impeachment process initiates at the House and it if two-thirds of the representatives find cause to start impeachment proceedings, the Senate would then examine the evidence compiled.

Three-fourths of the senators would have to approve impeachment. The Senate would then hold a “political trial” in which senators serve as jury, a process that would be presided by Puerto Rico Chief Justice Maite Oronoz, but who would not give a ruling.

—CB reporter María Miranda contributed to this article.

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