Saturday, April 4, 2020

Puerto Ricans Protest Disaster Recovery Mismanagement

By on January 21, 2020

(María Soledad Dávila Calero /CB)

SAN JUAN — Protests erupted Monday around Puerto Rico and stateside as a response to the discovery of a government warehouse in Ponce that was filled with disaster relief items such as cots, batteries, diapers and rehydration drinks, but despite being located in one of the towns affected by the recent streak of earthquakes, the supplies in the warehouse were not being used.

The longest protest was held in Old San Juan, where people began gathering around noon in front of the governor’s mansion, La Fortaleza, demanding Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garcet’s resignation over the administration’s response to the quakes, which hit the island on Jan. 5 and Jan. 7, followed by more than two dozen magnitude 4.5 or greater tremors and hundreds of aftershocks. At 5 p.m. protesters marched to the Capitol, where they demonstrated for about two hours and then returned to the governor’s mansion, where they stayed well into the night. 

The disaster supplies in the Ponce warehouse were discovered Saturday by Lorenzo Delgado, whose social media alias is El León Fiscalizador, or The Oversight Lion. He streamed via Facebook Live as he entered the Emergency and Disaster Management Bureau (NMEAD by its Spanish initials) warehouse. 

The governor denied knowledge of the facility and ordered Secretary of State Elmer Román to conduct an investigation. At the time, people questioned the designation of Román for the investigation because he was the Public Safety secretary until last month. Additionally, both the Román and Vázquez signed the Joint Operational Catastrophic Incident Plan of Puerto Rico. The Ponce warehouse was listed in said plan. 

The investigation was carried out by the Special Investigations Bureau (NIE by its Spanish acronym). Although the governor didn’t divulge the content of the investigation, Vázquez announced that, “in accordance with the findings, which suggest inaction and omissions in the management of the warehouse and supplies by certain officials, we accept the Bureau’s recommendations so that the preliminary conclusions are referred to the Department of Justice so that a thorough investigation can continue with priority and the corresponding legal actions are taken.”

Vázquez dismissed NMEAD Commissioner Carlos Acevedo, Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat and Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar, arguing that these public officials were responsible for the unused supplies. 

In a statement, the governor said: “After press version released today, I must emphasize that the former Secretary of the Department of Housing, Fernando Gil Enseñat, had his trust withdrawn after he put at risk the disbursement of CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] funds for Puerto Rico.

“Mr. Gil Enseñat made some statements in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development contesting the grant agreement issued by that agency, which were not consulted nor were in keeping with our public policy.

“We will not allow anything to jeopardize the federal funds allocated to Puerto Rico to meet the needs of our people.

Political considerations are not part of my government management. That is clear to all. Whoever says otherwise, is missing the truth.”

As the protest went on Monday in Old San Juan, people in Mayagüez, Ponce, New York and Washington, D.C., also picketed, rebuking the government’s response to the earthquakes. However, in Vieques, the protest was for another grievance. In the island-municipality, people where leaving concrete blocks, some with the names of deceased loved ones, in protest for the lack of healthcare. More than two years after Hurricane Maria, the small island is still without a hospital. This situation is aggravated by ongoing problems with maritime transportation to Vieques. 

However, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón announced Tuesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $39.6 million for the reconstruction of the Susana Centeno Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Vieques

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