Thursday, December 8, 2022

Puerto Rico’s Governance Crisis

By on July 21, 2019

Editor’s note: The following was first published in the July 18-24, 2019, issue of Caribbean Business.

Puerto Rico is on high alert. With the FBI’s recent arrests of government cabinet members and disclosure of their private “chats,” the past 10 days have evidenced the highest levels of corruption and theft, and the lowest levels of morals, decency and ethics by a governor in the island’s history. There is a growing call for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to immediately resign his office. And he should.

The ingredients of this corruption scandal are troubling:

First, on June 25, Gov. Rosselló’s then-Chief of Staff, Treasury Secretary & CFO Raúl Maldonado publicly stated in a radio interview that the government of Puerto Rico “acts like the mob” (“mafia institucional”). Maldonado also stated that corruption, fraud, bribery, extortion and influence-peddling abound at the highest levels in the government of Puerto Rico. Within hours, Rosselló fired Maldonado. A couple of days later, Maldonado’s son, Raúl Jr., stated that the governor is part of this orchestrated corruption. In response, the Puerto Rico Police Department, violating all protocols and civil rights, disclosed that they would start an investigation of Maldonado Jr., who had a gun owner’s license and multiple registered firearms in his home. His home address was also published by the police. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and private attorneys jumped to Maldonado’s defense and the “investigation” was dropped.

Second, on July 10, the FBI issued warrants for the arrest of six people, including Gov. Rosselló’s former Education secretary and the former director of Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program. The charges stem from an inappropriate relationship to obtain contracts with the accounting and consulting firm BDO Puerto Rico, a member of BDO Global. It became clear that private lobbyists were placed inside government agencies to direct contracts their way. Trials have been scheduled for the summer of 2020.

Third, on July 13, more than 880 pages of a private chat among the governor and his closest advisers were published. The chat shows private conversations full of insults against many public officials, acts of corruption, misogyny, strategies to destroy reputations, homophobia, orders by the governor to manipulate public opinion and bribe journalists and, the worst, making fun of the those who died after Hurricane Maria, whose bodies were lying on the floor in the state morgue.

After reading the 889 pages of the “chat,” the statements from Raúl Maldonado and the federal indictments, it is evident the current administration of the government of Puerto Rico is acting like a bunch of thugs. Ricardo Rosselló and his cronies are unfit to govern. There are no adults in La Fortaleza. There is no honor. There is no integrity. It could not have come at a worse time, as Puerto Rico is in financial bankruptcy and recovering from the horrible effects of Hurricane Maria.

The governor must resign.

We must restore honor and credibility in Puerto Rico. During a 2018 commencement speech at my alma mater, Princeton University, I stated that the lesson is loud and clear: Lack of integrity always has dire consequences. Silence is not an option. We must all learn to denounce what needs to be denounced; fix what is broken; right what is wrong and not allow anyone, regardless of their agenda, to weaken democracy. We must all become vital voices to restore our democratic principles and institutions. I am ready to lead.

—Eduardo Bhatia is an attorney-at-law, former 15th president of the P.R. Senate and a former executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. He is the Senate’s minority leader and is running for governor in the 2020 primaries under the Popular Democratic Party.

—The views expressed in the Opinion section are the writers’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of Caribbean Business.

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