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Unrest in Puerto Rico enters 2nd week as protesters demand resignation of embattled governor

By Manuel Crespo Feliciano, Accuweather en Español staff writer
July 19, 2019, 8:23:03 AM EDT

Protesters took to the streets of San Juan on Wednesday for an eighth consecutive day, demanding the resignation of embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló. Demonstrators around the world joined them in places like New York City in a show of solidarity.

Rossello has been all but abandoned politically in recent days, since almost everyone on the island -- including the top leaders of his own political party -- has expressed discontent with him holding the executive power of the island since a trove of leaked documents stirred up a corruption scandal.

Manuel Crespo

Demonstrators gathered in San Juan on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, calling for embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign amid a corruption scandal.

Manuel Crespo

Demonstrators took to the streets in San Juan on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, calling for embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign amid a corruption scandal.

Manuel Crespo

Protesters filled the streets in San Juan on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, carrying signs and calling for embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

Manuel Crespo

Protesters filled the streets in San Juan on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, calling for embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign amid a corruption scandal.

Manuel Crespo

Demonstrators gathered in San Juan on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, calling for embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign amid a corruption scandal.

Manuel Crespo

Protesters filled the streets in San Juan on Wednesday, July 17, 2019, calling for embattled Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.


On Wednesday evening, a multitude a Puerto Ricans took over the capital's old city again calling for him to step down; Rosello has refused to resign.

Some of Puerto Rico’s biggest celebrities have joined the demonstrations, including artists such as Residente, Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin, and iLe. Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda joined the petition and one of the protests that was held in New York City on Wednesday.

The scandal as centered on arrests of some of the directors of the main government agencies of the country, and the inflammatory conversations leaked in which Rosselló and members of his staff insult victims of Hurricane Maria along with women and disabled people. Some 889 pages of a chat logs were leaked. In addition, several members of the Puerto Rican government have been arrested and charged with illegally funneling money to unqualified contractors.

The scandal has thrown recovery efforts, which have already been clouded by delays in granting funds and a climate of economic stagnation that is plaguing the island, into further uncertainty.

An indication of this is that on Wednesday, the federal senate finance committee addressed a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex M. Azar II, expressed concern about the management of federal funds for health services in Puerto Rico.

"The recent and unfortunate allegations regarding the misuse of public funds in Puerto Rico, along with an ongoing lack of transparency in the government of Puerto Rico, raises important questions as Congress once again faces decisions on federal Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico," reads the letter signed by seven senators committee members.

Azar’s letter comes after the FBI last week arrested the former executive director of the Health Insurance Administration (ASES), Ángela Ávila. FBI agents also took former Secretary of Education Julia Keleher, a U.S. entrepreneur who led the agency until her resignation in April of this year, into custody.

There is also Fernando Scherrer, president of BDO Puerto Rico, a company that had millionaire contracts with the government and which today is peppered with allegations of participating in a fraud scheme of federal funds.

According to the filtered information of the leaked chat, it is clear that the members carried out partisan political work during working hours, orchestrated influencing political narrative through the country's social networks and media, and manipulated political polls to improve the governor's public image.

In addition, the communications are full of numerous jokes of a sexual and misogynistic nature. Some remarks ridicule the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, and even could be interpreted as death threats.

"Behind the conversations of the Telegram chat between the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, and some of his closest collaborators is a multi-million-dollar network of corruption," reads an investigation published yesterday by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI).

"In the midst of the worst fiscal crisis in its modern history, the island is subject to a looting of public funds perpetrated through the sale of influence, hiring and obtaining benefits in the Government, according to an investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) ", adds the letter published by the same journalistic organization that was in charge of investigating in depth the figures of the deaths associated with the passage of Hurricane Maria on the island.

Long-term effects on recovery after Maria.

Although the unrest on the island is not directly related to the funds allocated to the recovery after Hurricane Maria, in the eyes of the economist José Alameda, there could be an effect on the regulation and distribution of said funds in the future.

"When to this situation you add the element that we are recovering from Hurricane Maria, where federal funds come then to mitigate the damage, the impact is already too much," said Alameda, a professor of the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.

In addition, Alameda said that the whole situation is compounded by a process of government bankruptcy and debt restructuring, which generates a discouraging picture to the private sector seeking to invest in the island.

For its part, a spokesperson for FEMA indicated that the agency continues to work closely with the government of Puerto Rico in the recovery process of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

"Policies and procedures are in place, to ensure the funding requested meets eligibility criteria under FEMA's Public Assistance and Mitigation. Our specialists work with the local and state officials to make sure the funding requested for Public Assistance, and Mitigation projects is for eligible work and for reasonable costs. All necessary and required documentation is submitted for each project and verified before funding is approved," the agency said in a written statement.

In addition, the FEMA spokesperson warned that any case of misuse or abuse of federal funding will be referred to DHS Office of Inspector General for audit or further action.

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