This was the week that was in Puerto Rico.
The FBI arrested six people, including current and former administration officials, alleging a corruption scheme, after which the head of a powerful congressional committee called for Gov. Ricardo Rosselló‘s resignation. A new batch of texts or chats became public in which Rosselló and other administration officials used slurs against women. And this all came to light while Rosselló was traveling in Europe for the women’s World Cup, apparently at the invitation of FIFA, providing an optic in which he appears to be disconnected from events on the ground.
Sunday cannot come fast enough.
What happens in Puerto Rico often stays in Puerto Rico, except that the incidences reverberated and ricocheted throughout Washington and certain states, embroiling national figures, including here in Florida, forced to weigh in. It also occurred against the backdrop in which Congress considered approval of over $12 billion in Medicaid funds for the island – which ultimately it did approve. And the corruption allegations play into the hands of President Trump, who has complained often of Puerto Rico corruption and its inept administration, and mishandling of federal aid.
The newsy week got started with the publication of a series of texts or chats in which Rosselló insulted several women, including Melissa Mark-Viverito, the former president of the New York City Council and a fellow Democrat, calling her a puta or whore. It was the latest in a series of chats published by Puerto Rico newspapers in which administration officials appear to circumvent official communication channels to engage in loosey-goosey talk.
Mark-Viverito, for her part, fired back on Twitter, stating in Spanish, “The machismo of Gov. Rosselló is now out in the open. When a macho man wants to denigrate women he uses words such as ‘puta’ to demean, dehumanize and degrade. A person who uses such language against a woman, public figure or not, should not govern Puerto Rico.”
Rosselló later apologized, stating he would no longer use the “chat mechanisms” for conversations with administration officials.
A few days later, the FBI arrests took over the headlines when the federal agency arrested six people, including former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and the former head of the island’s health insurance administration Ángela Ávila-Marrero, alleging “government corruption and fraud with respect to the contracting of goods, services, and personnel.”
The alleged scheme, covering about $15 million, involves agencies’ use of consultants to land government contracts whose funds then pay “unauthorized commissions” to other individuals to lobby government for more contracts. The FBI characterized it as “a corrupt bidding process.”
San Juan, like other state capitals, feeds and nourishes a swamp of consultants who attach themselves to public figures or public agencies to exact contracts and other payments. The feeding at the trough is tolerated because, as the cliche goes, “everybody does it.” And, not to be overlooked, next time it will be the other party’s turn.
Upon arriving in Puerto Rico, Rosselló, who was not implicated in the scheme, said in a news conference, “I am embarrassed to hear of the allegations against former public officials. It is simply unacceptable.” He promised to meet with officials to come up with a plan to combat corruption.
But, under fire and under pressure from all sides, Rosselló, who is up for re-election in 2020, added that he wouldn’t resign. “I am not resigning. I am working for Puerto Rico,” he said in reply to Rep. Raúl Grijalva‘s call for Rosselló to exit the political stage.
“Gov. Rosselló has little time and much to do to restore public faith in his government, and I urge him to take a housecleaning approach as quickly and thoroughly as possible,” said Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee overseeing Puerto Rico. Grijalva called for the governor’s resignation in a Washington Post story which his office retweeted.
Medicaid and Other Cliffs
Soto lamented that the negative news erupted as Congress was considering $12 billion in Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, which was approved and forwarded to the full committee. He co-introduced a separate bill in the House this week calling for parity in Medicaid payments to Puerto Rico and other territories.
Central Florida Rep. Darren Soto (D- Dist. 9) defended Rosselló, saying “Gov. Rosselló was elected by the people of Puerto Rico and he is not the subject of the investigation,” in a story in El Nuevo Día.
President Trump, meanwhile, was uncharacteristically quiet considering previous Twitter rants against Puerto Rico. However, Washington news reports indicate that, under Trump’s direction, the Office of Management and Budget is regularly raking over Puerto Rico’s federal funding with an eye to limiting it.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor