Puerto Rico’s Voice In Washington Calls For Radical Overhaul to Restore Trust

August 9, 2019by By Jim Wyss

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives said a new administration needs to dramatically clean house to restore relations with Washington and ensure the flow of desperately needed aid.

Jenniffer González said Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who took power Wednesday, needs to replace the territory’s political leadership to begin repairing relations with the Donald Trump White House.

González, who is the chairwoman of Puerto Rico’s Republican Party and a major power broker on the island, said there’s some $43 billion in federal aid that has been approved for Puerto Rico but being held up by the political chaos.

“And why isn’t it released? Because many federal agencies and the White House doubt how the funds will be handled,” she said. “The ghost of corruption has put those funds in doubt.”

The only solution, she said repeatedly, is for Vázquez to start over.

“We need fundamental changes here in all the structures of the government, in all the cabinet officials and all of the contracts that the government of Puerto Rico has,” she said. “The time has come to make the people a priority, not politicians.”

Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of 3.2 million people, has been struggling through a decade-long recession and a massive debt crisis. Hurricane Maria in 2017 further ravaged the island’s finances, and more than 30,000 homes are thought to be still without roofs awaiting federal help.

In addition, the island has been in a deep political crisis. It has churned through three governors in the last seven days, after Ricardo Rosselló stepped down Aug. 2 amid mass protests and corruption allegations in his Cabinet, and his successor, Pedro Pierluisi, was sidelined by the island’s Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Vázquez, 59, had been secretary of justice under Rosselló until she was pushed into the governor’s seat — a job she initially said she didn’t want.

The changes come amid intense rumors that González will be offered the No. 2 spot — secretary of state — and be in line to succeed to the governorship if Vázquez ultimately decides to step down before the next election in November 2020.

Speaking to reporters in Puerto Rico’s domed Capitol, González said she would be meeting with Vázquez Thursday afternoon but refused to say whether she had been offered the job as secretary of state. However, she did say that both the head of Puerto Rico’s House and Senate had called her, asking if she would be part of a “consensus” government.

The political maneuvering and machinations have many on the island joking that it would make for a great televised political drama, like Netflix’s “House of Cards” or HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

The island and the Trump administration have been at odds in the past two years, as local authorities have blamed the federal government for dragging its feet on hurricane recovery aid, and Trump has questioned the honesty of local officials.

Last week, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration, citing corruption fears, may place new restrictions on about $8.3 billion in federal aid to the island that are part of a Housing and Urban Development disaster-mitigation program.

That’s why a leadership change is so needed, González said.

“They don’t trust Puerto Rico’s institutions, and a lot of the time it seems like we’re trying to prove their point,” she said. “This will change once our officials change.”

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©2019 Miami Herald

Visit Miami Herald at www.miamiherald.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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