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How Investigative Journalism Sparked a Revolution in Puerto Rico and Brought Down Governor Rosselló
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=51501"><span class="small">Democracy Now!</span></a>   
Sunday, 17 November 2019 09:43

Excerpt: "As anti-government protests rage across the globe, from Chile to Hong Kong to Iraq, we look back at this year's historic demonstrations in Puerto Rico that ousted Governor Ricardo Rosselló in July."

A protest in Puerto Rico. (photo: teleSUR)
A protest in Puerto Rico. (photo: teleSUR)


How Investigative Journalism Sparked a Revolution in Puerto Rico and Brought Down Governor Rosselló

By Democracy Now!

17 November 19

 

s anti-government protests rage across the globe, from Chile to Hong Kong to Iraq, we look back at this year’s historic demonstrations in Puerto Rico that ousted Governor Ricardo Rosselló in July. The protests were propelled in part by the reporting of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico, which published hundreds of pages of chats between Rosselló and other government officials. The exposé was known as “RickyLeaks.” The leaked documents exposed rampant corruption within the Puerto Rican government and revealed Rosselló had mocked victims of Hurricane Maria. The messages also included violently misogynistic and homophobic remarks. We speak with three members of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico: executive director Carla Minet, journalist Luis Valentín and development director Rigel Lugo.

Transcript


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, as anti-government protests rage across the globe, from Chile to Hong Kong to Iraq, we look back at this year’s historic demonstrations in Puerto Rico that ousted Governor Ricardo Rosselló in July. The protests were propelled in part by the reporting of the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico, which published hundreds of pages of chats between Rosselló and other government officials. The exposé was known as “RickyLeaks.” The leaked documents exposed rampant corruption within the Puerto Rican government and revealed Rosselló had mocked victims of Hurricane Maria. The messages also included violently misogynistic and homophobic remarks.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, this week, the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico is being awarded the James Aronson Award for Media in the Public Interest. They are getting this award for providing in-depth information and analysis vital to the people of Puerto Rico and the United States overall.

We’re joined by three members of the organization: the executive director, Carla Minet; journalist Luis Valentín; and development director Rigel Lugo.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Congratulations on your incredible work. You know, we’ve been covering the protests in Ecuador. We’ve been covering the protests in Chile. But it was the protests in Puerto Rico that brought down the governor, Rosselló. Can you talk about the latest, what is happening in Puerto Rico right now?

CARLA MINET: Well, you know, some things have come back to normal, but there is still instability in terms of — there are still a few members of the chat that are part of the actual administration of Wanda Vázquez, which was the justice secretary for Ricardo Rosselló. So, there is still a sense of things not being solved permanently, in terms of corruption, in terms of the contracts been awarded to people close to the administration. So, there are many things to be solved. And in terms of — there is a sense of impunity also, because nobody has been brought to justice for this chat and for the corruption scheme, which is the bigger issue here. And we are still expecting for local government, local justice department, to do something about it, and also for federal Justice Department to do something about it. So, there’s a sense of waiting for things to happen.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But, of course, there’s lots still to investigate. I know you have a — a part of your site deals with — you title it ”Los Chavos de María,” “The Money from Maria.” You’re tracking, trying to find out where’s all this money. President Trump is often saying, “Oh, I gave $90 billion to Puerto Rico.” Of course, it’s far less than that that has actually reached the island. And most people don’t really know where that money has gone. Tell us about — Luis, about the work you’ve been doing to try to track where is this aid going.

LUIS VALENTÍN: As you said, ”Los Chavos de María” is the new project of the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, which is basically an oversight project into how the money is being disbursed, used, not being disbursed, all the bureaucracy that entails the recovery process and how both the federal government and the local government deal with — you know, with the projects that they have to do to rebuild, from houses to the infrastructure that was damaged by Hurricane Maria. And I think it’s a very important component of the work that the Centro is doing right now. Basically, it puts in one website important data, that it’s spread all around, but you have it in one website. You have important stories that have already been published about different sectors of the Puerto Rico community and how they are being affected by this recovery process after Maria. So, I think it’s a very important work that the center is right now doing to try to, you know, put good journalism to work in such an important process for the island.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to those chats, for people to remember, and the significance of them and how you decided what to do with the chats, ultimately deciding to release them all. These were what? Something like 800 pages of chats between the governor, Rosselló, and his top buddies inside and outside government. So, you had the governor writing about Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was the former speaker of the New York City Council, well known Puerto Rican leader, criticizing Tom Perez, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, for backing statehood for Puerto Rico, and Rosselló writes, “Our people should come out and defend Tom and beat up that whore.” And then you have Christian Sobrino Vega, who was Puerto Rico’s chief fiscal officer and Rosselló’s representative on the federal board responsible for managing Puerto Rico’s financial crisis, talking about Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico, saying, “I am salivating to shoot her.” “You’d be doing me a grand favor,” the governor responds, according to the chats. At one point, the governor writes the San Juan Mayor must be “off her meds” by deciding to run against him. “Either that,” he said, “or she’s a tremendous HP,” using the Spanish acronym for “son/daughter of a bitch.” Talk about how you got those chats, when you got them, when you decided to release these kinds of quotes, and then, ultimately, the whole thing.

CARLA MINET: We had been working in an investigation for three to four weeks. Luis Valentín and Omaya Sosa Pascual and me had been looking into some of the chat members, before the chat even appeared. And we were basically trying to understand how the contracts, public contracts, were being awarded, how they were controlling the narrative, in terms of the government being a very centralized communications scheme, and basically some corruption, how they were influencing the way the governor’s Cabinet members were giving contracts.

So, in this process, in this investigative process, we knew there was a source that had access to the chat, and we started talking to that source. That source had leaked a few pages of the chat, 11 to 20 pages, in different moments. And we asked the source to give us the whole 889 pages. We didn’t want to publish a leak, because — a part of the chat, because they could bring things out of context, and because we needed the whole chat to corroborate parts of our own investigation. So, we insisted for days, maybe weeks, so we could have the whole chat. And finally, the source gave us the whole document.

We immediately rushed into, you know, doing reporting about corroborating, first of all, the document and, you know, making sure, as much as we could, that it was authentic. And we did a basic reporting on that for a few hours, and I think in seven hours since we got the document, and then we published at 2 a.m. on
a Saturday morning.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what happened next.

CARLA MINET: Well, you know, people had started to get out in the streets because of the first leaks. Especially feminist groups, women’s organizations had started already some protest. But then, when this came out, I think in one — next day, immediately, people started gathering in front of La Fortaleza to protest. And they started doing this every day, like for more than 15 days in a row. So, since the first day, since the first big protest started, up until the end, there was a big pressure on the government, on the governor especially, to resign. That was the main message of the protesters. And that was one of the reasons we think it was effective, because it was a single message, a very strong message, consensus message across all groups — LGBT community, the women’s group, the communities. Even the professional associations were protesting openly against the governor, so…

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, of course, most people aren’t aware that, for months previous, there had been a small group, this — la Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, the Feminist Collective in Construction, that had been protesting outside the governor’s mansion because of the epidemic of killings —

CARLA MINET: Violence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — and domestic violence against women throughout the country.

CARLA MINET: Definitely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: There had been a huge surge after the hurricane of killings of women.

CARLA MINET: Yeah, yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And they were — and the governor was not listening to them. So, when these homophobic and misogynistic remarks come out from the governor himself, I’m sure that that must have had enormous impact on the women of the country.

RIGEL LUGO: Definitely.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’m wondering if you could about that, yeah.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes, definitely, the feminist issues were at the center of all manifestations, and there was outrage in the public, because it was not only that the governor was not listening, but that he and his buddies were actively being misogynistic in their chat. It was the confirmation of what everyone was thinking about what was going on behind closed doors, the problem of lack of access, the problem of — I mean, besides that, the corruption that was going on with his buddies and —

CARLA MINET: And the public policy decisions that affected —

RIGEL LUGO: Exactly, exactly.

CARLA MINET: — so many women. You know, not giving budget to the women’s office, not — you know, not dealing with their issues was — it seemed like it was just accidental, until the chat came out, and you saw that there was a logic between — behind all of those public policy decisions, because it’s just that they didn’t want to deal with that.

LUIS VALENTÍN: I should add, they actively made fun of the group in the chat —

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

LUIS VALENTÍN: — of one of their members.

CARLA MINET: Yeah, of Colectiva Feminista.

LUIS VALENTÍN: And I think that it shows how, like, you know, this group has been protesting for months before the chat, but for things that, you know, all of a sudden you see in the chat, and they’re making fun of you. And the public discourse of the administration until that point was that they were open and that they were sitting down on the table and that they were willing to make public policy decisions in favor of that group. And all of a sudden, you find out, like, no, that it was all — you know, it was a lie, pretty much.

AMY GOODMAN: And they’re making fun of not only these groups that are protesting — 

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — but perhaps the most unforgivable of all was making fun of the survivors and those who died.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

CARLA MINET: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about those chats that were taking place? And again, the significance of this supposed — they’re sharing classified documents in these chats, that are also including friends, business buddies, etc.

RIGEL LUGO: That’s the illegal aspect of the chat, I mean, that there were members of the Cabinet, and there were nonmembers and buddies that were having access to confidential information. But the thing about the deaths is very significant, because I think people were dismissive maybe at first, thinking, “Well, there is an issue of accountability, but maybe it was not on purpose. But maybe it’s just they were incapable of managing this disaster because of its magnitude.” But then it was evident that they just didn’t care. And they just — it wasn’t only that they didn’t care, but that they were making fun of our deaths, of our people. And that was intolerable.

CARLA MINET: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And did you expect — I asked you this Saturday night at the event that you held in East Harlem. Did you expect the kind of reaction that then mushroomed over the next few days, to the point that it was the first time in the history of Puerto Rico, in the history of United States, a governor was forced to resign by a mass protest?

CARLA MINET: We didn’t. We couldn’t have. We really were just trying to do our job in terms of getting the information to the public as fast as we could, you know, and do our reporting. Once we put out the chat, three days after that, we put a big corruption story of some of the chat members, in which some of the chat members were involved. And we didn’t — we never expected for things to go that way. But also, you always hope for things to change and for people to react to your stories, of course. But there was no possible prediction that could have —

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s talk about who you are, the Center for Investigative Reporting in Puerto Rico — I mean, largely a group of women, who have brought down the governor — but also the model of journalism. I mean, you have the major papers and television in Puerto Rico, but it was you guys. Explain how the Center for Investigative Reporting got started and how you sustain yourselves.

CARLA MINET: Well, I can explain the story. And so, the center started 12 years ago by two investigative journalists — Omaya Sosa Pascual and Oscar Serrano. They founded the center when there was a context of a closing of supplements — cultural supplements, business supplements and environmental supplements. There was a lack of investigation in commercial media. You know, in the following years, there have been layoffs in main newspapers. So, the opportunities to do accountability work and investigative work in Puerto Rico were very limited. In that context, the center, you know, have been working most of the time behind the scenes, in a very low-profile aspect. But we have managed to, you know, make a body of work that is important and that lets you see the history of Puerto Rico, in a way, looking through investigative reporting for the past 12 years. We are a nonprofit center. And we basically have a mix of funding. Rigel?

RIGEL LUGO: Yes, yes. We’re the only nonprofit center for investigative journalism in Puerto Rico and, I think, also the Caribbean. And we collaborate indeed with other Caribbean countries, with training and mentoring in investigative journalism. But, yes, we are a nonprofit organization, and we receive funds from foundations and individual donations. That’s the main way we receive our funding.

AMY GOODMAN: And you work with universities?

RIGEL LUGO: Yes, we collaborate with universities for internships, for exchanges —

CARLA MINET: Seminars.

RIGEL LUGO: — investigative projects, seminars.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask — Rigel, one of the things that you mentioned on Saturday night was that you began, increasingly — ’cause I should say that you were the first organization to really document the undercounting of the deaths on Maria.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That then other media organizations and university think tanks developed their own studies, but you were the first ones on the ground to say that the government was not telling the truth about the number of people killed.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But you mentioned that you’ve increasingly been translating your articles into English —

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — and that now you’re getting more traffic on your website from the United States —

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — than you are from Puerto Rico.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes. We have seen a surge in readership from the United States. And some stories have been — even have had more readership from the United States than Puerto Rico, mostly in the context of the hurricane, but it has continued to rise afterwards. I think —

CARLA MINET: And it relates to the migration.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

CARLA MINET: You know, right now there are more Puerto Ricans in the U.S. than Puerto Ricans in the island.

AMY GOODMAN: And is it your sense that it’s Puerto Ricans in the mainland United States that are reading or overall?

CARLA MINET: There is a an overall public, because there are many processes going on in the island that are of interest to the U.S. non-Puerto Rican population, like the bankruptcy process, like the recovery process. And we know that most of the contracts and the money of the recovery process is going to North American companies, not to Puerto Rican companies. So, there is business going on in Puerto Rico right now.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

CARLA MINET: You know, disaster money, all the disaster money, which brings a lot of interest.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, in the bankruptcy process is the lawyers.

CARLA MINET: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I mean, I think that the estimates are now that close to a billion dollars will be paid out in legal fees to all the people dealing with the bankruptcy process and —

CARLA MINET: Death and —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — lawyers getting paid $800 an hour.

CARLA MINET: Luis did — Luis has done a lot of reporting on the spending.

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah. We basically had, last year, I think, an important series called ”Los Ejecutivos de la Quiebra,” or “The Bankruptcy Executives.” And it was a four-part series in which we took a deep dive into how this money was being spent by the Puerto Rico government for the lawyers’ and advisers’ use, not only by the board, but also by the government, by official committees that represent retirees and unsecured creditors in the bankruptcy process. And when you add all that up, you find that you’re paying millions and millions. And let’s not talk about millions of dollars. Let’s talk about someone that is making $1,000 an hour and that, in a week, could make what a average Puerto Rico family makes in a year. And when you add all that up, you find how, you know —

CARLA MINET: Unfair.

LUIS VALENTÍN: — unfair the whole — this whole process has been.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And that’s not just the actual — there’s not just the actual payment to the lawyers, but many of them come from the United States.

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: They stay in five-star hotels.

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

LUIS VALENTÍN: No, mostly.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: All their travel, all their meals.

LUIS VALENTÍN: And we cover all of that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the Puerto Rican government is paying for it.

CARLA MINET: Even the Ubers.

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah, I mean, and when —

RIGEL LUGO: In a context of austerity, that austerity is being demanded from the people. And this is outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: And the cutting of funding to University of Puerto Rico and other —

RIGEL LUGO: Yes, for essential services.

AMY GOODMAN: Just recently here in New York City, former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who they were talking about as — well, using the W word — at a protest demanding that the MoMA, Museum of Modern Art, cut ties with trustee Steve Tannenbaum, whose vulture fund owns at least two-and-a-half billion dollars of Puerto Rico’s debt and has profited off the island’s financial crisis. GoldenTree Asset Management is one of the top three holders of Puerto Rico’s debt. The former speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, said, “We cannot allow these cultural institutions to be used as a way of whitewashing money. Puerto Rico is suffering, people are losing their pensions, there are privatization of resources, schools are closing down. These practices must end,” she said, as she was hauled off.

CARLA MINET: There are also — there are many movements in terms of — also from universities.

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah.

CARLA MINET: We were recently at Yale. And there, they have also an organization calling for the university to —

LUIS VALENTÍN: Divest.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Divest.

LUIS VALENTÍN: To divest.

CARLA MINET: To divest from some of these hedge funds, basically, or, yeah, different kinds of fund that are invested in Puerto Rico. So, you know, it is an issue that is relevant to the U.S. audience and in general, because Puerto Rico, even though it is like an experiment island for all this debt process and the bankruptcy process and the recovery process in the way it’s been handled, which has no precedents in the U.S., these things could happen in any city of the U.S. So, I think that’s something that brings a lot of interest into Puerto Rico, also from investigators, from academics, etc., you know, people looking into Puerto Rico.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Any sense — because I know the D.C. control board lasted about five years, and we’re already heading into what? The fourth year of PROMESA, at least? And any sense you’re getting of any attempt by the federal government to begin shutting down PROMESA?

LUIS VALENTÍN: Oh, that — it’s two questions. According to what is on the table right now and how PROMESA is, you know, right now, it calls for four years of consecutive balanced budgets and access to the markets. As the very executive director of the board, Natalie Jaresko, has said, we haven’t had not even one year of balanced budget.

RIGEL LUGO: Exactly.

LUIS VALENTÍN: So, let’s —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: So we’re looking at maybe 10 years, at least, of PROMESA.

LUIS VALENTÍN: We’re looking into 2024, 2025.

CARLA MINET: At least.

RIGEL LUGO: At least.

LUIS VALENTÍN: And that’s what they say. But, of course, the expectation is that it will run, you know, after that, and it could be 10 years. And we should say that means millions of dollars of Puerto Rico money —

CARLA MINET: Public money.

LUIS VALENTÍN: — to pay for it, for their expenses, because everything is financed by the Puerto Rico people. The federal government doesn’t spend a cent, let’s say, let’s put it that way, on its operations. So —

RIGEL LUGO: And meanwhile, public education is on the line.

LUIS VALENTÍN: No, of course.

RIGEL LUGO: Meanwhile, essential services are on the line.

LUIS VALENTÍN: They’ve been very clear on what the agenda is. And that’s the famous fiscal plan, and that’s basically an austerity recipe for the island in how they manage their money.

AMY GOODMAN: When you talk about the corruption, former top official at FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, arrested just a few weeks ago for allegedly taking bribes from the head of a company who received $1.8 billion in federal contracts to repair Puerto Rico’s power grid after Hurricane Maria. Former Deputy FEMA Administrator Ahsha Tribble reportedly accepted lavish gifts from Donald Keith Ellison, the head of a company called Cobra Acquisitions. The gifts included first-class plane tickets, hotel rooms, helicopter ride over Puerto Rico, New York City apartment and access to one of Ellison’s credit cards. How do you get at these stories? And also, how does the mainstream media, the for-profit media in Puerto Rico — Luis, when you were having your event with Juan, you were talking about the relationships you have with these reporters. You’re this upstart nonprofit news organization, and you move in, and you’re breaking more stories than they are, to say the least.

CARLA MINET: Well, you know, we have a —

AMY GOODMAN: Carla.

CARLA MINET: — really well-trained group, which focuses on — you know, basically, on accountability. We don’t do birthdays. We don’t do a press conference. We only do accountability reporting. So, as long as we keep focusing on that, we can get to those stories. We have right now two teams, basically: one team which is doing investigative reporting on public policy issues, mainly, and the other group which is doing — focusing in the recovery process accountability and following the money and following the contracts, etc. So, in that sense, we have a lot of sources, especially in the last two years, since we did the Maria’s death project and also because of the chat investigation. We’ve gotten a lot of tips from people who trust our reporting —

RIGEL LUGO: Yes.

CARLA MINET: — and follow us consistently. So, that’s been very important to us, you know, people talking and sending us documents and sending us tips and also sources, you know, trusting us, even some of them anonymous, obviously. But we do, you know, a very important work of fact-checking and, you know, having corroborate every source. And we go out with these investigations that are important. They sometimes, and most of the time, influence other media coverage, which is important to us, because that’s the point. It’s not owning a story, but, you know, just influencing changes. And in that sense, it’s important that local media usually picks up where we left the story.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re winning the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Reporting for reporting in the public service tonight. You’re being recognized around the country. You were just speaking at Yale. You were in East Harlem. If you can talk about the influence you’re having on the rest of the media landscape in Puerto Rico, not to mention here in this country, overall, mainland United States, since, of course, Puerto Rico is a part of this country?

LUIS VALENTÍN: I think, as Carla said, it’s not about us owning the story. I think the work that we’re doing complements and serves as a reference for colleagues and fellow journalists, not only in Puerto Rico, but also in the mainland, as you said, and shows that good journalism works, and it’s important. And I think —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a lawyer and a journalist.

CARLA MINET: Yeah.

LUIS VALENTÍN: I’m a lawyer and a journalist, yes. And, you know, for example, as I said on Saturday, in Puerto Rico, you find a lot of collaboration that goes behind the scenes between journalists. The work that they do, the work that we do complements a lot. And sometimes you don’t see that on a byline or in the story, but, you know, you have colleagues that ask you. And as Carla said, it’s not about owning the story. I will not keep quiet and say, “Oh, no, I’m not helping my competition.” We don’t see it that way. We help because, at the end of the day, it’s all about good journalism and the effect that it could have in society. And I think this summer was a perfect example of what good journalism could do.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re willing to share our motto with you, which is “Steal this story, please.”

CARLA MINET: Yeah, yes, yes.

RIGEL LUGO: Exactly.

LUIS VALENTÍN: Exactly. That’s a perfect motto to go by, definitely.

CARLA MINET: No, and also the center has a training.

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah.

RIGEL LUGO: Yeah, and our model is, we don’t — our readership comes from commercial media, too. I mean, we share our stories for free with everyone. And we publish them, of course, on our website, but it’s not the main way to get access to our stories. They are republished by a lot of our allies.

CARLA MINET: Commercial media.

RIGEL LUGO: Commercial media, yeah.

CARLA MINET: And also we have a training institute in which we do a lot of training during the year, and we invite commercial journalists to train with us. And we develop a very direct relationship with them. Sometimes it’s a mentoring relationship. Sometimes it’s collaboration. We do stories together, and they publish on commercial media at the same time they publish on our website.

AMY GOODMAN: Can I ask you, quickly, what’s happening with the power grid? I mean, when we were down in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, we were passing in Old San Juan by a little air — by a little bed-and-breakfast place that was completely solar-powered. And they were so proud. They were the only place that had electricity in the area where we were. But let’s go to the bigger point of the power grid and what is happening with it. The possibility of a sustainable system in Puerto Rico, what is stopping it? What’s getting in the way? What are the incentives working against that?

LUIS VALENTÍN: I would say that what’s stopping that is the agenda, openly, from the government to privatize the public corporation, the public power corporation. I mean, the —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And to move from oil to natural gas, right?

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah. And, I mean, when you see that, it’s no surprise that all the efforts to try to move, like actively move — because you could say it, “Oh, yes, let’s move to renewables,” but nothing happens. They recently unveiled a 20 billion plan to modernize the power grid. But you have to ask yourself about how that plays when you’re going into the bankruptcy court and saying that “We want to prioritize. We’re selling. You know, we want to settle with our creditors.” You know, there’s a lot of open questions on that end. And the effect that it has is that nothing happens. The power grid is extremely fragile. People are even afraid that even a tropical storm would damage the whole thing like this, and you’ll be out of power for weeks or months. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Does the federal government, FEMA, put pressure not to go in a sustainable direction?

LUIS VALENTÍN: I would say that right now what’s happening with the federal money allocated for the power grid is that it’s allocated, but it hasn’t been disbursed. You know, we could — you know, we could, for hours, how they’re handling and if it has — if they’re actively pushing for not you know, moving to renewables or not moving to a sustainable way to produce energy. But, you know, what’s a fact is that there’s a lot of money that was supposed to go into the power grid restoration, and it hasn’t been disbursed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And isn’t the problem also that FEMA requirements are that when they give aid, they have to rebuild systems to the way they were previously —

CARLA MINET: Yes.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: — not to modernize or improve them?

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yes.

CARLA MINET: They are given money in the 428 — as part of the 428 Section of the Stafford Act. And that means that they are giving money to rebuild better, but that means a lot of bureaucracy, and that is an experiment that has not been — you know, is for the first time being implemented —

RIGEL LUGO: Implemented.

CARLA MINET: — in Puerto Rico. It hasn’t happened that way in previous disasters in the U.S. So, it’s meant a lot of delay in the process, because the three parts — the power authority, the government of Puerto Rico and the FEMA — have to agree on the cost of every single detail. And that is a very bureaucratic process, which is slowing things down a lot. And it also sums to the fact that — of corruption, you know, corruption, not only from the local government, but from FEMA, as Ahsha Tribble case. It’s also created this problem of —

RIGEL LUGO: Who’s getting the contract.

CARLA MINET: — who’s gotten the contract, the lack of trust, how they are being awarded, etc. So it slows the process a lot.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You know, I visit the PROMESA site periodically, and I never cease to be amazed by —

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what PROMESA is.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the oversight board, the oversight board that Congress created. But they have a public site where they have all their letters and meetings and all their contracts supposedly listed. I never cease to be amazed at the number of letters that they’re constantly issuing to the governor or to the Legislature: “You haven’t done this. You haven’t done that. We don’t approve this. We don’t approve that.” I’m amazed that anything gets done, the way that they’re constantly demanding reports and stuff from the government.

CARLA MINET: Yeah, they are another layer of bureaucracy in the island. And as Luis said, they have been for four years now. And when you say, “What is the effect of this?” they have nothing to account for, really. They have done so little in terms of fiscal improvement, because since the economic problem in the islands keeps deepening, especially since hurricanes, things are not going to be fiscally better, you know. Now, with the recovery money, there was an expectation, but even the board itself have cutting —

LUIS VALENTÍN: They have been decreasing the amount of money that they thought that they would receive from the federal government.

CARLA MINET: They have to correct their projections.

LUIS VALENTÍN: And that — yeah, as Carla said, like, I mean, you’re trying to implement this austerity recipe when your economy needs something completely different. So, it’s like this spiral, that it’s deepening and deepening, and, you know, people affected are the Puerto Rico people, pretty much.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s end where we began, talking about the current government. Wanda Vázquez was what? The justice secretary of Rosselló, and she’s now the governor. First there was Rosselló. He was forced out, and then the protesters forced out the next person. How did Wanda Vázquez remain? And how does she exert that continued power of the Rosselló government? He’s what? Living in Virginia now?

CARLA MINET: We think so. We have not heard officially, but we have heard some sources saying that.

AMY GOODMAN: Along with his dad, who was also the former governor?

CARLA MINET: Yeah, exactly. So, Wanda Vázquez is like a — it’s like a figure that can maybe hold the post until next election comes.

AMY GOODMAN: Which are when?

CARLA MINET: Which is next year, November 2020. So, I think, since she didn’t, initially at least, had any political aspirations, she was left to be there until the party reorganizes and, you know, can do the the political calculations for 2020. So, in that sense, she is a non-threatening figure to be kept there. But she’s been struggling, really, because the administration, you know, all the resignations, all the lack of trust, all the pressure from the federal government, the pressure from the board, and the expectations from the people for things to really change. I think she has to do a lot to deal with that. But she will probably stay there, because, you know, to the governing party, in the end, which is the New Progressive Party, that’s what is the best move for them.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I have a question, just as a history buff. You mentioned Pierluisi, who was like governor for a day or something like that, or two days. Is he now considered one of the official — in the pantheon of governors of Puerto Rico, is he one of the official people who served as governor of Puerto Rico, even if he was only in there for a couple days?

LUIS VALENTÍN: That’s an open question, because, like, yeah —

AMY GOODMAN: Between Rosselló and Vázquez.

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You mean, does he —

LUIS VALENTÍN: Do you consider him as one of Puerto Rico governors?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: One of Puerto Rico’s governors.

RIGEL LUGO: If I were him, I wouldn’t want to be considered.

LUIS VALENTÍN: But the decision from the local Supreme Court leaves that question kind of like open. Of course, it nullifies what happened.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Right.

LUIS VALENTÍN: But you have to ask yourself: Does that mean that it never happened? So, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: What’s the rule? Like, you have to sleep one night in the governor’s bed?

RIGEL LUGO: Exactly.

LUIS VALENTÍN: He actually slept two nights.

CARLA MINET: But then again — but then again, maybe there’s a reason why he is trying to run —

LUIS VALENTÍN: Yeah, he’s running for an election.

CARLA MINET: — for 2020, because maybe he wants to correct the president.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us, and congratulations on your work and your awards, Carla Minet, Luis Valentín and Rigel Lugo of Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Reporting. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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