Media reporting is often poor in the best of times, but their reporting on the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s destruction of Puerto Rico has been particularly awful. The media has spilled a tremendous amount of ink writing “human interest” stories describing the terrible suffering of the Puerto Rican people, often with the intent to blame the Trump administration for it.
The real problem with Puerto Rico is the corruption of the local government, which is acting as a massive roadblock to reconstruction efforts. Some examples of this are PREPA (the state owned electric utility) receiving bribes to restore electricity after the hurricane, PREPA stealing hurricane reconstruction supplies and FEMA having to go in with an armed security detail to retrieve them, and the Mayor of San Juan deliberately slowing and blocking the timely delivery of reconstruction supplies, and hiding billions in cash from the Feds.
Now, yet another example of Puerto Rican government corruption has come across the wires. From the Associated Press:
A mayor and two former government officials in Puerto Rico face public corruption charges in separate cases that involve a total of $8 million in federal and local funds, authorities said Thursday. The suspects are the mayor of the southwest town of Sabana Grande and the former directors of finance for the northern town of Toa Baja, which has struggled to pay its employees amid an 11-year recession.
U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez told reporters that the former officials from Toa Baja are accused of using nearly $5 million worth of federal funds to pay the town’s public employees and municipal contractors.
“Not only is that illegal, it’s immoral,” she said.
Federal authorities said that Mayor Miguel Ortiz is accused of defrauding the federal government of nearly $3 million in a separate scheme that began in 2013 and ended in 2016.
Officials said he is accused of financing projects without prior approval from Puerto Rico’s Department of Education and obtaining funds after misrepresenting the projects’ cost. Authorities said contracted companies and the municipality then received amounts much higher than what was outlined.
Ortiz also is accused of receiving nearly $33,000 in cash from one of the companies and its owner.
What the media SHOULD be doing is investigating what appears to be some of the worst government corruption in the United States. We’ve had several major corruption cases and cases of abuse of federal funds appear in the last year. When this corruption is written about at all, it is covered in very short stories from the Associated Press and buried in the backpages of most newspapers (if they show up in print editions at all).
The stories are then effectively buried and never reported on again. There’s been no followup on the Carmen Yulin Cruz corruption cases, or the PREPA corruption case, and there won’t be any follow up on these cases either.
If the media would dig, I am quite sure they could turn over a hornet’s nest of crime and corruption in the local government. They could be a powerful force for accountability in Puerto Rico. They could be helping to overturn decades of government corruption and mismanagement. Cleaning out the local government would help Puerto Rico turn the corner economically and maybe become the Caribbean paradise it was meant to be.
Instead, the media is either incurious at best, or maliciously helping to conceal the corruption at worst, figuring that the sacrificing the well being of the territory is just fine if it helps them bash Trump. They have made themselves part of the problem instead of part of the solution by printing hysterical “TRUMP IS RUINING PUERTO RICO” stories while covering for the corrupt Puerto Rican government.
Another example of the failure of the territorial government can be seen in the governor’s behavior over the budget:
A disagreement over which budget Puerto Rico will use this fiscal year has deepened as the governor of the U.S. territory on Monday signed the version approved by legislators instead of the one implemented by a federal control board over the weekend.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said the board’s budget is not in Puerto Rico’s best interest and that he is prepared to defend his decision, leading many to believe the issue might end up in court as Puerto Rico tries to restructure a portion of its $70 billion public debt load amid an 11-year recession.
“I’m going to use all the tools I have in my arsenal to be able to defend the people of Puerto Rico,” he told reporters.
However, Rossello acknowledged that Puerto Ricans struggling after Hurricane Maria could still be hit by new austerity measures.
“I fear this is a symbolic gesture,” he said, referring to the signing of the legislators’ version of the budget. He added that a judge could rule in favor of the board.
The Puerto Rico control board and the governor have been fighting over budget cuts for months. The governor has decided to resist major cuts, obviously because he fears political trouble if he goes along with it. Instead, he’s doing everything he can to gum up the works for the control board so he can place the blame for any further suffering by the people on the control board and Trump.
I don’t need to tell you how harmful this is for Puerto Rico. By bogging down the austerity measures and the control board, he is lengthening the time it will take to get the island back on track fiscally.
I do not believe Puerto Rico will ever recover until it gets clean government, because currently the local government will just steal the aid cash and impose roadblocks while blaming the Feds for everything. The US needs to impose direct rule and investigate and jail all of these crooks. There must be accountability for corruption of this magnitude.