Things That Matter

Puerto Rico Governor Tries To End His Government’s Crisis By Appointing New Secretary Of State But Will It Be Enough?

The drama in Puerto Rico, at least when it comes to the governor’s office, may finally be coming to an end. With current Governor Rosselló set to leave on Friday, after massive protests demanding his resignation, he has appointed a new Secretary of State to take over for him.

Though things aren’t over yet. The new Secretary of State would still have to be confirmed by the state’s legislature and that’s proving to be easier said than done.

Just two days before he’s set to leave office, Gov. Rosselló has had to name a new Secretary of State so he can hopefully take over as governor.

Current Governor Ricardo Rosselló formally nominated the island’s former non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, as secretary of state, which would position him to take over the government if he is confirmed by lawmakers. 

“After much analysis and taking into account the best interests of our people, I have selected Mr. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to fill the vacancy of secretary of state,” Rosselló said in a statement

But some members of Rosselló’s party voiced opposition to the pick, citing Pierluisi’s role advising the federally created financial oversight board overseeing the island’s bankruptcy, which is highly unpopular with Puerto Rico residents. 

Anger over the bankruptcy, the handling of back-to-back 2017 hurricanes that killed some 3,000 people, the filing of federal corruption charges against two former administration officials and the publication of misogynistic and homophobic chat messages between Rosselló and his close advisers sparked nearly two weeks of street protests this month demanding his ouster. 

The largest protest, last week, drew an estimated 500,000 demonstrators to the streets of San Juan, capital of the island of 3.2 million people.

The man taking over as governor is Pedro Pierluisi, who actually lost the gubernatorial election To Rosselló in 2016.

A source close to the Rosselló administration told Reuters that Pierluisi’s nomination may be “dead on arrival” as a result of his connection to the oversight board. 

To be confirmed, Pierluisi will need votes that equate to a majority of the 51 members of the Puerto Rico House and of the 27 senators. Lawmakers are expected to vote on Thursday in a special session Rosselló called when he made the nomination.

Pierluisi said his goal is to transform the energy shown by Puerto Ricans into constructive actions. 

“I have listened to the people’s messages, their demonstrations, their demands and their concerns,” he said in a statement. “And in this new challenge in my life, I will only answer to the people.”

All of this had to happen because the woman next in line to be governor said she didn’t want the job.

Replacing the first-term governor became complicated after Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin, who would have been first in line to assume the office, resigned on July 13 because of his participation in the group chat. Afterward, the second in line for the top government post, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vázquez, said she did not want the position.

Even if she had wanted the job though, it doesn’t look like she’d of lasted long. Most Puerto Ricans were against her taking the office since they view her as having been too close to the governor and largely implicit in his scandals.

Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s First Lady is hosting some what of a farewell at San Juan’s convention center.

According to her office, the First Lady wanted to thank supporters at a small farewell event in the city’s convention center. A few dozen people showed up to the event – illustrating how little support the governor has left in the island.

Hacker Attempts To Steal $4 Million From Puerto Rican Government In Phishing Scam

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Hacker Attempts To Steal $4 Million From Puerto Rican Government In Phishing Scam

John Piekos / Flickr

Hackers attempted to steal $4 million from the Puerto Rican government using a common phishing scam. The scams referred to as business email compromises, target public and private entities every year on the U.S. mainland. Here’s what we know so far.

A hacker attempted to steal millions of dollars from the Puerto Rican government.

Credit: @DavidBegnaud / Twitter

According to reports, hackers were able to infiltrate various agencies in the Puerto Rican government through phishing emails. The hackers attempted to access $4 million dollars by targeting Puerto Rico’s Industrial Development Company and the Tourism Company.

The Industrial Development Company sent around $2.6 million while the Tourism Company wired over $1.5 million. According to the AP, the agencies received emails from a fraudulent employee claiming there was a change of bank accounts.

Federal officials say they were about to freeze the money to prevent loss to Puerto Rico.

David Begnaud of CBS News took to Twitter to update people on the latest developments. According to Begnaud’s conversation with federal authorities, the hackers had not received the money from Puerto Rico and they were able to freeze it. They are working to send the money back to Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is not the only victim in a phishing crime. During the same time as the hacking of Puerto Rico, a school district in Manor, Texas lost $2.3 million and another $800,000 were stolen from officials in Griffin, Georgia. More than 23,000 of these scams stole $1.7 billion from businesses and agencies in the U.S. mainland last year. The FBI was able to recover around $300 million.

The news is surprising people on social media.

Credit: @MilagsCon / Twitter

Corruption in Puerto Rico’s government has been a topic of discussion since Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Puerto Rico was recently devastated by a series of earthquakes while still recovering from the 2017 hurricane that devastated the island. Missing relief funds and misplaced supplies have angered Puerto Ricans in recent months as it comes to light.

This latest financial and security shortcoming of Puerto Rico’s government is not helping its reputation.

Credit: @J_Fort47 / Twitter

Puerto Ricans have been showing their displeasure with the elected officials on the island for years. Recently, Puerto Ricans protested and marched until Ricardo Rosselló resigned from his office. The former governor was caught in a group chat scandal in which he made derogatory comments about the LGBTQ+ community and women. There were also allegations of corruption and misuse of funds within his admi9nistration that led to a series of investigations.

READ: The Puerto Rico Department of Justice Is Seeking An Independent Investigation Into Ricardo Rosselló

A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

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A Warehouse Full Of Forgotten Supplies From 2017 Was Just Found In Puerto Rico After More Than 1000 Earthquakes Hit The Island

@IGD_News / Twitter

Over the past two and a half weeks, Puerto Rico has experienced more than 1000 earthquakes. This number may seem unbelievable, but it’s true: after a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit the island on January 7—the largest earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in more than a century—aftershocks have continued to jolt the island, leaving hundreds of people homeless, lacking supplies and electricity. Among the aftershocks was January 11’s 5.9 magnitude quake, which caused even further devastation, particularly to the southern part of the island. So far, the earthquakes have cost an estimated $200 million in damages, including the destruction of more than 800 homes.

But the damage hasn’t only been structural—several people are experiencing extreme anxiety as tremors continue to strike the island.

Credit: Facebook / ASSMCA Online

Officials from ASSMCA, Puerto Rico’s  Office of Mental Health Services and Addiction Prevention, have been making their rounds at outdoor shelters where displaced individuals and families have taken refuge, offering mental health support to those most affected by the quakes.

“These aftershocks are triggers for people,” Abdiel Dumeng, an ASSMCA employee, said in Spanish in an interview.”But I have to admit that we’ve seen a decrease in these kinds of crises, because we’ve been working together for a while, teaching people how to stay calm.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), aftershocks will continue to decrease in frequency over the next month and will be exponentially “lower in magnitude”. But in the meantime, Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management estimates that more than 8,000 people are staying in these outdoor shelters—fewer than half are in government-run shelters, while the rest are taking refuge in either informal spaces or shelters run by non-government organizations.

What exactly constitutes an “informal” shelter? Well, some folks have simply taken their beds outside, staying close to home while avoiding the potential dangers of being indoors. Others are crashing with relatives in towns that have experienced less damage than other areas.

Credit: StarTribune

In response to the 5.9 earthquake on January 11, Governor Wanda Vázquez said that she had declared a major state emergency following an initial assessment of the damages incurred. Vázquez also announced the immediate disbursement of $2 million for the towns of Guánica, Utuado, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce and Yauco, which experienced the most damage due to their proximity to the earthquakes’ epicenter. This $2 million was defined as a way to meet the towns’ most urgent needs—but now, ten days later, la gente está harta, because these needs still haven’t been met.

Just a few days ago, Vázquez fired two high-ranking officials in her administration: Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar. She also fired former Emergency Management Director Carlos Acevedo. The Governor’s reason for the dismissals was an alleged lack of information regarding aid collection and distribution centers.

This lack of information had to do with the discovery of a warehouse in Ponce that was filled with seemingly forgotten disaster supplies. But these supplies were not sent in response to the current crisis—they date back to when Hurricane Maria (a Category 4 storm) hit the island in September 2017.

Credit: Carlos Giusti / Associated Press

And people are understandably angry. On January 20, scores of demonstrators gathered in front of the Governor’s mansion in San Juan to demand her resignation. While the Governor seems to have tried addressing the issue with the dismissals mentioned above, several people are accusing her of not taking accountability for this appalling error, urging her to step down. And with demonstrators vowing to stay in the streets until Vázquez steps down, the current situation looks a lot like last summer’s demonstrations, which ultimately caused Governor Ricardo Rosselló to resign.

When asked by NBC News what the “human impact” of this mistake is, Rafael Gonzalez—President of PROFESA, a Puerto Rican Professional Association that delivered aid during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria—said, “We saw it on [sic] Maria. We saw what happens when you don’t deliver the supplies that people need. People die.”

Indeed, more than 3,000 people died as a result of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria (not to mention highly insufficient disaster response on the part of the United States government). At this point, the recent series of earthquakes has resulted in one death and nine injuries. In an attempt to keep that number from rising, Jennifer Gonzales, Puerto Rico’s Commissioner to Congress, joined forces with five other members of Congress to send a letter to Donald Trump, asking him to sign a major disaster declaration that would bring federal funding to the recovery effort.

On January 16, Donald Trump responded by designating six hard-hit towns in the southern part of the island as major disaster areas. Hopefully this will result in an appropriate disaster response—one that will not negligently result in more forgotten aid.