The mishandling of aid, apparently since Hurricane María struck the island in 2017, discovered by the people amid the earthquakes emergency and which the governor herself admitted, force the government to immediately act to address the urgent needs of thousands of families, and not to add to the distrust of the federal government.
In less than 24 hours, Governor Wanda Vázquez fired three agency directors who, she said, lied to her and were unable to provide her with essential information regarding the aid to the victims. These three agencies are critical pieces amid the current emergency: the Puerto Emergency Management and Disaster Administration Bureau (NEMEAD, Spanish acronym), and the Family and Housing departments. NEMEAD is under investigation. In all cases, the extent of their misconduct must be thoroughly investigated. Puerto Rico does not deserve nor does it allow impunity.
The weekend's events confirm that, despite changes in the government in August, the remnants of a government that had already failed Puerto Rico remain in the public structure. They also eloquently speak of citizens' distrust of public institutions they perceive to be distant from the mission of public service.
The governor appointed veteran rescuer Nino Correa as head of NEMEAD operations. The appointment recognizes the experience of a servant who has shown his commitment to the mission and has the people's trust. We hope that his appointment will bring credibility and leadership to a key agency to help take those affected low-income families to safe homes.
Unfortunately, last weekend, citizen's own actions validated the distrust that many showed in deciding to move to the epicenter to distribute aid directly.
The governor said that the fired Family Secretary, Glorimar Andújar, was unable to concretely respond about aid inventories. This agency is responsible for assisting the most impoverished families, those that were the most affected by the earthquakes that hit the southwestern area of the island. Particularly, children and the elderly.
As for Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat he was fired following a number of deficiencies. This department is key for the response to the hundreds of families who have lost their homes with the earthquakes. It has a leading role in recovery plans after the 2017 hurricanes.
The governor has a great opportunity to leave behind the usual and inappropriate practice of appointing officials following political patterns and choose people with proven experience in the fields that emergency and the people rightly demand.
After the government´s disastrous emergency management during the hurricane that killed some 3,000 people in 2017, Puerto Ricans clearly expressed that they will not tolerate any more deficiencies in the face of a crisis. Their voice sounded loudly in the summer of 2019 when they rejected the government's political and propaganda games in the face of their suffering. For the first time in our history, a governor was forced to resign amid mass protests.
This weekend´s events have proved the people right Citizens are active and vigilant. It is up to the island´s politicians -of the executive and legislative branches- and to municipalities to move away from any attempt to take advantage of this emergency for political interests in view of primary and general elections.
This weekend's events should also serve as a wake-up call for the public structure to focus on serving the victims and preventing further natural events from turning into disasters due to indolence and demagogy.
The government must act quickly to clear the painful image of chaos and corruption that has, once again, brought alarm to the U.S. government, at a time when the disbursement of federal funds is essential.