Following Trump´s “incorrect” about Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares said yesterday that he changed his diplomatic approach to start denouncing hostilities and discrimination from the Donald Trump administration.
Trump, for example, has argued that the high levels of bureaucracy in the recovery process are the result of chronic corruption problems in Puerto Rico. The governor denounced that bureaucracy delayed many of the recovery initiatives.
The situation comes at a time when federal law enforcement agencies are investigating former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and questioning the alleged participation of the governor's brother, Jay Rosselló, in favor of charter schools in Puerto Rico.
In an interview with El Nuevo Día the day after his State of the Commonwealth address, Rosselló spoke about his disagreement with the White House; the island´s recovery after the devastating hurricanes Irma and María; the meeting he had with Keleher and his brother in December at La Fortaleza, and about the investigation against the former Education secretary.
In your State of the Commonwealth yesterday, you made statements directly confronting President Trump and his"hostile" attitude against Puerto Rico. Why does it happen now and it didn´t happen before?
My goal in all of this is not to confront for the mere fact of confronting. There are others who find opportunities to give speeches and attack. I have chosen dialogue with the federal government throughout this process... Certainly, before the President’s most recent statements saying things that are simply not correct, things that demonstrate a lack of empathy with the people of Puerto Rico, well I have to alert and draw attention to the fact that this is discrimination against the people of Puerto Rico.
This (confronting with the President) is not just a speech. I am doing this to show what discriminating against three million Puerto Ricans, who have 6 million relatives there, implies at this moment.
You said that you would deliver the message with the claim of equal civil rights for the people of Puerto Rico to each of the 50 states. What effect on U.S. politics can a Democratic Caribbean governor campaigning against a Republican president have?
I'm not saying I'm going to campaign somehow, but that I'm going to bring the issue. What effect can it have? Well, directly and pragmatically, in Florida there are one million Puerto Ricans and elections are generally defined by less than 1 percent.
The fact that Puerto Ricans in Florida know that the issue of equality should be a priority on the island denotes that Puerto Rico's claim has to be heard. The fact that Puerto Rico has gained national visibility in the public debate is important. It is no longer an issue for only a few people, nor an issue separate from the broader issue of inequality. Every day, most American citizens see Puerto Rico as a case of inequality, or lack of civil and democratic rights.
What are you going to do to counter Trump´s expressions alleging that Puerto Rican governments have been corrupt?
Our administration has been clear that it has zero tolerance for corruption and we have addressed that issue on countless fronts. In the same way, in any state you may have been, they face corruption problems and in very recent cases, like Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, with a Republican governor and a Democratic President, they were able to work in harmony despite historical claims of corruption there.
It's about helping American citizens. Everything else is just talking, ways to distract the conversation, and we're committed to doing more than what other states had to do in order to get those resources.
But that is precisely the speech used to justify delays in federal projects.
I know, but those arguments don´t hold up. Other jurisdictions had these problems and they didn´t have delays with FEMA. What I think is that there is another reason to they treat us that way and that is that we don't have political power.
He (Trump) may think that this has no political effect on him. My argument is that there are a lot of Puerto Ricans and American citizens here who are watching what's happening on the island and who are concerned. Trump saying that this responds to corruption doesn't stand up because in all the other jurisdictions, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana they also had similar allegations, but resources kept coming. The difference is that we don't have political power and we get unequal treatment. This, in some circles, is also extended because we are a Hispanic jurisdiction.
This happens at a time when federal authorities are investigating former Education SecretaryJulia Keleher. Doesn't that make it more difficult for you before the White House?
If we start discussing that argument, we're going to be moving back and forward. The discussion should be about how we get the resources for the people of Puerto Rico. We have made ourselves available to federal structures with unprecedented controls, where agencies are going to have an oversight function that they never had in any other state.
We have made ourselves available to have other controls in Congress, among other things. Why focus on this if we have controls?
The White House does not seem to care about those controls...
The debate should be about those controls on Puerto Rico that agencies demanded for the adequate visibility of resources, but penalizing the people or citizens for what other administrations did in the past or for corruption allegations is unacceptable and inconsistent with what they have done in other states. The differences are clear. The states are not colonies and we are a colony.
All this is also happening at a time when there are questions on your brother´s efforts in favor of charter schools in Puerto Rico. Isn't it strange that of all the lawyers in the U.S. and in the firm where he works, he was the one chosen to work with charter schools on the island?
The firm doesn't put my brother as the liaison with charter schools, my brother keeps a blog on the firm's website and talks about it and says that if anyone has questions, they can contact him. I think that's a significant difference.
The difference is that it is not related to his work in the firm, but something he offers on the blog?
It's something he offers as part of his blog. I understand the issue about how it may look like and that could be a debate. What's not fair are wrongdoing allegations, especially when the discussion (about the meeting between Jay Rosselló, the governor and Keleher that took place in December) was to guide a nonprofit organization on the charter schools process in Puerto Rico.
Do you understand that there are legitimate questions, regardless of whether or not the facts could be adjudicated?
I understand that they can talk about it. What I don't accept illegality or immorality allegations on something that was done correctly, particularly with my brother, a professional who has been working in this for years, who has never been and will never be a government contractor. That's what I'm saying. I think his expressions were very clear and I hope the matter has been clarified.
Is he going to keep on promoting charter schools in Puerto Rico?
It's just that he never promoted charter schools. For a while, this organization was his client. He is no longer their attorney. He is no longer the lawyer of that "non-profit". The decisions he makes regarding his profession are his.
In your address, you mentioned the effects of the hurricane and the recovery process when there are still some big delays in recovery... there are still traffic and street lights that don't work; houses without roofs... what does it take to have these repaired, in other hurricanes they were fixed relatively quickly, but it was not like that this time?
The devastation was unprecedented. It's important to emphasize that. As for the traffic lights, there was a supply problem. And power is also related to all that. In some cases, there is already electricity in the area, but traffic or street lights have not been activated. We have a team that handles infrastructure matters and we are trying to put all these things together so that reconstruction efforts are all aligned. How many have we seen the replaced tar on a road and then comes PRASA and removes it to repair something?