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Jenniffer González and Peter Brown.
Jenniffer González and Peter Brown.

In the next few days, the White House will announce the appointment of Rear Admiral Peter J. Brown as Federal Coordinator for the reconstruction of Puerto Rico, said yesterday Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González.

She said she was pleased that “the White House has heard my request. Brown knows the island because he was in the Coast Guard for this region, speaks Spanish and is an accessible person. This appointment by the White House is a step forward to help with Puerto Rico´s reconstruction and efforts before the federal agencies."

In 2017, faced with delays in disbursing federal funds and in reimbursements to municipalities, González requested the appointment of a coordinator. "He is going to be our liaison, our help within the White House. He does not directly handle the emergency the Puerto Rican government, but he has the power to intervene, as a federal coordinator, when we have “issues” with federal agencies," the New Progressive Party (PNP) vice president added.

For González, Brown's appointment also reflects how important it is for President Donald Trump to have direct communication in order to address Puerto Rico's affairs.

She explained Brown will not have the role of a monitor. "He is going to be the contact for Puerto Rico. The coordinator of the assistant to the President for Puerto Rican affairs to facilitate things, to cut this perception of multiple layers of bureaucracy," she said.

Following recent cases of corruption and allegations of mismanagement of federal funds, President Trump's administration designated monitors in different agencies to oversee the use of funds. In January, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) appointed attorney Robert Couch as the monitor of the nearly $20 billion in Community Development Block Grant for Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR) funds allocated to the island, although most of the money remains withheld.

When asked about the matter, a Trump government official said yesterday that there was no announcement to be made at the time.

However, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced said last night that the White House notified her of Brown's appointment "several weeks ago," and said her administration will collaborate with the federal official in recovery efforts once the appointment is formalized.

The Governor said that although they had several conversations, "we are aware that we must wait for the formal announcement to begin working with him as a liaison in the ongoing process of the island's recovery."  This will happen after the admiral completes his special assignment before the State of the Union Address scheduled for tomorrow, said Vázquez Garced.

"Our commitment is to continue advancing every collaborative effort that allows us to access and properly and responsibly use the resources approved for the people of Puerto Rico," she added.

Support for the proposal

In July 2019, González sent the last letter demanding action from President Trump regarding the reconstruction coordinator. Senator Rick Scott and Congressman Sean Duffy, both Republicans, joined González in that effort.  

“A Federal Coordinator, under your Administration, would have the mission to increase transparency and improve project execution standards on processes related to federal funding for the Island to recover. This coordinator would ensure funds are disbursed properly and promptly to meet the needs of the people of Puerto Rico," they demanded in the letter.

The letter was sent 10 days after the chat scandal involving former governor Ricardo Rosselló in derisive and offensive private chat messages between him and members of his inner circle which ended up in his resignation following mass protests demanding him to step down. Days earlier, former Education Secretary Julia Keleher and former Health Insurance Administration (PRHIA) Director Ángela Ávila had been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud, theft, wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to launder money. Both incidents, González acknowledged, had an adverse impact on the federal capital.

Peter Brown's career

Since June, Admiral Brown is Trump's third homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser. Already in mid-January, Bloomberg announced, without giving further details, that Brown was "likely to take on a new role overseeing Puerto Rico's recovery."

Before becoming Trump's adviser, Brown was Commander of the Seventh Coast Guard District responsible for all Coast Guard operations in the Southeast United States and the Caribbean, which includes Puerto Rico.  Previously, he served as Assistant Commandant for Response Policy at U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.

A native of Somers, New York, Brown graduated from the Coast Guard Academy in 1985 with a Bachelor's degree in chemistry. His career in the Coast Guard has mainly focused on maritime service and tactical law enforcement. He earned a master's degree in chemistry from the University of Miami in 1991.

González said that, as Trump's homeland security and counter-terrorism adviser, Brown has been following the island's affairs, specifically drug trafficking. She added that, along with Brown´s appointment, a new rapid response vessel -inaugurated in mid-2019- was assigned to the Coast Guard.

José Delgado collaborated with this story.