Puerto Rico’s emergency manager, Carlos Acevedo, was fired on Saturday after a warehouse full of donated relief supplies was discovered.
The emergency aid is believed to be from when Hurricane Maria hit the island two years ago, according to Puerto Rico’s governor, Wanda Vázquez. The heads of Puerto Rico’s housing and family departments were fired the next day, on Jan. 19.
The governor has appointed Major General José J. Reyes, the adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard, to replace Acevedo.
A video showing angry residents breaking into a warehouse was posted on Facebook on January 18.
Emergency supplies such as bottled water, baby diapers and other unused basic supplies were found in the warehouse.
The discovery was made by a tip-off to blogger Lorenzo Delgado, in the city of Ponce, one of the worst affected areas situated in the south of the island.
Who were the officials responsible?
Acevedo was the director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management and has denied all allegations of misappropriation, claiming that the office has been actively distributing supplies.
Acevedo added that none of the affected residents have been refused any supplies in the warehouse, which stored food, diapers, baby formula and cots.
He also claimed that about 600 pallets of water were distributed in Puerto Rico when Hurricanes Dorian and Karen hit, and also during a drought that affected the island last year.
According to Acevedo, the goods which were found in the warehouse were that of expired items, including about 80 pallets of water.
“There have not been orders to seize or destroy those items at any point,” Acevedo said in a statement.
Vázquez Garced has instructed Secretary of State Elmer Roman to immediately investigate Acevedo’s allegations and to report the findings of the investigation within two days.
Puerto Rico accused the U.S. of failing to help
For months, Puerto Rico, as well as Democrats, had blasted United States President Donald Trump’s administration of not swiftly sending emergency aid.
In May 2019, House Democrats passed a multibillion-dollar disaster aid offer despite Trump’s hostility toward funneling more money to Puerto Rico.
Republicans had backed the aid package representing states recovering from hurricanes and flooding, like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Nebraska much quicker than it did Puerto Rico.
In Aug. 2019, Trump claimed to have sent billions of dollars to help Puerto Rico recover from the series of earthquakes and called the island’s administration corrupt for misusing funding under the Senate’s disaster-aid bill handed to the island in May.
“Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!….” Trump tweeted.
Trump also accused Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of the island’s capital, San Juan, of squandering the hurricane relief funds.
“The Governor is under siege, the Mayor of San Juan is a despicable and incompetent person who I wouldn’t trust under any circumstance, and the United States Congress foolishly gave 92 Billion Dollars for hurricane relief, much of which was squandered away or wasted, never to be seen again. This is more than twice the amount given to Texas & Florida combined. I know the people of Puerto Rico well, and they are great. But much of their leadership is corrupt, & robbing the U.S. Government blind!” Trump said.
After the news of the warehouse discovery broke on Jan. 18, many of Trump’s supporters, including his son, Donald Trump, Jr., came to his defense, claiming that the president’s claims held true.
More aid to arrive this year
The White House announced on Jan. 16 that the Trump administration is releasing its hold on $16 billion of aid to Puerto Rico after a months-long delay, with strict conditions.
The conditions include the submission of a detailed budget by Puerto Rico and a reformed record-keeping around real-estate properties.
Trump reportedly wanted to cut off all funding to Puerto Rico because he believed the territory was using the funds to pay off debt. It is still unclear on whether the funds have reached the hurricane-ravaged island.
The tranche of $8.2 billion is allocated through a Department of Housing and Urban Development disaster recovery fund.
The sum was to be released a year ago to help the island rebuild in the wake of the devastation in 2017 of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which left almost 3,000 people dead.
Trump had, however, intervened to cut the federal government’s Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico as part of a larger government spending deal. The budget deal only allocates up to $5.7 billion in Medicaid funds for the island over two years — instead of $12 billion over four years after months of negotiating a long-term financial path for Puerto Rico.
Natural disasters in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has been ravaged by a series of earthquakes since Dec. 28.
In the first two weeks of January, quakes, tremors and aftershocks have damaged hundreds of structures and forced thousands of people in the southern area of the island to flee their homes.
More than 8,000 people have been living in outdoor shelters in the cities of Yauco, Peñuelas, Guánica, Guayanilla and Ponce. Many residents are also sleeping in their cars for fear of a wall or roof that might collapse on them.