The head of an international engineering firm in Puerto Rico said in an editorial Saturday that when the time came to send 50 of his engineers to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, he bypassed local officials and went straight to FEMA.
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The reason, said Jorge Rodriguez, the CEO of PACIV, in an editorial in the New York Post, is that “for the last 30 years, the Puerto Rican government has been completely inept at handling regular societal needs, so I just don’t see it functioning in a crisis like this one.”
“Even before the hurricane hit, water and power systems were already broken. And our $118 billion debt crisis is a result of government corruption and mismanagement.”
Puerto Ricans elected a new governor last November but, Rodriguez charged, he was inexperienced and had never been responsible for a budget.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello cannot exactly count on those around him either, Rodriguez asserted.
“His entire administration is totally inexperienced and they have no clue how to handle a crisis of this magnitude,” said Rodriguez, who has a graduate business degree from Harvard Business School and was named a “Most Distinguished Graduate” by the University of Puerto Rico.
Even before the hurricane hit, water and power systems were already broken. And our $118 billion debt crisis is a result of government corruption and mismanagement.
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Rodriguez’s criticism follows that of many experts and members of Congress, who note that Puerto Rico was mired in financial chaos well before Hurricane Maria. Puerto Rico was facing a $74 billion public debt load and a decade-old economic recession – sending hundreds of thousands of islanders fleeing to the U.S. mainland.
Now, many areas on the mainland, such as Florida, New York and Massachusetts, that have large Puerto Rican communities are bracing themselves for still more islanders to throng to them.
“Puerto Rico has exhausted its financial resources,” Fortune Magazine quoted Hernando Montero Salazar, director of Credit Analyisis at Stoever Glass & Co., as saying. “That will leave them strictly with the options of the federal government to provide aid and restore infrastructure. That’s the only way Puerto Rico will be able to put themselves together.”
For his part, Rodriguez argued that government mismanagement that has created so many problems for Puerto Rico is showing itself again as it attempts to deal with the devastation from the hurricane.
“For instance, shortly after the hurricane hit, the government imposed a curfew from 6 pm to 6 am and then changed it,” Rodriguez said. “Now, it’s 7 pm to 5 am, and makes no sense. The curfew has prevented fuel trucks from transporting their loads.
“These trucks should have been allowed to run for 24 hours to address our needs, but they have been stalled, and so we have massive lines at gas stations and severe shortages of diesel at our hospitals and supermarkets.”
Rodriguez said it is the federal government that has put forth an organized response, and that it is wrong of Puerto Rico’s own political leaders to blame it.
“I’m really tired of Puerto Rican government officials blaming the federal government for their woes and for not acting fast enough to help people on the island,” he said. “Last week I had three federal agents in my office and I was so embarrassed; I went out of my way to apologize to them for the attitude of my government and what they have been saying about the U.S. response.”
The business leader said FEMA experts were present in no uncertain terms when Hurricane Maria hit the island.
“I was really proud of their quick response,” he added. “The first responders and FEMA have all been outstanding in this crisis, and should be supported.”
Rodriguez also had a word of caution for the U.S. Congress: “Watch out what relief funds you approve and let our local government handle. Don’t let the Puerto Rican government play the victim and fool you. They have no clue what they are doing, and I worry that they will mishandle anything that comes their way.”
“They don’t need another aircraft carrier. They need experienced people to run a proper disaster command center.”