LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Corruption plagues Puerto Rico

Posted

To the editor:

Latino Justice, a civil rights group based in New York City, is calling for an investigation of the territorial police in Puerto Rico.

They want the U.S. Justice Department to scrutinize what occurred during a demonstration protesting the chronic power outages of the Luma energy contract.

“The excessive force used by police against Puerto Ricans exercising their lawful rights of free speech and assembly in protest in San Juan on Thursday night is an outrage,” said Latino Justice senior counsel Lía Fiol-Matta.

But this clamor for another investigation of the island’s police is misdirected. The subjects that should be examined are the elected officials who greased the wheels for the original Luma energy contract.

In November 2021, the Puerto Rican Center for Investigative Journalism revealed that former governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla contacted territorial legislators to schedule meetings on behalf of Luma.

“Padilla called lawmakers of his Popular Democratic Party asking them to meet with Wayne Stensby, the controversial executive director of Luma, the company that runs part of Puerto Rico’s electrical system,” reported CPI.

CPI also reported that former New Progressive Party governor Ricky Rossello’s star lobbyist in Washington, Manuel “Manny” Ortiz, now works for TRC Solutions. TRC has a $9 million contract with Luma to monitor “developments related to energy, environmental and infrastructure policy,” according to CPI.

Just like on the mainland, political corruption is a bipartisan activity shared by the colonial Popular Democratic and statehood New Progressive parties. 

Luma Energy chief executive Wayne Stensby met with the following lawmakers in San Juan to discuss contract amendments, according to El Nuevo Día. Luma won the contract to modernize the power plants and distribution system in 2020 under a Popular Democratic-dominated legislature and a New Progressive governor.

“Since then, it has shielded itself with high-level former PNP and PPD officials with influence in power circles like a revolving door,” CPI said.

Those high-level officials, according to CPI, include:

• Margarita Mercado Echegaray, a former solicitor general Gov. Garcia Padilla. She serves Luma as an employee of DLA Piper, a law firm with high-level contacts in government.

• Jose Perez Velez, director of the Independent Office for Consumer Protection, under Garcia Padilla. Velez now works as an external affairs advisor to Luma. Early in Garcia Padilla’s first and only term as governor, Velez helped to arrange meetings between Popular Democrat- and New Progressive-elected officials and Luma, according to Puerto Rico House Rep. Luis Raul Torres. 

Torres is heading up an investigation into Luma by the territorial legislature.

• Michelle Hernández de Fraley, former police superintendent during ex-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration. Now works as Luma’s security chief.

• Abner Gomez, former emergency and disaster management bureau director under Rossello. Gomez now works as Luma’s point person on crisis management

All of the current unrest culminates a long history of debt and corruption.

“The most effective tool for a corporation to get a contract is the revolving door,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen. “It gives the company a direct line of communications with the government, so when a former governor or a well-connected official picks up the phone, their call is answered. That does not happen to the rest of us.”

Gene Roman

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