SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – In a scene reminiscent of Puerto Rico’s turbulent summer of 2019, a few hundred protesters gathered on the streets of Old San Juan Monday, banging pots and pans, waving signs and demanding that Gov. Wanda Vázquez step down as anger grows over the botched delivery of emergency aid in the wake of recent earthquakes.
The frustration comes after a government warehouse full of supplies was found on Saturday near the southern town of Ponce, close to the epicenter of a series of earthquakes. Much of the aid, including bottled water and baby food, had been sitting around since the disastrous 2017 hurricane season and was expired. But there were also cots, generators, batteries and emergency radios.
Vázquez has called for an investigation and fired three of her staff members, including the head of the emergency management agency, Carlos Acevedo. But Vázquez — who became governor in August after her predecessor Ricardo Rosselló was ousted amid massive protests — said that she had been unaware of the storage facility’s existence until someone publicized it on social media.
What remains unclear is why the aid was being hoarded at a time when it was so needed. A series of earthquakes and aftershocks that began Dec. 28 has destroyed or damaged more than 550 homes.
Eduardo García, one of the co-founders of a political movement called Project Dignity, said the undistributed aid may come down to “crass negligence” but he also feared that unscrupulous officials were selling it or using it to justify warehouse rental contracts for the politically connected.
“This government is covered up in corruption,” he said, as he stood outside the Capitol building. “Corruption is what has made Puerto Rico economically and morally bankrupt.”