The Connection Between Gov. Rossello’s Leaked Chats And Corruption In Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello announced his resignation this past week after tens of thousands of people took to the streets for days on end. Among the reasons for their anger – page after page of leaked text messages between the governor and other officials. The messages were insulting and demeaning and were brought to light by a tiny newsroom, The Center for Investigative Journalism, which has just 10 full-time staff members. Among them is Luis Valentin Ortiz. He told me about the connection they drew between those private chats and what has been described as a multimillion-dollar corruption network.
LUIS VALENTIN ORTIZ: The chat, besides the jokes, besides all the mockery of, you know, different sectors, it also includes some evidence about potential illegal activity and influence and having access to privilege and confidential information of the government. Some of the chat participants, particularly Mr. Elias Sanchez, had access to privileged information despite being third parties, not having a official relationship with the government.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Sanchez is, of course, the liaison to the oversight board.
ORTIZ: He’s a former campaign manager of Rossello, and when Rossello enters office, he became the governor’s representative to the fiscal board. But he only remained there for a few months. But once he’s out, and that happened in 2017, the chat shows that up until January of this year, Mr. Sanchez was in that chat at least and had direct access to privileged information by the government to benefit some of his private clients.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The leaked chats have had enormous impact, obviously. Did you have any reservations about the source of these chats?
ORTIZ: We had established a relationship with the source, and we have been working with the source for weeks before we published the chat story. We know that sources have their own motivations, and we did our own due diligence to prove, you know, the veracity of the document.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Obviously, something that is of great interest to the people of Puerto Rico and also elsewhere is who now is in charge of overseeing these public funds on the island and how does the governor’s resignation affect that?
ORTIZ: This is happening within the context of federal oversight Puerto Rico government and finances. We had a fiscal control board imposed by Congress in 2016, and they had a lot of overview and oversight on all financial issues of the government. And now with this thing and with Rossello’s resignation, reports have been coming out of additional controls to be imposed by the federal government, and Puerto Rico really needs that money. Puerto Rico people need that money. They deserve that money to recover after two hurricanes and after years of economic recession. And it’s sad that additional controls could hinder and delay the process of obtaining those funds and putting them to good use.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What is it like on the island right now? We’ve had these tumultuous protests, Rossello resigning. What next?
ORTIZ: I mean, a lot of people may have thought that after Rossello’s resignation, protests would be over, and that hasn’t been the case really. There’s a lot of anger still among Puerto Rico people because they feel that they don’t have a figure in the governorship that they can trust. And I think that that has to be something that the local government must take into account because people really need to regain their trust on public institution. They lost it. And right now, it’s Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez the one who’s apparently going to take over, and people are not convinced that she’s the right figure and person to be there. So it’s a combination of feelings that will make you conclude that protests are not over because they don’t feel that everything has changed as they want it to.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Luis Valentin Ortiz is a reporter with Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism. Thank you so much.
ORTIZ: Thank you, Lulu.