SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Most tourists who step foot in Puerto Rico have many misconceptions about the island, like having our own “non-American” currency, or not being able to understand English, or that we live on “island time.”
But “island time” is the colonizer’s way of saying: you work while we relax. The everyday Puerto Rican doesn’t have time to slow down and relax, because continuous stressful situations impede the island from taking it slow. This also applies to the news, because Puerto Rico doesn’t know the definition of a slow news day, much less a slow news week.
Wanda Vázquez Flexes Her Power
As the first non-elected governor of Puerto Rico since 1948, Wanda Vázquez took this week to flex her position as the head of the island territory. Since the coronavirus crisis hit Puerto Rico, Vázquez has signed nearly 25 executive orders, the most recent being on Friday, which extends working hours for local banks to help with applications for the second round of the Small Business Administration’s COVID funding.
On Wednesday, she signed an order that grants immunity to all practicing doctors and healthcare workers currently dealing with the coronavirus. This raised concerns, as it shields members of her medical “Task Force,” from “claims of liability, injury or death for alleged acts or omissions in the administration of health care.”
Currently, Vazquez’s “Task Force” doctors Segundo Rodríguez and Juan Salgado were among those implicated and called to testify in front of the House of Representatives’ Health Committe’s investigation on the irregular purchase of COVID-19 tests.
Then on Friday, she signed the House of Representatives’ resolution that amends the Electoral Code to allow the dissemination of COVID-19 and other health information without the prior approval from the State Election Commission (CEE, in Spanish).
Vázquez, who hasn’t held a press conference in over a week, took time out of her busy schedule to visit the show set of the problematic puppet in drag, La Comay, for nearly 40 minutes. The man inside the puppet, Antulio “Kobbo” Santarrosa, is a known affiliate of the New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish).
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) April 22, 2020
In the highly-memed interview, Vázquez spoke about reopening the economy, defended her staff, and took the time to discredit the ongoing investigation into the handling of COVID-19 tests by the Health Department.
Ir a La Comay es un “rite of passage” para nuestros políticos. En cuanto a la Gobernadora le quedó fatal por que estamos en el medio de una pandemia/crisis/emergencia y decidió usarlo como su único canal de comunicación. Le resta credibilidad y seriedad en este momento. pic.twitter.com/nPKAcjzxXK
— guaynabocitymom (@guaynabocitymom) April 23, 2020
Vázquez received a lot of flack for going through this interview, including a segment in Noticentro where anchor Normando Valentín criticizes her for denying him an interview while accepting La Comay’s.
"LA CORRUPCIÓN NO ES UN CHISME ES LA REALIDAD DE MI GOBIERNO"
" CIERREN CIERREN CIERREN" pic.twitter.com/irnBZ58QPx
— Waldemar Rivera (@WaldemarRiver12) April 23, 2020
La Comay is a troublesome figure in Puerto Rico, with a laundry list of scandals that ended with a six-year break from television and a return in 2019.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)” pic.twitter.com/chB89ZT9pZ
— Güaragüeñx (@gitanoguaynabi) April 22, 2020
(For coverage on La Comay’s everlasting issues, read what Latino Rebels has published over the years. Or if you want to read just one piece about how Santarrosa’s “journalism” resulted in the destruction of so many people’s lives, read this.)
The Private Sector Adds Pressure
On Wednesday, the island’s private sector released a video campaign urging the government to reopen non-essential businesses for the benefit of the economy and the Puerto Rican people, with the slogan: We’re ready Puerto Rico, it’s up to all of us.
The video shows empty streets and businesses, as the voice over of several employers talk about what Puerto Rico has gone through —while showing Hurricane María and earthquake destruction— and also showing the faces of front line workers such as doctors and firefighters.
“Puerto Rico is facing one of the most difficult moments in its history. The government acted in a proactive and prudent manner, thanks to which lives were saved. Now it is time to return to providing jobs and serving our people in a gradual and responsible manner, following the new norms of social distancing. Let’s find a balance between taking care of our health and protecting the jobs of our people,” said Ramon Leal III’, SVP of International Restaurant Services, in the video.
Then, on Thursday, the same group (which includes several members of the Governor’s Economic Task Force) released a written statement directed at Vázquezm including signatures from some of the most prominent private business owners.
“Just as you made the decision to close Puerto Rico before a massive contagion occurred, it is equally imperative to make the decision to reopen the private sector before the country’s economy collapses. Over the past six weeks we have learned from other jurisdictions that have achieved a balance to mitigate the negative impact of their economies in the short term. Delaying this decision will have serious repercussions on our already lacerated economy,” the letter said.
But earlier this week, the Puerto Rican Economist’s Association (AEPR, in Spanish) warned that reopening businesses soon would be dangerous because Puerto Rico has not taken the measures necessary to deal with the crisis.
AEPR’s president, Heriberto Martínez Otero, said through a written statement that “a number of criteria have to be adopted before economic activity is reopened. Firstly, the health and well-being of citizens must be the main priority in any strategic plan of the State to temper the COVID crisis.19 Without health, one cannot go to work, or attend schools, or carry out consumer activities.”
Still, during her interview with La Comay, Vázquez said that she would release on Friday her plan to reopen businesses through phases to help push the economy in the right direction. As of this posting, the plan has not yet been made public.
The Investigation Continues
This week, the House’s Health Committee heard testimonies from the likes of doctors Segundo Rodríguez and Juan Salgado, both members of Fortaleza’s Medical “Task Force” about their alleged involvement in the sketchy purchase of COVID-19 rapid tests.
Since the beginning of the hearings, all parties involved have resulted in finger pointing and “wasn’t me’s.” Last week, Adil Rosa said that she received the instructions from Rodríguez to purchase the tests, yet this week, Rodríguez said he only gave recommendations.
It seems as though the investigation is going in circles. Once again, the elusive Mabel Cabeza was named as the conspirator behind the scandal, and Rodríguez was quick to point to her, Rosa, and Mariel Rivera as the ones directly involved. Last week, Rivera and Rosa pointed to Dr. Rodríguez in their testimonies.
- On Wednesday morning, the bodies of Serena Angelique Velázquez y Layla Peláez were found inside a burning car in Humacao. Velázquez and Peláez were transgender, and local activist groups are asking authorities to investigate the murder as a hate crime. It’s been exactly two months since Alexa Luciano Ruiz was murdered, and authorities have yet to make any arrests, leaving the crime unsolved.
- With over 1,000 police officers in quarantine, Friday marked the first death of a Puerto Rican cop due to COVID-10. The death of 56-year-old Miguel Martínez Ortiz was announced via de official police Twitter, and governor Vázquez released a statement lamenting his death.
- The current coronavirus numbers are as follows (and should be taken with a grain of salt, due to the Secretary of Health admitting last week that the Health Department has been counting double, maybe even triple, the amount, and several reports that the official dashboard lack proper data): 46 new cases, 8 new deaths, 1,276 overall positive cases and 77 overall deaths.
— Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77) April 24, 2020
Natalia Rodríguez Medina is a journalist based in Puerto Rico. She tweets from @nataliarodmed.