LUMA Powered by Corruption in Puerto Rico (OPINION)

Sep 13, 2022
5:58 PM

A protester holds an anti-LUMA sign at a march against the energy company in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Friday, October 15, 2021. (Carlos Berríos Polanco/Latino Rebels)

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

The group wants the U.S. Justice Department to look into the violence that occurred during demonstrations in late August protesting chronic power outages under the management of private U.S.-Canadian company LUMA Energy.

“The excessive force used by police against Puerto Ricans exercising their lawful rights of free speech and assembly in protest in San Juan on [August 25] is an outrage,” said Latino Justice senior counsel Lía Fiol-Matta.

The clamor for another investigation of the island’s police is misdirected, however. The parties that should be examined are the elected officials who greased the wheels for the original LUMA Energy contract.

In November 2021, the Puerto Rican Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) revealed that former Gov. Alejandro García Padilla of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD, in Spanish) contacted territorial legislators to schedule meetings on behalf of LUMA.

“Padilla called lawmakers of his [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 the CPI.

The CPI also reported that former New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish) Gov. Ricky Rosselló’s star lobbyist in Washington, Manuel “Manny” Ortiz, now works for TRC Solutions, which has a $9 million contract with LUMA to monitor “developments related to energy, environmental and infrastructure policy,” according to the CPI.

Just like on the mainland, political corruption is a bipartisan activity shared by the pro-colonial PDP and pro-statehood PNP.

Stensby, LUMA’s CEO, met with lawmakers in San Juan to discuss contract amendments, according to El Nuevo Día.

LUMA won the contract to modernize Puerto Rico’s power plants and distribution system in 2020 under a PDP-dominated legislature and a PNP governor. “Since then, it has shielded itself with high-level former PNP and PPD officials with influence in power circles like a revolving door,” said the CPI.

Those high-level officials include:

  • Margarita Mercado Echegaray, former solicitor general of Puerto Rico from 2013 to 2017, under PDP Gov. García Padilla. She serves LUMA as an employee of DLA Piper, a law firm with high-level contacts in government.
  • José Pérez Vélez, director of the Independent Office for Consumer Protection under García Padilla. Vélez now works as an external affairs advisor to LUMA. Early in García Padilla’s first and only term as governor, Vélez helped to arrange meetings between PDP and PNP elected officials and LUMA, according to Rep. Luis R. Torres Cruz. Torres Cruz is heading up an investigation into LUMA by the territorial legislature.
  • Michelle Hernández de Fraley, former police superintendent during ex-Gov. Ricky Rosselló’s administration, now works as LUMA’s chief of security.
  • Abner Gómez Cortés, former director of the Bureau for Emergency and Disaster Management under Rosselló. Gómez Cortés now works as LUMA’s point person on crisis management

All of the current unrest stems from a long history of debt and corruption involving the likes of such characters as those listed above.

“The most effective tool for a corporation to get a contract is the revolving door,” Craig Holman of Public Citizen told the CPI. “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 is a freelance reporter based in New York City. You can email here.