But there is reason for hope. While Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice, which is responsible for the enforcement of the local law, allows impunity to go unchecked, Washington has begun to pay attention. A 2019 investigation by the United States Department of Justice found that after Hurricane Maria, PREPA employees accepted or demanded bribes to restore power to residences and businesses before serving critical locations like San Juan’s Rio Piedras Medical Center. The power authority also mismanaged a warehouse where materials were stored that should have been available to help restore power on the island. And over six years, more than $300 million in public funds were spent on luxury hotels for consultants related to PREPA.
Last month the former governor Wanda Vázquez was arrested on corruption charges, and at least nine mayors have been accused of corruption. They include Eduardo Cintrón-Suárez, the former mayor of the Municipality of Guayama, who in July was sentenced to 30 months in prison for receiving cash payments in exchange for executing municipal contracts and approving invoice payments for an asphalt and paving company. Many more are believed to be under investigation.
Puerto Ricans shouldn’t have to rely on the U.S. government to deliver justice on a local level. Our own justice system must root out the corruption that threatens to suck the island dry. It can do that by investigating and prosecuting corruption to prove, in part, that the island itself can take the reins of justice. It should demand that the federal government carry out a fiscal restructuring that puts safeguards in place that curb corruption.
Hurricane Fiona was just a Category 1 storm, which is why the scale of destruction has taken so many of us by surprise. We knew things were bad, but we didn’t realize just how agonizingly bad. In the years since Hurricane Maria, our battered infrastructure has only gotten worse. As of Wednesday night, my water service and power was restored. With other storms churning in the Atlantic Ocean, it remains to be seen for how long. At least 20 hospitals are still running on generators.
What is most galling is that it is our own people who rob and abuse us. The betrayal is so insidious that I seethe with anger if I think about it too much. We’re tired of being displaced by wealthy foreigners, who flock to the island to bask on our beaches and get the tax breaks that are not available to us. We’re tired of politicians enriching themselves at our expense. We’re fed up with the blackouts.
After the hurricane passed, my neighbors and I checked on one another. I was moved to tears when my upstairs neighbor told me that our community spirit, the way we look out for one another, is what has helped us survive these past few years. No one is coming to save us. We’ve proved ourselves capable of ousting one governor from office, and we won’t stop until we have created a better, fairer Puerto Rico.