In Puerto Rico, arrests of elected officials are deteriorating confidence in government: NPR

Adrian Florido of NPR talks to Benjamin Torres Gotay, a reporter and columnist for Puerto Rico the new day, on recent arrests of elected officials in connection with corruption.



ADRIAN FLORIDO, GUEST:

The FBI and the Department of Justice are busy arresting elected officials in Puerto Rico. In the past six months, they have charged 6 of the island’s 78 mayors with public corruption, and more are reportedly under investigation. It’s an explosive scandal that our next guest says is endangering public confidence in a government that is steadily losing the confidence of many of its citizens. Benjamin Torres Gotay is a reporter and columnist for Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia. He now joins me. Benjamin, (Spanish speaking).

BENJAMIN TORRES GOTAY: (Spanish speaking).

FLORIDO: Six mayors arrested by the FBI in just six months. What are they accused of.

GOTAY: (via interpreter) They are essentially accused of the same thing, which is asking for money in exchange for government contracts. And the same two waste and asphalt companies are involved in all these cases.

FLORIDO: And I understand that the Justice Department has released some pretty damning evidence – photo, video evidence of some of this alleged bribery.

GOTAY: (via interpreter) In the case of the mayor of Guaynabo, one of the main cities of Puerto Rico, they released a photo where you can see the mayor accepting an envelope supposedly filled with money from a contractor who pay a bribe.

FLORIDO: How shocking have these arrests been for people in Puerto Rico?

GOTAY: (By interpreter) I can’t say people are shocked, but people are tired. They are exhausted by the frequency and intensity of these cases. And we have reflected that in the recent elections. People started voting against the two main parties that have always controlled the government here. And in my opinion this is because of corruption and the collapse of government institutions that we have seen in the last 15 to 20 years.

FLORIDO: It’s worth noting that studies have shown that Puerto Rico is no more prone to corruption than other places in the United States. But you write that this is going to be one of the biggest corruption scandals in the history of Puerto Rico, that Puerto Ricans increasingly feel like they are surrounded by thieves.

GOTAY: (By interpreter) Well, that’s because you feel it, see it and hear it talking in the street. So many politicians are being accused and there are rumors of more arrests to come. All this, in my view, creates the sensation that the government is nothing more than a pinata that can come and plunder corrupt interests.

FLORIDO: This scandal is creeping close to the island’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi. A friend of his pleaded guilty to concealing the provenance of half a million dollars he raised to help Pierluisi win the governorship last year. Is the governor in danger here?

GOTAY: (By interpreter) It’s hard for me to answer that question. Legal problems I don’t know, but political problems – obviously he is.

FLORIDO: So there is clearly a brewing credibility crisis here. Is there anything the governor can do to restore public confidence at this time?

GOTAY: (By interpreter) It’s a good question, Adrian, but there’s no easy answer. This crisis of confidence in public institutions has been brewing for years. I think there are ways to restore public confidence, but it has to be through radical reform. And with the politicians we have in power, I just don’t see that happening.

FLORIDO: Benjamin Torres Gotay is a reporter and columnist for Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, El Nuevo Dia. Thank you.

GOTAY: (Spanish speaking).

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