News & Politics

Puerto Rico Governor Fires Emergency Services Director After Aid Found Sitting in Warehouse

(Image via Twitter)

A video showing disaster aid from the federal government for Puerto Rico sitting in a warehouse went viral on social media this past week, forcing Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced to fire her emergency services director.

Some of the aid was earmarked for victims of Hurricane Gloria, which devastated the island in 2017.

The president was heavily criticized at the time for the speed that aid was delivered to the stricken island. He lambasted local officials for incompetence.

CBSNews:

“There are thousands of people who have made sacrifices to help those in the south, and it is unforgivable that resources were kept in the warehouse,” Vázquez said in a statement.

Garced said in a statement that she has ordered Secretary of State Elmer Roman to conduct a “thorough investigation into the mishandling of emergency aid in a warehouse in Ponce,” CBS News correspondent David Begnaud reports.

“I have given 48 hours for this investigation. The investigation is to include this warehouse and any others which may exist,” her statement read. “In the same vein, I have decided to relieve Carlos Acevedo of his duties as the commissioner of the National Emergency Management and Disaster Relief Agency.”

Vázquez said she would nominate the current Puerto Rican National Guard chief for Senate consideration to replace Acevedo.

Earlier on Saturday, Acevedo said it was “insane” to imply the aid was mishandled.

In fact, Acevedo says everything is cool, no one went without anything. All the items in the warehouse are exactly where they should be.

“There are still pallets of food, water, diapers, and baby formula, cots and awnings in the warehouse. At no time has it been ordered to seize or destroy those items,” reads his statement.

“It is of utmost importance to emphasize that no citizen has been denied any of the items stored at the warehouse,” he said. “At the moment there is no shortage of any of these articles and they are being distributed to the people who need it, this may be corroborated in the shelters and base camps.”

So, no one is going hungry or thirsty now — or back in 2017 — and babies are getting enough to eat?

Trump is doing a great job, right? Well…

It has been true of disaster relief since the Katrina hurricane hit New Orleans in 2005 and FEMA was folded into the gigantic Department of Homeland Security. The federal government can only give aid to state and local authorities. After that, Washington has no jurisdiction.

FEMA began as a paperwork agency, showing up at disaster scenes a few days after a tragedy, making sure that victims who lost everything filled out the proper government form. It was only in the 1990s that disaster relief became so compartmentalized. Now the aid is sent to state FEMA directors who distribute it to local FEMA directors who work with first responders and groups like the Red Cross to see the relief is distributed fairly. The federal government was then and is now far removed from the actual, physical delivery of disaster aid.

But Trump and any other president is a convenient target and opposition congressmen love a convenient target. After all, a president can do anything, right? During the Katrina disaster, members of Congress and the press were telling President Bush to use helicopters to “drop” aid near the Superdome to alleviate the suffering. The problem was that there was no place to “drop” the aid because the structure was surrounded by water. And because local authorities had all but abandoned the Superdome, leaving 20,000 people to fend for themselves, it was impractical — even dangerous — to consider a drop of food and water.

Someone, somewhere dropped the ball in Puerto Rico. My guess is that the governor’s investigation will reveal other warehouses similarly stuffed with federal aid. It’s the nature of government to fail in these endeavors because efficiency and success aren’t rewarded any more than failure is punished. That warehouse would have sat there and Mr. Acevedo would still have his job without the accidental intervention of a private citizen doing a Facebook Live broadcast.

Thus, is history made.