A video showing a Puerto Rican warehouse full of unused supplies—allegedly given to aid survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane María—has set off a political firestorm on the island, currently reeling from a series of earthquakes.
The footage, streamed on Saturday by Lorenzo Delgado Torres, instantly went viral, showing a warehouse in the southern coastal city of Ponce full of unused emergency supplies: bottled water (now expired), propane gas tanks, portable stoves, diapers, and baby formula. The supplies are believed to have been sitting at the 43,000 square-foot warehouse since September 2017.
As the New York Times reports, word of the unused emergency supplies spread quickly through Ponce, where thousands remain in shelters following the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit the island two weeks ago. Angry residents showed up at the warehouse to “demand an explanation, jeer at government officials and take some of the supplies,” writes the Times.
Gov. Wanda Vázquez attempted to move quickly to quell the crisis. In an official statement given after the enraging discovery, she called the unused resources “unforgivable.” By Sunday, she had fired three cabinet officials: Carlos Acevedo, director of Puerto Rico’s Office of Emergency Management, was the first to go, followed by Housing Secretary Fernando Gil and Department of Family Secretary Glorimar Andújar.
Gil and Andújar were fired after neither was able to provide Vázquez information she asked for about collection and distribution centers in the wake of the burgeoning scandal, she said. Vázquez also vowed not to charge any residents who had taken supplies from the full, unattended warehouse.
But the quick response wasn’t enough to deter protesters from calling for Gov. Vázquez’s resignation over the weekend—the trust between ordinary Puerto Ricans and their government leaders further eroded. After all, in addition to natural disasters, this is only the latest example of government mismanagement and incompetence to hit the U.S. territory in the last few years. From the Times:
Trailers full of food, water and baby supplies that had been donated for hurricane victims were found left to rot at a government office nearly a year after the storm. By that time, they had become infested by rats. Thousands of unused cases of bottled water laid to waste for months on an unused runway. Donations compiled in Florida rotted away because the Puerto Rican government did not have money to ship them to the island.
President Donald Trump is also likely to use the news to further complicate the aid process to Puerto Rico. For a month, the Trump administration withheld $8.2 billion in congressionally-approved disaster funding to help Puerto Ricans—who are U.S. citizens—following the wave of earthquakes. Trump and his administration have repeatedly cited wasteful spending and financial mismanagement as reasons why more aid restrictions are necessary, though they waited a full five days after Puerto Rico asked for post-earthquake relief to declare a disaster.
The federal government is not without blame, either. As the Washington Post notes, the most high-profile corruption case concerning relief efforts in Puerto Rico involved federal employees—namely, two FEMA officials who were charged with fraud and bribery over the allocation of $1.8 billion in contracts to restore the island’s mangled power grid.
As incompetence and delays abound, the lives of thousands of Puerto Ricans hang in the balance. According to the Post, $20 billion in promised federal funding has trickled slowly toward the island’s residents, many of whom have been waiting since 2017 for help.
“If my house had been repaired, I might have something to return to now,” resident Nydia Camacho told the paper. “Do you know what it is to have so many people like me who can’t move on? All we need is a little push to get going.”