Federal aid to individuals is not flowing just because the Treasury Department does not approve the guidelines. Aren’t you afraid that the same thing happens with the Federal Treasury as the FEMA aid, that mistrust of Puerto Rico stopped the aid?
-No. It has been important that in this process the Secretary of the Treasury has maintained a close collaboration with the Federal Treasury. There are some details that they have to exchange information. For example, there are Social Security beneficiaries who also file returns, there are veterans, there are different categories of taxpayers who will be entitled as taxpayers, but they may also be entitled as Social Security beneficiaries, so there is a series of information that they have to exchange. They have been well advanced. They have requested information from the Treasury data. I hope that with the favor of God, according to the projections that the Secretary of the Treasury has worked, we can already be at the end of April beginning the disbursement of those first $ 1,200.
And what happens with unemployment and with the PAN? Where is the knot that prevents the aid from flowing? People are already desperate and it is even raised on social networks that in this issue of aid, pressure from Fortaleza is needed, as there was for purchases in Health.
“I have to clarify that there has been no pressure from Fortaleza to make any determination.” The function, if any that La Fortaleza has done is that made by any governor to ensure that the work is done and that the agencies fulfill their responsibility, is the pure governmental function. In terms of disbursements, as of today, the Department of Labor has disbursed $ 31 million to 56,947 people. Many times we evaluate our function and our officials and we do not look at the rest of the world to be able to compare. To give you an idea, we have submitted 33% of the applications, however the state of Florida that has the most resources and the most personnel, has only delivered a 3% disbursement to its citizens. That we need to do it as soon as possible, yes, and we have increased our efforts and I hope that by the end of this week we can let all Puerto Ricans know when we begin to disburse the $ 600 that is part of the CARES Act. 173,000 applications have been received, or whether it is something that neither Puerto Rico, nor the United States, nor anyone else was prepared for. We have responded with 31% for all those people, so I think that every day we can improve, but we have come a long way.
You celebrated on social networks that a Facebook tool confirms that Puerto Rico has been successful in limiting social contact. But beyond the distancing tests are needed to eventually get out of the confinement, how are you going to make decisions without a healthy evidence base that would be 6,000 tests per million inhabitants?
—For us to be able to make that determination we have expert people in the different areas. In the absence of evidence, as has happened to all the countries of the world that are creating their data and making determinations, Puerto Rico is no exception either. As of today, both PCR and serological tests, Puerto Rico has performed about 12,174, of those 915 people and of which 1,378 have tested positive. In addition to all the specialists we’ve talked to, we also have a group of specialists in economics, developing, trade, in industries. We have been discussing that balance with all of them and we hope at the end of this week to present to the Puerto Rican people a phased plan of how we are going to reactivate the economy, but with great care,
But the concern is that we are still the jurisdiction with the least evidence per capita. How are we going to open without the test data?
—We will go little by little in those activities where we can maintain social distance, where we can take measures. It’s very important … We can’t be testing everyone for tests, tests, tests. (He relates that Dr. Fauci confirms that they cannot test everyone). The United States has only tested 1% of its population and it is they who manufacture the tests. So, what we are doing is that all of these rapid tests, because we are testing all nursing homes, we are doing rapid tests on all the first responders, we are going to have a campaign to test. But, with the evidence we have, I believe that we can open up those spaces where there can be social distancing and security can be guaranteed to employees.
President Trump recommended a three-phase plan, but it includes jurisdictions with high levels of evidence, and a decline in cases has been demonstrated. Will your plan include similar parameters?
—We have taken into consideration the guidelines that the President has given, the guidelines established by the CDC and also the product of the analysis of all the sectors in the economic committees that cover all areas, industry, pharmaceuticals, shops, restaurants , retail, the builders. All of them have done their bit in that analysis of their different industries, how we can start in a safe way.
It has been said that we have 200 to 400 thousand tests, but only 12,174 have been done. Have you identified the reason?
—What happens is that when these tests are received, they have been distributed by the different health centers so that all Puerto Ricans throughout Puerto Rico, if they have doubts, have symptoms, their health centers have these alternatives to do the samples. Obviously, if there are no people with symptoms, then people have not been tested. We cannot think that a person who has symptoms of cough, shortness of breath is going to stay home. So what we must understand is that they have been distributed so that all health centers can have the answer for these citizens.
Regarding the hearings in the House of Representatives, it is not ruled out whether you are summoned. How do you see it? Would you go to a cameral summons?
—That is a discretion that has the House of Representatives. You must analyze it in a very correct way. I believe that the people of Puerto Rico have seen what is the purpose of these views, so truly regarding the views, I have no comment.
In your last press conference you described as totally false that someone from Fortaleza had demanded the signing of a contract in Health in 20 minutes, but in the court hearings, under oath Health officials testified that this request did happen and that it was their assistant, Marisol Blasco. Did you talk to her to find out what happened there?
“You have to take a good look at what that witness said under oath.” In fact, he didn’t even remember well what had happened, what was the matter in that conversation, that it had been a speaker conversation. What I can tell the people of Puerto Rico is that no official from La Fortaleza has done any wrong act, has followed the governmental function of all the governors. All the governors you can ask him what is the function of his assistants unless he finds a follow-up in the agencies of the plan of public policy and of service to the people. So if they followed that directive to follow up, that’s their role. What I can tell you is that there is nothing wrong, that they have not committed any crime, or violated the law.
By your answer, should I understand that there was some kind of communication with her and that you understand that there was no violation of law?
“Well … probably the same communication you said, I have not done anything wrong, I told you I had 20 minutes to get there.”
If the name of Blasco and the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Lilliam Sánchez, appear in the hearings…. These officials so close to you … Do you insist that the evidence purchase was never consulted with you?
“Buying the evidence in no way.” There was no reason to ask me. The governor does not have to make any determination regarding that.
At the hearings, a text message from Dr. Juan Salgado also emerged, indicating that the transaction to purchase the evidence could only be authorized by the then secretary or by Dr. Segundo Rodríguez … Did you give Dr. Rodríguez the authority to approve purchases ?
—The operation of the Task Force was clearly established in the Executive Order: to evaluate, recommend, advise and investigate from a medical point of view. There, no Task Force doctor had authorization to make decisions and I do not understand that they have made determinations. If there are some alternatives to make medical decisions, well, probably as an example, the doctor could have said, buy those tests, or I think they are beneficial. The function was to advise, it was not to make the determination. The decisional function of the purchasing process corresponds to the agency.
The cancellation of any contract with Apex, Juan Maldonado or even Tito Laureano in the government is not the recognition that the transaction was wrong?
-Not in any way. It is a measure that I have taken because what had transpired was that these people had committed themselves – in a moment of crisis where the people today are still asking for proof – some people who had promised to put some evidence in five days in Puerto Rico and they did not comply. So it was an emergency moment and I understand that those people made an inadequate representation and a person that does that in the middle of an emergency, because for me it should not have any type of benefit in the government.
Dr. Quiñones de Longo’s text message with reference to multimillion-dollar purchases, you put it as an acknowledgment that she was aware of the APEX transaction, but the message does not specifically talk about that transaction. How do you come to that conclusion?
“No, I am not finished.” They asked me and I presented the text message where the day before her resignation she makes a clear acknowledgment where she says mult multi-million dollar decisions that I have been making ’. The conclusions are made by people. I tell her what she expressed of her own free will, where even she declared to be happy, to be willing to stay in the Health Department.
Do you think it can be concluded then that this expression is about the APEX transaction?
—Well, it is about any transaction that was working until then because she does not distinguish, in fact at that time other decisions had been made that were also billionaires, even at a higher cost than what is being talked about.
That’s why I ask her because she did talk about signing the fan contract, which is also a billionaire, so wouldn’t it be stretching the gum to say that it’s about the APEX transaction you were talking about?
“That determination has to be made by someone else in your analysis, in your research.” It does not correspond to me. I present what she said to me.
Since when do you not meet with the Task Force?
“About a week and a half ago, perhaps.” Or two weeks.
Do you think that the Task Force is still a vital tool for the government?
“It is certainly a vital tool.” They are all extraordinary, experienced professionals, they are academics, they are scientists, they are the teachers of our doctors. They are people who are interested in contributing to Puerto Rico without any advantage, without charging a single penny. Just because we do the right thing and the advice and consent they have given for the decisions we have made, now and in the past, have shown that they have been the right ones.
Don’t you think the Task Force has lost credibility?
—It would be very sad and very painful that the intention behind those hearings, which I understand that in no way have demonstrated that the doctors have done something wrong… Those doctors made decisions based on the executive order and did so for the benefit of Puerto Rico. I believe that the vast majority of the people of Puerto Rico are clear that those doctors put one foot forward to help Puerto Rico. If that would be the impression, it would be very painful.
Watch the interview here: