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Puerto Rico's former housing secretary claims governor knew about unused aid

Puerto Rico protesters demand governor resign

Puerto Rico's former Housing Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat claims that Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced knew about unused aid that was found sitting in a warehouse on Saturday. Vázquez has said she was unaware of the aid — some of the which allegedly dated back to 2017's Hurricane Maria — and called for an investigation into its disuse. 

Vázquez fired Enseñat, as well as the island's emergency management director Carlos Acevedo and another high-ranking official, over the weekend. The governor cited in her decision a lack of information about aid collection and distribution centers.

In announcing Acevedo's firing, Vázquez said it was "unforgivable that resources were kept in the warehouse."

Enseñat challenged the governor's denial on Tuesday. He told Puerto Rican radio station NotiUno 630 that the governor and other officials knew the aid was sitting in a warehouse in Ponce, a town hit by recent earthquakes. Enseñat said the aid was hidden from "no one." 

Enseñat also told the radio station he was upset by how he was fired by Vázquez in the aftermath of the aid's discovery. 

"It really pains me in the form and manner [I was told to leave], because it wasn't fair for this servant," he said.

In an official statement, Vázquez said she let him go because he jeopardized federal housing aid funds. 

"We will not permit that nothing puts at risk the federal funds assigned to Puerto Rico that meets the needs of our people," reads a translation of the governor's statement.

Vázquez said on Tuesday that preliminary findings of the investigation into why the aid wasn't distributed to people in need are confidential and will be further investigated by the new Attorney General. 

Puerto Rican's have called for her to release the preliminary findings now.

Protesters have gathered outside Puerto Rico's Capitol building and the governor's mansion, demanding her resignation. 

"We have to get rid of all the corrupt officials," Mari Rivera, a government employee, told The Associated Press. Rivera said Vazquez "needs to stop blaming others and show her face."

The demonstrations are reminiscent of protests last year that led to the resignation of Puerto Rico's former governor, Ricardo Rosselló. Thousands protested outside the governor's mansion for 12 days, calling for an end to corruption and systemic problems on the island made worse by Hurricane María. Rosselló was succeeded by Vázquez, who at the time was the island's secretary of Justice.

Hurricane María killed about 3,000 people, and the island incurred about $90 billion in damage, according to figures accepted by the Puerto Rican government. On Tuesday — more than two years after the hurricane hit — FEMA announced it approved a grant of $39.5 million to fund the reconstruction of a hospital on the island of Vieques, which has been without a hospital since 2017.  

In recent weeks a string of earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico. More than 2,000 tremors have occurred since December 28.

PUERTORICO-QUAKE
A man removes diapers and baby wipes from a warehouse filled with supplies, believed to have been from when Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017 in Ponce, Puerto Rico on January 18, 2020. RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

David Begnaud and Christopher Brito contributed to this report. 

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