The stakes are higher than ever for Puerto Rico’s upcoming gubernatorial election, which is why the last thing one of the island’s two major parties needed was a major corruption scandal. But that’s exactly what the pro-commonwealth Partido Popular Democrático (PPD) got when one of their top fundraisers pleaded guilty to fraud back in February, then started naming names. Now, with yesterday’s resignation of House President Jaime Perelló, the scandal has tainted the highest echelons of PPD hierarchy and thrown yet another curveball into the island’s ongoing political and economic crisis.
The controversy revolves around a shady government contract favoring a local telecomm company that never ended up delivering the goods, but the charges of extortion, bribery, and corruption that ended up taking down millionaire businessman and PPD fundraiser Anaudi Hernández Pérez actually go much deeper. Unfortunately for Puerto Rico’s center-left, Hernández also happened to be a close friend of Perelló and current governor Alejandro García Padilla.
Over the last few months, numerous other PPD operatives have been implicated in the scandal, and when Perelló was named in a recent testimony, the party closed ranks to demand his resignation as House President. So far, the decision to oust him from within the PPD has been controversial, and party president and gubernatorial candidate David Bernier reportedly strong-armed PPD legislators into supporting Perelló’s ouster.
Given that no formal charges have been presented against the 20-year congressional veteran, the decision may indeed seem a bit precipitated, but it’s not surprising considering the island’s current political atmosphere. In the lead up to the November elections, Bernier has styled himself as a transformational candidate and alternative to politics-as-usual, while Perelló’s unsavory associations place him firmly in line with the latter. Even so, the legislator has retained his house seat and will even have his party’s support for reelection next year. So much for cleaning house.