Puerto Rico shakes up Cabinet amid reconstruction efforts

July 31, 2018
FILE- In this June 22, 2018 file photo, Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello speaks about investment and business in Puerto Rico, during the Select USA Summit, in Oxon Hill, Md. The governor has announced, on Tuesday, July 31, a shake-up of top Cabinet officials as the U.S. territory prepares to invest a recent influx of federal funds aimed at helping the island rebuild from Hurricane Maria. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor announced a shake-up of top Cabinet officials on Tuesday as the U.S. territory prepares to invest a recent influx of federal funds aimed at helping the island rebuild from Hurricane Maria at the same time it’s struggling to emerge from a 12-year recession.

As part of the changes, the treasury secretary will serve as chief of staff and the director of Puerto Rico’s financial authority will be responsible for attracting new investment.

“Puerto Rico is going through moments of change, of opportunity that require action,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said.

He said his administration’s priorities include hurricane reconstruction, tax reform, education reform, debt restructuring and revamping the power sector as Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority moves toward privatization.

Gerardo Portela, who previously directed the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority that will now be overseen by Christian Sobrino, said he aims to put Puerto Rico back on the map with investors.

“It’s a big challenge given everything that’s happening with the economic crisis,” he said.

The island is trying to restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt load and re-enter the capital markets, with officials announcing late Monday that they reached a tentative deal with a bondholder group that holds more than $3 billion in debt from Puerto Rico’s power company.

Raul Maldonado, the new chief of staff, said the agency will be revamped and will now assign resources to other state departments using revenue from internal savings.

“We are at a point where we must execute all these plans,” he said, adding that he wants any upcoming changes to improve the quality of life for people on the island. “Puerto Rico not only needs a financial rebirth, but a community rebirth.”

An estimated more than 140,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island of 3.3 million people since the storm hit Sept. 20, and some experts estimate more than 300,000 more could leave in upcoming years.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as a federal control board overseeing the island’s finances released its annual report, saying the previous fiscal year has been a “momentous” one for Puerto Rico. The board said that while federal funding for hurricane reconstruction is sorely needed, it urged the U.S. government to amend certain laws to help Puerto Rico, including allowing foreign civil aircraft to stop on the island and exchange cargo with others.

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