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Vox Sentences: What is happening in Puerto Rico?

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Another corruption scandal rocks Puerto Rico; the UN Human Rights Council votes to open an investigation into deaths during the Philippines’ drug war.

Former government officials arrested in Puerto Rico

AP Photo/Carlos Giusti
  • Two former Puerto Rico government officials have been arrested in a corruption scandal. [NPR / Bobby Allyn]
  • Julia Keleher, who was education secretary until April, and Ángela Ávila-Marrero, who led Puerto Rico’s Health Insurance Administration until June, were arrested by the FBI on corruption charges along with four other people. [AP / Mariela Santos]
  • Law enforcement says the two former agency chiefs directed $15.5 million in contracts within their departments to businesses they had personal ties with, even if a business was unqualified for the job. They also allegedly would leak private government information via personal email or the messaging app Telegram. [WSJ / Andrew Scurria]
  • Puerto Rico has been suffering from a string of corruption scandals spanning multiple administrations. On June 28, the FBI announced that it was “investigating patterns of conduct concerning government corruption and fraud” in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. [FBI]
  • Struggling from a financial crisis and massive budget cuts, the government has resorted to hiring private companies to carry out health care and educational services — making the conditions “ripe for corruption,” according to political analyst Félix Córdova. [NPR / Bobby Allyn]
  • Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who is not implicated in the corruption investigation, condemned Keleher and Ávila-Marrero following their arrest. That hasn’t stopped Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), chair of the Natural Resources Committee that oversees Puerto Rico, from calling for Rosselló’s resignation because he has the governor has lost accountability. [USA Today / William Cummings]
  • Many fear these corruption charges will embolden President Donald Trump, who partially held up a much-needed disaster aid bill after Hurricane Maria because he thought island officials were “incompetent or corrupt.” [Washington Post / Jeff Stein]
  • In addition, Puerto Rico leaders are currently asking Congress for $12 billion to support the island’s Medicaid, which anticipates a funding shortfall in the near future. The battle for the money will be hard enough without lawmakers questioning their ability to manage the funds. [NYT / Patricia Mazzei]

UN opens investigation into deaths in Philippines’ drug war

  • After years of human rights groups calling out the Philippines’ drug war killings, the UN Human Rights Council voted to open up an investigation into the matter. [AP]
  • President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration says 6,600 people have died over three years during the country’s war on drugs, but human rights advocates estimate the death toll surpasses 27,000. [Al Jazeera / Ted Regencia]
  • The vote, which passed 18-14 with 15 members abstaining, is a modest step forward to investigate such claims: Although it doesn’t open up a full-fledged commission, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet will have a year to put together a thorough report on the issue. [BBC]
  • If the Philippines continues its abuses, the report could set up the necessary stepping stones for the UN to take stronger measures against the country. [NYT / Nick Cumming-Bruce]
  • Opposition from the Philippines was fierce: Foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin called the resolution “politically partisan and one-sided.” Duterte also called the text “crazy,” although he did say he’d consider letting allowing UN human rights staff work in the country. [ / Christia Marie Ramos]
  • The vote passed just days after a 3-year-old girl was killed in a drug raid. She was the youngest person to die in the government’s crackdown on drugs. [Philippine Star / Kristine Joy Patag]
  • Iceland, which joined the Human Rights Council after the United States withdrew, led the resolution. Despite being a country with only 400,000 people, it has supported several controversial resolutions that others have avoided in fear of retaliation from stronger countries — such as China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. [NYT / Nick Cumming-Bruce]


  • Amazon has increasingly adapted automation technology. In response, the company will spend $700 million to retrain a third of its workers so they’re not left behind. [NYT / Adam Satariano]
  • A lake in Russia is attracting hordes of Instagrammers looking to snap photos in its crystal blue waters. Just one problem: The turquoise hue comes from a toxic blend of calcium salts and metal oxides, waste from a nearby power plant. [Vice / Sarah Emerson]
  • Chernobyl is the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, but that’s not stopping Ukraine from making the site an “official tourism attraction.” [BBC]
  • After an armored truck spilled $175,000 on the road, drivers pulled up to gather the bills. It’s illegal to keep the money, however, and the police want it back. [CNN / Ryan Prior and Amanda Watts]
  • Japan’s Hayabusa2 probe made a “perfect touchdown” on a faraway asteroid Thursday and will now collect samples that could give scientists insight into the origins of the solar system. [ / Kyoko Hasegawa]


“The Puerto Rican people deserve a government that takes public service seriously, that’s transparent and accountable, and that doesn’t let this happen in the first place.” [A statement from Rep. Raúl Grijalva calling for Gov. Rosselló’s resignation]

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