Spotlight on Puerto Rico: Rosselló fills top economic & other slots

By Jennice Fuentes / Fuentes Strategies

Ricardo Rosselló y Manuel LaboyGovernor-elect Ricardo “Ricky” Rosselló announced his choices for top economic development posts in his administration. Rosselló appointed Manuel Laboy Rivera as Secretary of Economic Development and Commerce. Laboy Rivera is a chemical engineer and a partner in a firm that develops energy projects. He also served as Assistant Secretary for Economic Development and Commerce under the administration of Governor Luis Fortuño. For Chair of the Planning Board, Rosselló selected María Gordillo Pérez, who served as Vice Chair of the Board under Fortuño. In addition, Rosselló announced that María Palou Abasolo will be his Development and Infrastructure Advisor in Fortaleza. Palou Abasolo, a lawyer, worked on the Telecommunications Regulatory Board under Fortuño. Both Laboy Rivera and Palou Abasolo are part of the Governor-elect’s transition team.

Earlier this week, Rosselló also announced other top selections, including: Fernando Gil for Secretary of Housing, Glorimar Andujar to head the Department of the Family, Andrés Waldemar Volmar as Secretary of Recreation and Sports, Waleska Maldonado Claudio to lead the Minors Welfare Administration (ASUME in Spanish), and Jesús Vélez Vargas to be the coordinator for the Socioeconomic Financing Office (also known as the Special Communities Office).

Top D.C. posts to be filled soon

The Governor-elect also selected Washington, D.C. attorney Carlos Mercader as the new Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA). Mercader, a Republican, has been close to Rosselló for years and served as his informal “man in Washington” in his race for the Governorship. Separately, top Democratic lobbyist Manuel Ortiz will lobby on behalf of PRFAA. Ortiz was the top Washington strategist for Rosselló’s father, and also represented former San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini.

Specter of deflation worries economists

Puerto Rico faces the concurring daunting tasks of restructuring its $70 billion debt, reversing a decade-old economic recession, and mitigating record out-migration, all while making sure that the government has enough resources to cover its citizens’ basic needs. In addition, there is now another concern to add to the list: deflation. Economists worry that the island is facing a devastating reduction in prices that will make it difficult for the private sector to grow out of the crisis. In 2015, the consumer price index (CPI) was negative the entire year, except for one month where it was zero. In 2016, the CPI was negative for nine months out of the year. The last time that deflation was calculated in Puerto Rico was September 2016, when the inflation rate was -0.8%.