San Juan – Puerto Rican Sen. Eder Ortiz asked Monday for an investigation into the theft of weapons from National Guard armories that has been blamed on a lack of funds to hire personnel to keep watch over its installations.
Ortiz, of the main opposition PPD, made his plea after the head of the National Guard in Puerto Rico, Maj. Gen. Antonio Vicens, acknowledged before the Senate Finance Committee that budget cuts have cause a breakdown in security and the consequent theft of armaments.
Ortiz said it was essential that Puerto Rico's law enforcement agencies take charge of National Guard armories since the Guard itself has shown itself incapable of protecting them.
Another lawmaker, Sila Mari Gonzalez, said that the Puerto Rico National Guard owes millions of dollars to the state electricity monopoly AEE and thousands of dollars for water and sewer services.
Gonzalez said that the final responsibility for the problem lies with the administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño for not allocating the necessary funds to deal with the Guard's problems.
"Not providing adequate security for our installations not only puts property and the lives of those who work there at risk, but puts all our citizens at risk," Maj. Gen. Vicens said before the Senate committee.
He explained that Puerto Rico's National Guard has almost 200 positions vacant that cannot be filled due to a lack of funds, seeing that the Fortuño administration slashed its budget under Law 7, a measure aimed at laying off thousands of public-sector employees.
"We have been the target of arms and equipment theft at a number of bases. Investigations show a lack of security measures as the main reason for these losses," Vicens said.
The National Guard began patrolling the streets of Puerto Rico in February 2010 to support police in the fight against a surge in violent crime.
But the Guard was taken off street patrols last summer due to questionable results and the lack of funding.