Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Control Board: Parallel Government Full of Lawyers and Consultants

Martin Bienenstock sits in the audience, looking at his tablet. As the twelfth public meeting of Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Control Board takes place, he raises his eyes, adjusts his glasses, frowns and pays attention to the discussion. Nothing seems to happen and his eyes go back to the electronic device. Bienenstock, a partner at New York-based Proskauer Rose, is a well-known lawyer in the corporate restructuring industry. With almost 40 years of experience, he has participated in many of the largest bankruptcies in the U.S., including a key role in the restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler, and representing now-defunct Enron in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Government of Puerto Rico did not follow federal guideline to certify post-María deaths

The government of Puerto Rico did not follow guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta to fill out death certificates after Hurricane María, which suggests attaching a special form to link the death to a natural disaster. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, for its initials in Spanish) discovered that the federal agency waited 36 days after the hurricane to send the documents, which include the special form, to the Puerto Rico Health Department and the Demographic Registry. “The correct protocol and laws where used,” insisted Héctor Pesquera, Secretary of Public Security, in November, after questions arose about the official numbers of deaths related to the emergency. At that time, when asked about the lack of a clear protocol for accounting deaths, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told BuzzFeed News: “It’s ok [the protocol], that is not the case. There are clear criteria.” He added that the officials had been “working on that and they have been meeting with hospitals, crematoriums, Forensics Sciences and they have already distributed the protocol.”

However, the CDC guidelines suggest that each standard death certificate have an attached form titled Epidemiological Disaster Mortality Surveillance.

CPI+CNN Investigation: Records suggest Puerto Rico saw a leptospirosis outbreak after Hurricane Maria — but officials won’t call it that

Puerto Rico’s own records list so many cases of the bacterial disease leptospirosis that officials should have declared an “epidemic” or an “outbreak” after Hurricane Maria instead of denying that one occurred, according to seven medical experts who reviewed previously unreleased data for CNN and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI). A Puerto Rico mortality database — which CNN and CPI sued the island’s Demographic Registry to obtain — lists 26 deaths in the six months after Hurricane Maria that were labeled by clinicians as “caused” by leptospirosis, a bacterial illness known to spread through water and soil, especially in the aftermath of storms. That’s more than twice the number of deaths as were listed in Puerto Rico the previous year, according to an analysis of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) records. “Twenty-six deaths attributed to leptospirosis — that’s extraordinary,” said Dr. Joseph Vinetz, a professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego and an expert on the disease, who reviewed the data. “There’s no other way of putting it … The numbers are huge.”

Puerto Rico’s Health Department attributed only four leptospirosis deaths to Hurricane Maria until June 22 — when it added two more after CNN and CPI asked about the 26 deaths. Officials maintained that the timing was related to laboratory tests and not questions from reporters.

CPI Certifies That Rosselló Government Did Not Deliver All Information Regarding Deaths in Puerto Rico

After conducting an exhaustive inventory of several thousand digital and printed documents, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) certified Wednesday night through a compliance order submitted to the court that it received only part of the information requested to the government of Puerto Rico about deaths on the island after Hurricane María. A database showing causes of death was received via CD as an Excel file, with information from September 18, 2017 to June 11, 2018. However, the database did not indicate what percent of deaths per month were already entered. The CPI has made the database publicly available for direct download. The CPI also noted that this database, which contains 22,985 entries, listed all the deaths that occurred in Puerto Rico from September 18, 2017 to June 11, 2017.

Puerto Rico Debt Audit Drags on as Creditor Negotiations Heat up

A mural alongside Baldorioty de Castro Avenue in San Juan, near the exit to De Diego Street, reads nowadays, “¡Auditoría ya, mamabichxs! A ciegas no” (which roughly translates into “Audit Now, suckers! Don’t do it blindly”). Its message refers to Puerto Rico’s public debt: the island still waits for an audit of the billions of dollars in debt issued by the Government and over which it still owes more than $70 billion, which adds to another $50 billion owed to its pensioners. The lack of this exercise becomes more urgent these days.

Puerto Rico Government Did Not Prevent Most Hurricane María-Related Deaths

Nobody has to prove to Jazmín Cruz-Corporán that the Puerto Rico government did not have a response plan for a massive public health emergency like Hurricane María. She is certain there were serious problems at the hospitals and health facilities before the phenomenon devastated the island. The woman lived her own nightmare at the Ryder Hospital in Humacao, where her father began the slow and painful path toward death. Gaspar Cruz-Agosto was admitted to the institution on Aug. 30 for diverticulitis.

Most Puerto Rican evacuees in Chicago didn’t benefit from FEMA hotel program

Of those who arrived in Chicago affected by Hurricane Maria , only 67 families entered the hotel program of the federal agency, while 155 were located or are on a list for subsidized housing in the city. Others already returned when they did not get where to stay.

Cantera or the Neglect of Public Policy to Tackle Poverty

The quintessential image that portrays the history of the Cantera community in San Juan dates back to 1989, when residents met in a house garage to assign each other tasks and assume their own reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo. It sparked a community organization process, which in turn led to the establishment of a public corporation to meet the needs of the impoverished sector and work with its residents to improve their living conditions. Three decades later, Cantera is in agony and after enduring hurricane María, it now faces the shutdown of the Company for the Integral Development of the Cantera Peninsula, as proposed by the Fiscal Plan certified in April by Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Control Board (FCB). The measure, although approved by the FCB, is not an idea of the entity imposed by the federal government. It shows up in internal documents of the Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares administration, which in October 2017 — a month after María — contemplated closing down the public corporation.