Behind the ruins: Haiti and Puerto Rico

Haiti’s national portrait is deceiving: ax, pickaxe and shovel. Blood on the streets and masked uniformed men running amok. An easy-to-consume, instant chaos. January 2020 marks 10 years of the earthquake and 216 years of being the first black republic. Its portrait, sadly, continues to be one of destruction.

Climate talks said to bode ill for PR, other islands 

MADRID — No Puerto Rico delegation took part in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid, but decisions made as the fractious two-week meeting came to a close on last Sunday could spell disaster for the territory if the United States and a handful of other large countries don’t change their ways, island nations said. “The big polluters and the countries that emit the most are not wanting to take responsibility or leadership,” said Ramón Cruz, a Puerto Rican expert in climate change and international relations and vice president of the Sierra Club, adding, “We’re living the effects of the climate emergency and they’re not standing up to the problem.”

As a US territory, Puerto Rico — which was named the country that suffered the most from extreme events from 1999 to 2018 in the 2020 Global Climate Risk Index — is not allowed to send its own delegation to participate in the crucial annual negotiations. “It’s very difficult for us to really play any part in it because we’re represented there technically by the US, and the US could not care less about Puerto Rico,” said Mr. Cruz. Under President Donald Trump, he added, the US hindered progress at the talks even though it plans to withdraw next year from the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, which commits nations around the world to work toward cutting carbon emissions enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “It was really unfortunate that the Trump administration was throwing so many wrenches in the process even though they don’t want to engage,” said Mr. Cruz.

Opportunity Zones Act in Puerto Rico questioned and pending regulation

The tax exemptions that the government of Puerto Rico intends to extend to investors through the Opportunity Zones Act “may not comply” with the Fiscal Plan. Tax credits of up to 25% and exemptions in the payment of municipal taxes were some of the red flags raised by the Fiscal Control Board as a “cause for concern.”

“There are provisions of the law that apparently make it inconsistent with the government’s Fiscal Plan… The municipal exemption provision could be burdensome to the municipalities,” Fiscal Control Board Spokesman Edward Zayas told the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish). Former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló signed the Opportunity Zones Act on May 14 but it has not been enforced because it still lacks a regulation for its implementation. Although so far this law is practically null, in August the government approved a list of commercial activities that could be recognized as Priority Projects in Opportunity Zones.

Puerto Rico Fiscal Control Board’s Scandalous Secrecy Exposed

In a legal fight for access to information that has been going on for more than two years, the Fiscal Control Board (JCF, for its initials in Spanish) argued before the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico that it has not delivered public information to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, for its initials in Spanish) to avoid revealing which politicians accept public services reductions. This and other JCF arguments are contained in a motion that seeks to dismiss the second lawsuit submitted by CPI to gain access to communications between that entity and the Government of Puerto Rico. The second lawsuit was made necessary this year since the non-elected body that governs the island’s finances has delayed the delivery of 22,000 documents (out of a total of 40,000) that they have acknowledged would be responsive to a request made by CPI in a first lawsuit filed in 2017. The delivery of the first tens of thousands of documents served to source several stories about the Board’s communications with local and federal government entities included in the series “Los emails de la Junta” (“The Board’s emails”). Some revelations were even mentioned by Puerto Rican U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the Oct.

Jurisdiction Over the Agreement that Would Control the San Juan Docks in a Limbo

The Federal Maritime Commission (FMC) is evaluating different alternatives to obtain more information about the agreement between two of the main companies that operate at the Puerto Nuevo, San Juan, cargo pier. However, the chairman of the federal entity, Michael A. Khouri, warned Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced that if, as it seems, the transaction is actually a merger of companies or a purchase of assets, the FMC may not have the authority to stop the agreement between Luis Ayala Colón (LAC), the company responsible for loading and unloading international ships at the Puerto Nuevo pier, and Puerto Rico Terminals, a subsidiary of Tote Maritime, the second-largest company that operates the domestic cargo terminals in the Port of San Juan. The FMC’s concern over service being affected and that freight costs to and from Puerto Rico would be increased was expressed by Khouri in a letter he sent to Vázquez on Oct. 1. The “Commission will insist on enhanced monitoring with extensive disclosure of business and marketplace information.

FEMA Stalls Health Center for Vieques

The successions of bureaucratic setbacks for the reconstruction of the Vieques health center includes false information from the Resident Commissioner and FEMA’s insistence to reverse its own decisions and repeat studies that have already been completed. An elderly woman who dies from complications from diabetes that has been poorly treated, a young athlete who got hurt and cannot be evaluated with x-rays, a community leader with cancer who has to travel on a dirty cot in the back of a plane because, in Vieques, they cannot tend to complications due to surgery, a sick newborn who is transferred by helicopter in an emergency because there is no equipment on the island municipality to monitor his oxygenation, women who have to plan their deliveries and end up doing c-sections because they can no longer give birth in Vieques. They are all victims of the lack of adequate medical services in Vieques, a municipality nine miles East of the “big island” of Puerto Rico, aggravated after Hurricane María destroyed the only Diagnostic and Treatment Center (CDT, in Spanish), and a maritime transportation system that barely works. Some basic services have been temporarily reestablished in a school that served as a shelter. But the health care needs of the “Viequenses” require a permanent medical facility, better than the one there was two years ago, which was already precarious.

Mitigation Plans for Coastal Municipalities Do Not Include Dealing with Sargassum

Although the algae represent a health and economic problem for citizens and the tourism industry, concern over it still does not show on the radar of municipalities and agencies as an issue to be addressed. The awareness that the governments of coastal municipalities and the central government have about sargassum and the challenges that this marine species present to communities, ecosystems and businesses has not been enough to integrate how it will be managed in the mitigation plans prepared by the Puerto Rico Planning Board (JP in Spanish), and the 78 municipalities. After hurricanes Irma and María in September 2017, the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, known as COR3, asked the JP to update each municipality’s mitigation plans. For that task, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved an allocation to the JP of $3,128,916, which was increased in July 2019 to $5,396,144. With hose funds the JP hired   Atkins Caribe, LLC as an external consultant to update the municipal mitigation plans.