FEMA Avoids Addressing Incidents of Sexual and Workplace Harassment in Its Puerto Rico Office

Invitations to sexual threesomes from bosses, unsolicited comments about clothing, sexual organs and the carrying of firearms, and even forceful kisses in the workplace are some of the types of gender-based violence incidents that Puerto Rican female employees have experienced from supervisors and co-workers in the Puerto Rico office of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which oversees the recovery process after Hurricanes Irma and María made landfall in 2017. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) received and confirmed these confidences through 13 testimonies from people who work or have worked for FEMA in Puerto Rico and who decided to tell their stories after the publication in March of an investigation by this media outlet that revealed a pattern of workplace harassment in the External Affairs Office of the federal agency, with at least six cases officially reported. There is now a total of 16 cases that the CPI has documented, the majority of which are from women who have officially filed complaints against several FEMA workers in Puerto Rico for alleged situations of sexual harassment, workplace harassment, persecution, intimidation, or discrimination due to age and gender during the job recruitment process and promotion. Some of these cases, which took place between 2018 and 2020, have remained unaddressed for more than three years and in certain instances, the employer keeps the people who filed the complaint close to their alleged aggressors and they have not been given any remedies. The CPI requested reactions and interviews on this matter for every claim related to FEMA, both local, regional, and the agency’s central office, but all refused to be interviewed and responded with general statements that do not address the questions asked and the issues reported.

Municipal Response to Disasters in Puerto Rico Cost Candidates Their Re-elections

Ten of the 20 towns in Puerto Rico that have received a lower percentage of the recovery funds approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had new mayors taking office in January. The most notorious case is Vieques, which had only received 4.9% of the $51.3 million that FEMA obligated before the November 2020 elections, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found when comparing the funds allocated with the amount of money disbursed as of that date. In addition to the island municipality, the rest of the towns that elected new mayors and that had low percentages of FEMA money in their coffers were Culebra (7.3%), Adjuntas (9.6%), Patillas (14.8%), Arecibo (16.1%), Santa Isabel (18.3%), Lares (22.6%), Corozal (23.5%), San Lorenzo (24.1%) and Ponce (24.5%). There is a perception that after an emergency, the person closest to the residents are the mayors. However, research shows that this is not so in all cases, especially after Hurricane María in 2017 and the earthquakes in 2020.

Communities in Puerto Rico will Remain at the Mercy of Water Rationing and Flooding for Several Years

In the Cubuy neighborhood in Canóvanas, having a cistern — sometimes two, or even three — is indispensable to deal with the unpredictability of the potable water service. When there is no such option, you have to resort to gallons, buckets or containers to store the liquid. Madeline Negrón, 48, a resident of the Eva Flores sector of this neighborhood, is witness to that, and she says it doesn’t take a hurricane, storm or a drought for the pipes to be empty for up to three days straight. When Hurricane María struck in 2017, the roughly 10 residents who live in this area had to wait several weeks before water service was restored. The situation is much worse in times of droughts, since Cubuy and other neighborhoods in Canóvanas are among the first sectors to get rationed when the levels of the Carraízo reservoir — located in Trujillo Alto — drop.