A Talk with Víctor Fajardo 20 Years After His Exit from the Department of Education

Víctor Fajardo is having coffee somewhere in the Guaynabo metropolitan area. Before taking a sip, the former official of the Pedro Rosselló González administration warns that he has kept away from the media since his release from prison in 2013. “For the family,” he says. He spent 10 years behind bars at a federal prison and two under conditional supervision in his home for being involved in a million-dollar corruption scheme in the Department of Education (DE). He agreed to talk about the Teacher Track program and the Community Schools, both part of the Educational Reform that he implemented (1993-1999).

Court Grants Mandamus Appeal Filed by the Center for Investigative Journalism

The San Juan Superior Court handed a victory to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) and ordered the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DEDC) to turn over information requested by the CPI related to oversight associated with Act 22-2012, to Encourage the Transfer of Individual Investors to Puerto Rico, which is now part of the Incentive Code. The CPI’s request to the DEDC and its Secretary, Manuel Cidre, included all the annual reports filed by individual resident investors with decrees under Act 22. The CPI filed the mandamus appeal in April after multiple attempts launched in February asking the agency to provide the requested information. The agency has 15 days to deliver the reports, according to the order, omitting the taxpayer’s personal and contact information, such as the number of the tax decree for which the report is filed and “any other specific data that could reveal the identity of the individual decree holder.” The CPI had requested that the personal data be omitted. “This way, the significant privacy interests related to the identifying information contained in the annual reports are protected and, at the same time, the public interest is promoted in the disclosure of that information necessary for the oversight of government operations,” the court order states.

Teacher Track: Unending Run of Broken Promises and Millions Owed to Teachers

Ada Nilda Montalvo González, a teacher in the Segunda Unidad de Cuchillas, in   Moca, a town in the western region, says that she will have to continue teaching this year because the money is not enough to live on if she chooses retirement. She tells her story from a classroom in a school that is not where she usually teaches. She is working during the summer to make “a little extra money.”

She is 64 years old, has dedicated 20 of service in the Department of Education (DE) and 27 to teaching in public and private schools. At the Patria Latorre Ramírez High School, in nearby San Sebastián, the educator sits at a desk and says she is old enough to retire but does not have the years of public service that would “guarantee” her some financial stability (30 years). “It’s hard for me at this age.

Master Class for Journalists on the Department of Education and Its History of Corruption

“The best investigation is the one that is done without hurry, and that when published, has consequences,” said journalist Carmen Enid Acevedo during a conference entitled “Journalistic investigations of Corruption in the Department of Education,” recalling her experience as a reporter covering the corruption case in that agency when Víctor Fajardo was the Secretary. In 2001, Acevedo had access to prosecution evidence that Fajardo was the leader of a scheme in the New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish) to solicit bribes from agency contractors that would go to subsidize the 1996 electoral campaign. During the workshop, journalist Carmen Enid Acevedo shared her experience covering the corruption case of former Education Secretary, convicted felon Victor Fajardo.Photo by Ricardo Rodríguez | Center for Investigative Journalism

The audience, comprised by members of the Center for Investigative Journalism’s (CPI, in Spanish) Institute for Journalism Training, heard presentations by Acevedo, Aiola Virella and Marisol Seda, journalists who have investigated corruption-related matters within Puerto Rico’s Department of Education, and reflected on the lessons learned from these investigations. The panel focused on the corruption cases brought against former Education Secretaries Víctor Fajardo and Julia Keleher. The former, who held the position under former Gov. Pedro Roselló’s tenure, served 13 years in prison for appropriating $4.3 million in federal funds that should have been destined for the education of the island’s children.

We’ve Lost Our Journalistic Memory

Anyone who wants to find information on a high-profile criminal case or the professional execution of an official from the 90s or 2000s, or on the history of a business, an artist, or an athlete, has no choice but to go to the newspaper and magazine collection at the José M. Lázaro Library at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras Campus, a San Juan neighborhood. Two weeks ago, I tried to corroborate some historical data while editing content. Who were the journalists that covered the Department of Education in the 1990´s before Víctor Fajardo was accused of corruption in that agency? Which reporters were key in revealing the AIDS Institute case, in addition to the late former Rep. David Noriega? I once again ran into one of the most terrible obstacles for any Puerto Rican researcher: there are no online historical archives of newspapers beyond the last 14 years.

Health Department Says Investigation About Underage Vaccination is Underway, again

Four months ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) published a story that revealed that at least 105 minors were vaccinated against COVID-19 by public and private providers in Puerto Rico. At the time, we had the Department of Health’s Vaccination Registry data through Feb. 23. The information revealed that 40 centers had administered at least the first dose of the vaccine to children aged 0 to 17 from Dec. 16, 2020 to Feb.

Diversion Programs for Law 54 Aggressors Have No Supervision in Puerto Rico

In 1989, when Puerto Rico’s feminist movement fought a battle inside the halls of the Capitol to get Act 54 passed, one of the concessions it had to make was to include in the legislation the possibility that the aggressors would avoid jail time if they participated in a reeducation, or diversion program, to reeducate themselves over their sexist behaviors. After completing the program, the conviction is removed from their criminal record, as if they had never been guilty. “I remember perfectly the conversations  between those of us who were there lobbying for the legislation, that we didn’t know very well how successful these programs could be,” said María Dolores Fernós, one of the promoters of the Prevention and Intervention with Domestic Violence Act, and who later became the first director of the Women’s Advocate Office. The concerns that the feminists had about reeducation programs three decades ago are still valid today, as there is no evidence to support their effectiveness and the entity responsible for their supervision, the Regulatory Board of Reeducation and Retraining Programs for Aggressors Act, which was created in 2000, has been mostly idle, while not producing a single report on the programs.

Neither the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (DCR), the Courts Administration, nor the Women’s Advocate Office provided information to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) on the number of participants, levels of re-offense, or success rates in re-educating aggressors. The lack of a curriculum for programs that promote real change, that allow the victims to take classes together with their aggressors, and the absence of continuous education for the therapists are part of the problem.

Money-Making Opportunity Found for Sargassum in Puerto Rico

In a virtual conference coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme, in which the new findings on sargassum are presented, it is unexpectedly revealed that a research and production center that works with this algae is located in Cataño, a town across the San Juan Bay. Via Zoom, Jason Cole, Executive Vice President of Innovations of a company called C-Combinator, explains how they have been developing sargassum-derived products in Puerto Rico since October 2020. But in an interview with the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish), its director of Research and Development, Benjamin Jelen, confirmed that most of its raw material does not come from the island’s coasts, saturated with the brown algae, but from the coastal jurisdiction of Quintana Roo, in Mexico. Upon stepping into the company’s offices in Cataño, a research team can be seen analyzing sargassum samples. Bottles of biofuels derived from these algae are visible on laboratory tables.