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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Alfonso XII Street in the Punta Santiago, a coastal neighborhood in Humacao, 62-year-old Bermuda Vázquez points toward the beach that is blanketed with brown seaweed, known as sargassum. Although it was a day off in midsummer to commemorate the emancipation of slavery in the United States, beachgoers were nowhere to be seen. “The thing is that one is afraid of getting ill in that water with the sargassum that stinks. I’ve lived in this community all my life, and I remember when, on days like today, many people came to the beach. But you have to adapt to this sargassum,” Vázquez told the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish).
San Juan, Puerto Rico – Media and civil rights organizations in Puerto Rico and the United States, such as the Puerto Rico Journalists Association, Espacios Abiertos, LatinoJustice and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who was joined by The Atlantic, CNN en Español, McClatchy and Gannett, the Boston Globe, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Society of Professional Journalists, the News Leaders Association and 20 other journalistic organizations, presented their position as friends of the court (amicus curiae) at the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston in support of the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) in its access to information case against the Fiscal Control Board.
The Board is an entity that the United States government imposed on Puerto Rico in 2016 to take control of public finances and fiscal policies. Four years ago, the CPI sued the Board to gain access to several tracts of public information, including its communications with the local and federal governments. In 2018, US District Judge Jay A. García Gregory decided in favor of the CPI, determining that, as an agency of the government of Puerto Rico, the Board is obliged to comply with the right of access to information under Puerto Rico’s Constitution. Although the CPI received part of the documents, the legal process has escalated to the point in which the Fiscal Control Board appealed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston to avoid delivering the missing documents and providing justification for keeping them. “We’ve seen headlines in the press, just last week, about how Governor Pedro Pierluisi has asked the Board not to cut pensions or the budget, we see how austerity has dismantled the University of Puerto Rico, we have to believe that there are no resources for the Women’s Advocate Office, we heard the justification for the lack of resources for the privatization of the ferries to Vieques and Culebra, or the cuts that could leave the Conservatory of Music without accreditation …