Caribbean Public Education Systems Adrift Due to the Coronavirus

Within days from each other, public education systems in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Cuba suspended classes in schools in March this year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. With no time, tools or defined public policies to lay down strategies that would somehow ensure and measure student participation and progress, distance learning had predictable results. The structural deficiencies of the education systems, the social inequality experienced by students and teachers, the digital gap, and the absence of processes for the participation of school communities in the design of educational plans, are unsolved dilemmas for back to school, amid the latent threat of COVID-19. “We hardly learned anything,” said a 13-year-old Puerto Rican student about the abrupt change in his learning process since classes were suspended. Another young boy, 14, recalled how difficult it was to adopt a study routine with his younger sister and mother: “I’m a Special Education student and we’re used to a certain pace and support.”

Rapid tests and false negatives: Puerto Rico and Peru’s strategies to defeat COVID-19

On April 26, Peruvian citizen Miriam Grace presented the first symptoms of COVID-19: sore throat, coupled with cough and fever. Warning bells went off when, on May 2, her sister María del Carmen, her nephew Santiago and niece Antonella also showed their first symptoms that went from nausea and vomiting to loss of taste and smell, according to official reports from the Peru Ministry of Health and the interviews that the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI in Spanish) and Ojo Público conducted with the family. On May 4, Miriam’s father, Juan Francisco, and María del Carmen fell ill with a recurring cough, and on Saturday, May 9, the virus claimed the only victim in that family, who lived in the same home in the Piura region, north of Peru. Edith, who was the family matriarch, died at home due to a COVID-19 infection, her death certificate confirmed. In response to this death, personnel from the Peru Ministry of Health went to Edith’s home to perform a rapid antibody test on the five people who had direct contact with her during the last days of her life.

Federal warnings cause further delays in the post-María recovery process in Puerto Rico

Four Puerto Rico government agencies are experiencing delays in the disbursement of recovery funds related to the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and María for failing to correct a series of problems related to how they handled money granted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) flagged in audits conducted in 2019. The Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency, known as COR3, Executive Director Ottmar Chávez Piñero said the audit´s claims do not limit further approvals of recovery funds by FEMA, but they do affect the process of disbursement of these monies to the agencies. COR3 is the entity in charge of channeling FEMA funds to public agencies, municipalities and nonprofit organizations. “Completing the corrective actions is certainly going to have an impact on the disbursement [of funds]. Within the grant validation process, in terms of compliance, we have to be sure that these agencies abide by the results of the audits, as part of the checklists.

Department of Health Bought Overpriced Medical Equipment from Contact Referred by National Guard

The Department of Health was not the only government agency that purchased COVID-19 screening tests, masks, and other supplies for the pandemic. The Puerto Rico National Guard also made its purchases, and at least one of its transactions reflects what has been a pattern within the government during the emergency: failure to comply with the agreed terms; intermediaries with no experience in medical products; and companies that disappear without a trace. Between April and June 30, the National Guard disbursed $4.3 million for emergency-related procurements. The information about the National Guard’s suppliers was shared with the Department of Health, José Reyes, Adjutant General of the National Guard, told the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish). Reyes said that at a meeting in the house of state La Fortaleza, Mabel Cabeza — the Department of Health’s former chief of staff and liaison between the medical Task Force designated for the pandemic and the executive branch — asked who was providing procurement quotes to the National Guard for emergency-related equipment.

Puerto Rico’s Chronically Ill Health System Blocks Effective COVID-19 Response

While Joshua James Sánchez Antillón was hospitalized, seriously ill due to COVID-19, his father, Luis Ángel “Wichy” Sánchez Soler, got a bill for $65,000. It did not even itemize the services the hospital was providing. The invoice issued by HIMA San Pablo Caguas hospital stated that, if signed, he would have 15 days to pay the amount. Wichy Sánchez Soler, who at that time was mourning his father’s death, also due to COVID-19, decided not to sign because he didn’t know what they were charging him for, or how he was going to be able to pay. At that point, the hospital did not offer advice or payment options.

A year later, legal authorities have yet to close investigation into the Telegram chat ‘brothers’

A year after the conversations between former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his closest collaborators contained in 889 pages of a Telegram chat were revealed, the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (PFEI, in Spanish) has been unable to gain access to the full chat, nor has it sought that any of the involved becomes a witness to the investigation, at least two sources consulted by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) confirmed. The Special Independent Prosecutors in charge of the investigation have until August 25 to complete the investigation they have going on into the six “brothers” referred to by the Office of the Panel of the Special Independent Prosecutor (OPFEI, in Spanish) in the resolution issued on February 13. The CPI learned that so far, prosecutors have not requested to add other possible parties, nor have they asked for more time to complete the investigation. The Government shutdown due to the pandemic by COVID-19 gave the investigation a second wind, a year after the scandal that caused Rosselló Nevares’ exit from La Fortaleza. The result of the investigation into the possible crimes that could have been committed is still unknown.

Selling Dreams to Puerto Rico’s Young Ballplayers

“You can observe a lot by just watching.”
Yogi Berra

A rifle is not a baseball bat, but with luck, there are baseball bats that, combined with books, avoid that rifle. For Edwin Calderón Santana, the bat turned into a rifle, and today he spends the days of the pandemic in a room at Fort Lewis, a military base in Washington state. The soldier pauses his routine and reminisces. “I wanted to be a baseball player, that was my dream since I was little,” says the 24-year-old guy. During the video call he goes over the incident he believes he has overcome.