Claribel Millán played with the Puerto Rico National Softball Team during the 1970s and represented the island in the 1974 World Cup held in Connecticut. Her dedication to her national colors was in constant friction with what she says she was discriminated for — being a lesbian. She remembers that the federation leaders and directors of the sport that she practiced asked the players not to speak of or show any type of affection that would bring out their sexual orientation as lesbians. It was the beginning of the so-called golden age of women’s softball in Puerto Rico, when the National Team was directed by Alejandro “Junior” Cruz. “They called us to a meeting to talk about lesbianism.
Since Mayda Velasco Bonilla became chairwoman of the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) Governing Board (JG, in Spanish) in August 2021, the members have never voted to approve the contracts that add up to $1.2 million so far this fiscal year to cover the operations of the Office of Institutional Transformation (OTI, in Spanish), in charge of implementing the institution’s Fiscal Plan. The JG’s regulations establish that said contracts must be approved by its members, who were not consulted about the selection of the External Collaborators Committee members that evaluate the operations of the Medical Sciences Campus (RCM, in Spanish). The Committee was created to “identify deficiencies and areas of opportunity in the RCM,” as stated in a contract between the Governing Board and Cedrela Consulting Group, a company that would analyze the Committee members’ recommendations.
Cedrela and Bluhaus Capital were the first companies to benefit from OTI contracts. Before being hired by the JG for $350,000, Bluhaus had contracts with the Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority (AAFAF, in Spanish) to develop the UPR’s Fiscal Plan and structural reforms, while the JG contracted Cedrela for $50,400 to advise in managing projects that could affect the Plan. The members of the External Collaborators Committee were chosen by Velasco Bonilla, who informed the JG about the only two in-person meetings that the group had had, which have cost the UPR $60,884.
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).