Puerto Rico

Resolution to the 76 IAPA General Assembly
October 21-23, 2020

Press freedom problems in this period were marked by decisions and delays on access to public information and lack of transparency.

In another case, after the uproar caused by the discovery of a warehouse with supplies not distributed to victims of disasters, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced ordered a "thorough investigation" into the allegations of mishandling of supplies. The media asked for its release, but the requests were denied. The Puerto Rico Journalists Association (ASPPRO) and the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) sued the Department of Justice over the document.

The Court of First Instance, after verifying that the document would not generate danger, accused the government of failing to truth and Justice of assuming "a reckless attitude" by maintaining the confidentiality of the document. Although the government appealed, the governor instructed Justice to hand it over after the court decision.

The CPI was forced to go to court against the Demographic Registry for the delivery of the database on the causes of death in the country and the death certificates for the years 2007 to 2020. That request was filed as part of an investigation related to excess deaths in the country during the pandemic. The CPI also sued the Department of Education. It requested data related to the recovery of schools after Hurricane Maria and their earthquake preparedness, the agency's budget and federal funds returned in past years, and recovery funds received and their use.

Law 141-2019 adds obstacles to journalists and citizens in accessing public information. This "Transparency Law" establishes the new process required for the request of public information that allows the government to postpone the delivery of public documents for about two months, to which is added the time that a judicial procedure takes to force the delivery of information

To implement the law, on March 2, the Secretary of Justice issued Circular Letter 2020-01 with guidelines to the heads of agencies and public corporations on the "indispensable elements" which should contain the regulations, administrative orders or circular letters to be promulgated by government entities in compliance with the provisions of the statute.

The Circular Letter contains major obstacles to access to public information and inconsistencies with the provisions of the Transparency Law, the fundamental right to public information and the policy of openness and transparency proclaimed by the government.

Recently, independent and alternative media journalists filed a Mandamus judicial appeal against the Commonwealth, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Independent Prosecutor's Panel (OPFEI) based on the "Transparency Law". They request the immediate delivery of the final report on the investigation of the Department of Justice of Puerto Rico on the mishandling of supplies in storage in Ponce and the final reports on five investigations delegated to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice denied releasing the information because it is part of an ongoing investigation and is part of the prosecution summary involving Governor Vázquez Garced, Senator Evelyn Vázquez and other officials who are or were part of the current administration.