Puerto Rico

Report to the Midyear Meeting
April 20-23

This period saw the inauguration of a new government with promises of greater government transparency.

However, the stumbling blocks continue in cases of access to information - forcing the press and citizens to resort to the courts to obtain official information. In several cases the Government has reached agreements with the petitioners or was forced to hand over what was requested.

The restrictions due to the pandemic and the subsequent drop in income in many sectors (restaurants, shopping malls, retail sales) have affected the media in a particular way - which in turn has direct consequences and an impact on the work of the press.

Through Resolution 199 of the House of Representatives, the compliance and results of the implementation of Laws 122 of 2019, "Open Data Law," and 141 of 2019, "Law of Transparency and Expedite Procedure for Access to Public Information," is being investigated - since many of the requests for public information are denied.

The director of the Puerto Rico Technology and Innovation Service - the entity in charge of implementing the public policy of the Open Data Act - indicated that 100% of the agencies do not comply with the appointment of a Data Officer as required by the Open Data Act.

The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) sued the Department of Health to obtain an itemized list of the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines received by the government and the Vaccination Registry.

Another lawsuit against the government requested the disclosure of salary data for employees of the municipality of San Juan from 2009 to the present. The press also asked for information on the use of federal funds in recovery projects after natural disasters.

The courts have dismissed petitions to grant confidentiality to government information.

Another bill seeks to create the "Law to Guarantee Citizen Participation, Engagement and Expression in Matters of Public Interest" to protect the rights of freedom of expression and of the press when exercised in the context of public interest matters. It seeks to stop the use of the courts (or threats of lawsuits) to intimidate those who speak out on matters of public interest.

A bill was introduced in the Senate to prohibit the practice of conversion therapies for members of the LGBT+ community aimed at making them adopt a heterosexual orientation and lifestyle - which led to opinion debates and a controversy in the newspaper El Nuevo Día.

Representatives of the new ultra-conservative Proyecto Dignidad party have expressed their opposition to the bill through multiple channels, including Senator Joanne Marie Rodríguez Vevé, who argues that the bill does not protect anyone, but rather restricts the religious freedom of LGBT+ people to seek help from their church in order to get the spiritual help they need.

Benjamín Torres Gotay - one of the editors of the newspaper El Nuevo Día - published in his social networks that medical and scientific evidence shows that these conversion therapies have no credibility or clinical benefit, and what Proyecto Dignidad is really demanding is the right of parents to torture their children.

The senator asked the newspaper's editors for disciplinary action against Torres Gotay for accusing her party of encouraging the torture of children. The Puerto Rico Journalists Association (ASPPRO) rejected the legislator's remarks and El Nuevo Día backed its journalist.