UPDATE: 6/1/18 Shared courtesy NBC:
Days after a study estimated Hurricane Maria’s death toll was 70 times bigger than Puerto Rico's official estimate, groups are resorting to the courts in an attempt to access crucial data from the island's government agencies.
The Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) — the island’s autonomous agency that works to ensure accurate data collection separate from government and political pressures — filed a lawsuit on Friday to order Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Health Rafael Rodríguez Mercado and the Director of the Demographic Registry Wanda del C. Llovet Díaz to urgently comply with an information request order from the Institute put forward in April 24. The request urges both public officials to publish in an open source way preliminary and daily updates about deaths in Puerto Rico.
“After the experience of Hurricane Maria, and with the new hurricane season beginning, it is urgent to configure public information services so that after the next hurricane, information about the deaths that are registered in Puerto Rico flows openly,” added Marazzi. PRIS has clashed with the Rosselló administration over its decision to strip it of its independent status and consolidate it under a government agency, despite entreaties from scientists, statisticians and bipartisan members of the U.S. Congress.
When authors of the Harvard study — who estimated Hurricane Maria's death toll is over 4,500 instead of the official figure of 64 — revealed that Puerto Rican officials stopped sharing available mortality data after December 2017, concerns over the government’s transparency started to intensify.
"Despite this, both the Secretary of Health and the Director of the Demographic Registry have ignored the information request order,” the lawsuit states. “The omission of both officials has caused that, to this date, the Department of Health is in breach of its obligation to deliver data and statistical information that the Institute has required from them.”
The Institute’s lawsuit is just one of the many efforts from academics, citizens and journalists to demand more transparency from their public officials over hurricane-related deaths.
Alexis Santos, a Puerto Rican demographer at the University of Pennsylvania who has spent months asking officials for 2017-2018 mortality rate data, published on Friday the response he received from both Puerto Rico’s Department of Health and Demographic Registry, in his Twitter account.
The response, written in Spanish, says they won’t make the data publicly available until a process of “evaluation, validation and revision of the quality of the databases that hold information about births, fetal deaths and deaths in 2017” is fully over.
Governor Ricardo Rosselló has made a series of public appearances since the Harvard study was published on Tuesday — stating that he “wants the truth to come out” and that he will hold public officials accountable for denying public access to such information.
Omaya Sosa, a journalist at the Center of Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico who wrote some of the first stories questioning the official death toll, reacted to the governor’s claims on Twitter saying “Please, it’s always one thing after another. If this is the case Governor Ricardo Rosselló, why are we in court fighting over the data and wasting everyone's time and resources in vain?”
In several of these appearances, Rosselló has mentioned an executive order he signed earlier this year where he designated Public Safety Secretary Hector Pesquera as the lead official in charge of “establishing a procedure for reviewing the deaths that occurred after Hurricane Maria with a view to determining whether or not they were related to the passage of the atmospheric phenomenon through the Island,” according to the order.
Usually, it's the Department of Health and the Demographic Registry which issue death certificates and determine mortality rates.
The Center of Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico, like Puerto Rico’s Institute of Statistics , also sued the Secretary of Health and the Director of the Demographic Registry over the island’s mortality data — a lawsuit that was presented in court back in February.
These entities are battling these issues in court since Puerto Rico does not have freedom of information laws, known as FOIA, that facilitate these kinds of processes and promote transparency.
"We expected that at some point we had to enforce our powers in court, if necessary,” said Mario Marazzi, PRIS's executive director.
UPDATE: 5/24/18 Shared courtesy David Begnaud's Facebook page:
‘President Trump Amends Puerto Rico Disaster Declaration,’ states FEMA, with the following media release:
“FEMA announced today that additional disaster assistance is available to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
This assistance allows for additional funding at a 100 percent federal cost share for limited emergency protective measures, which is retroactive to Friday, May 18. Today’s action includes a 90-day extension for emergency power restoration, and a 120-day extension for emergency temporary power support and the Sheltering and Temporary Essential Power program.
This approval is granted at the Government of Puerto Rico’s April 26 request for a 100 percent cost share extension to assist with emergency protective measures.
Following Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico received 100 percent federal cost share for both emergency protective measures and debris removal, with direct federal assistance. FEMA extended the cost share and direct federal assistance on Feb. 23 for an additional 60 days for emergency protective measures and 90 days for debris removal.”
When I heard about the 100% power outage in Puerto Rico, I thought, "God is on the move and He's answering our prayers." We've been praying for 100% restoration, not just power restoration, but for the full island, for the people to be restored and their debts cleared, and for them to be made the head, lender, and above. In order for that to occur, what's done in the dark has to be brought into the light. You can't have a government that disrespects it people and isolates the poor without God hearing the prayers of the people being exploited.
I can still remember a man who cried out about what FEMA and the government did when his home was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. While people in Florida and Texas were getting help to rebuild, this one man wrote in about how all he received after his home was destroyed was a blue tarp and a $200 loan. Yes, a loan, and yes, for $200. That's it. It's an abomination that is coming to light. It's deplorable to have tourists on vacation enjoying brightly lit areas and big hotels with their air conditioning blasting and fresh water running while there are still people sleeping under tarps starving with no food, no clean water, no safe housing, and no air conditioning. They're still waiting for relief to come. Hold them accountable, Lord.
As the temperatures in Puerto Rico are rising again and there is no shelter and no relief for those hardest hit, God is hearing the prayers of His people and the outcry for Puerto Rico...
Please pray for Puerto Rico's recovery and remind them to look for the window's God sends, not man. As we were preparing these prayer cards, the Holy Spirit revealed that they have to be careful who they partner with, what they sign, and what they agree to so they don't forfeit their birthright, valuable land, and resources. Jacob was starving and forfeited his birthright over a bowl of soup. But God is shining a light on Puerto Rico and He said, "Tell them never to give up. It will get better." They think they have limited resources and the devil is trying to get them to live in fear and limit their resources, but they are not limited and they are not failures. They have valuable land and resources (look at the history of Florida).
I also heard the Holy Spirit say, "Contact human resources". I think this might be related to people that might want to donate time and money and help with rebuilding the hardest hit areas. If it is related to you personally because you want to help, talk to your HR department about how you can give to Puerto Rico as a whole, as a group, or on behalf of your company. A few areas where you might be able to help Puerto Rico include:
We pray, Father God in the name of Jesus, Lord, please make Puerto Rico the head, lender, and above. Make them a priority, Father. The Holy Spirit has heard them saying, "It's not fair. It's not fair," but please don't let them grow bitter over the evil that man has done in ignoring them. Instead, help them to have forgiveness, love, and healing in their hearts. The devil is intentionally isolating them and leaving them to starve so they will give up and die, or grow bitter and forfeit their inheritance and blessings, but we know the devil is a liar and already defeated. God is saying, "Don't walk away. Trust God's timing. Never give up. It will get better." Please shine a light to expose every corruption in Puerto Rico and take every evil hand off their money. Restore it to them, Jesus, and angels we send you on assignment. Please soften the hearts of those in government, FEMA, our elected officials, and those in positions of authority. Please make Puerto Rico fully restored and debt-free. We praise you for the victory, in Jesus's name, Amen!
Share our Puerto Rico prayer card with those in need of help. We are praying and Puerto Rico, you will be fully restored! Fight for your birthright. We are standing with you!