Puerto Rico’s War of Information…
I am a student attorney in the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic. Recently, I have had several conversations about current media coverage of Puerto Rico. We have talked not just about mainstream media attention, but also about celebrities travelling to the island and presenting different angles and different narratives. Through these conversations, and by witnessing all of these individual media efforts, a clear picture has emerged. I strongly believe there is a very disturbing narrative playing behind the scenes. This narrative seems all too familiar … not because we’ve lived through it, but because it’s in our history.
The pieces of this puzzle include the Puerto Rican government purposely and strategically withholding known information about the death toll, contracts, insurance matters, and who knows what else, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. It also includes the fact that this same administration that handled the death toll matter in such a nefarious manner is strangely and suddenly the same administration that is introducing public-access-to-information legislation. This legislative project was initially supported by Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism (Centro de Periodismo Investigativo or “CPI” – the journalistic organization that has been responsible for taking on the islands’ bureaucracy and obtaining information to report for the people of Puerto Rico). However, CPI’s recommendations were drastically amended as the bill made its way through the legislature. As a result, CPI no longer supports the pending legislation. This begs the question why?
CPI is Puerto Rico’s champion in uncovering and reporting the objective truth. The center has successfully argued a right of public access to information under the Puerto Rico constitution in front of the courts, a right which is now part of well-established Puerto Rican jurisprudence. This entity, one that would logically be at the forefront of new legal requirements about public access to justice, has determined the pending legislative language does not serve its purpose.
At the same time, there is a palpable war of disinformation and distraction. It is not only the manipulation of narrative, but a sheer bombardment of distraction from mainstream media. This distraction, even if not purposeful, has effectively reduced the number of people who are focused on the issues and who are motivated to care through exposure to meaningful and fact-based communications.
Consequently, I propose a type of “war” of information … in effect, a bombardment of truth and disclosure. While the government may hide behind bureaucracy and shield themselves with distraction, much can be said about the power of documentation and disclosure. If it could be done with the same force, with the same pull, it could saturate the accessible media platforms and provide a meaningful way to combat disinformation.
I am not talking about sharing ideological and meaningless propaganda. Rather, I am proposing the use of modern means to increase the public’s access to objective facts. Facts that the people of Puerto Rico have a right to access at any moment. A government that is formed and exists by the will of its constituents should not be allowed to hide information from those same constituents. It is a baffling concept that should not exist in any democracy, such as Puerto Rico. The people of Puerto Rico, the common worker, our mechanics, our nurses, our doctors, our teachers – indeed, all of us – have a right to full transparency from those who we have allowed to govern us. It cannot just be certain people who are aware and are involved in the development of the issues.
There is undoubtedly a right to information and knowledge under Puerto Rico’s Constitution. This is what organizations like CPI have fought for here in Puerto Rico. A victory in the war of information could catalyze a failure of the historical political agenda that once seemed perpetual. The repetitious narrative that has plagued Puerto Rico’s politics can be rejected by ensuring that the truth is heard just as loud as Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. There is a need for both information and entertainment, and unlike our colonial masters, Puerto Ricans have not learned to care for one and care too much for the other.The time has come for that to change.
Click here to learn more about UB’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic. Our work on transparency will continue after our trip, and you can provide financial support for this and other ongoing work for Puerto Rico here.