No one seems to know how many people died in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, but journalists want to find out. That’s why in February, the island’s Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) and CNN sued to access death certificates and databases held by the Puerto Rican Demographic Registry. They won their lawsuit early last week when a judge ruled that the death certificates can be made accessible and are not considered privileged information.
This is a good thing for transparency and accountability—except the government of Puerto Rico refuses to let that happen. Late Monday, the government filed a motion with the court trying to delay the release of the information. Luckily, the court said no, and is requiring the Demographic Registry to release the records by Tuesday—which was the original deadline for sharing the information with the organizations requesting them. As the head of CPI told CNN, this action speaks volumes about the government’s credibility and failure to make information about Hurricane Maria accessible to the public.
“This new delay tactic (speaks) to the Rosselló government’s credibility,” said Carla Minet, executive director of CPI. “The government didn’t need seven days to hand in most of the information — and yet they haven’t delivered anything at this point, even when they publicly stated that they would comply with the court.”
“Transparency is a word they just don’t understand,” she added.
Undeterred by the delay tactics, CPI and CNN plan to file motions in court which oppose the request for a delay. The government has flip-flopped on this issue. Just last month, the governor was signing a very different tune. “Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN last month that there would be “hell to pay” if officials withheld records related to Hurricane Maria.” But now authorities are saying they need more time to process the records. CNN explains that this is due to supposed concerns about protecting confidential information.