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CPI launches website containing OBoard documents archive

El Buscador is the result of a year of work aimed at making documents detailing the Financial Oversight and Management Board’s actions in Puerto Rico readily accessible.

Several lawsuits and years of auditing work by the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico have culminated in a new online platform containing an archive of thousands of documents and communications now accessible to the public.

The “El Buscador de la Junta” website aims to provide comprehensive access to more than 50,000 documents and 100,000 pages that detail the board’s work and its relationship with the government.

“El Buscador de la Junta” was developed in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision a year ago, which restricted press and public access to information from the board.

“The launch of this online file is one of the responses to the board’s lack of transparency,” said Carla Minet, executive director of the CPI, when unveiling the new digital tool.

Despite nearly six years of federal litigation, the CPI’s lawsuit against the board was dismissed without addressing whether the entity, created by the U.S. Congress, has the immunity it claims from CPI requests for access to its information, the nonprofit journalism entity stated.

“If they thought they were going to cut our momentum to oversee the board, they were wrong,” the director of the CPI said at a recent event at Inter American University School of Law.

El Buscador is the result of a year’s effort to make documents detailing the board’s activities in Puerto Rico easily accessible to the press, researchers, public policy workers, historians and the general public.

Julio Fontanet, Dean of the Inter American’s law school, which supports the CPI through its Access to Information Clinic, remarked at the forum, “If there’s one thing that should have outraged us Puerto Ricans, it is the existence of the board,” adding that the documents will serve to continue overseeing the panel.

El Buscador, primarily containing documents in English, gathers materials obtained through CPI litigation and various websites. It includes all documents from the board’s website up to March 5. Unlike the board’s site, El Buscador allows for searches by date and keywords in document titles and content, explained Carlos Francisco Ramos-Hernández, attorney for the CPI Transparency Program.

The platform also includes files from the CPI’s case against the board, containing emails and documents exchanged with government agencies, and a case brought by the CPI, Latino Justice and the Center for Constitutional Rights against the U.S. Department of the Treasury regarding the board members’ appointments in 2016, which discusses ethical conflicts and financial interests.

The largest file in El Buscador contains 29,455 documents from the Title III bankruptcy case of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (Promesa) — overseen by Judge Laura Taylor Swain — from May 2017 to March 5, 2024, which includes restructuring plans, reports and motions from the litigating parties. The CPI’s search engine improves on the federal court docket’s functionality by allowing keyword searches without needing to download the document first.

The creation of this archive and search engine was partially funded by a Gateway Grant from MuckRock and is hosted on the DocumentCloud platform created by MuckRock. The CPI spent a year classifying and organizing the files manually and with artificial intelligence tools, according to CPI Transparency Program Officer Lía Sofía Tavárez.

The board’s tenure analyzed
After unveiling the tool, a panel discussion took place featuring Efrén Rivera-Ramos, former dean of the University of Puerto Rico Law School; sociologist Linda Colón Reyes; activist Jocelyn Velázquez; and CPI journalist Luis Valentín.

Professor Rivera-Ramos emphasized that Promesa categorizes the board as a Puerto Rican government agency, obligating it to act transparently. 

“Since its inception, the board has attempted to operate with total obscurity. Even its composition and the criteria that were used, or not used, to appoint members of the board, remained in the shadows for a long time and litigation had to be resorted to, to shed some light on this matter. We must not forget that its members refused to offer details of their personal finances, something that is required of public officials for obvious reasons,” he said.

“The board’s determinations have often, most of the time, been made outside the public eye. We found out about the result, its determinations, but not about its reasons, its considerations, its discussions and factors that influenced those determinations. And to be able to access those deliberation processes, it was also necessary to litigate,” added Rivera-Ramos.

The CPI said that the board’s insistence on withholding information has forced organizations like it to dedicate many resources and time to get the data the island needs to monitor its performance.

“The board has ironically required transparency from the Government of Puerto Rico; however, it has refused to play by its own rules. It could be said that the board has been a terrible example of democratic governance,” said Rivera-Ramos.

Colón Reyes, author of the book “La herencia de la exclusión,” which addresses the impact on poverty of different public policies, including the imposition of the Financial Oversight and Management Board in Puerto Rico, said, “What the board comes to do is to establish a process that had already been taking place in Puerto Rico since the 1990s with the implementation of neoliberal policies.” 

She referred to the privatization measures and dismissal of public employees adopted by Govs. Pedro Rosselló-González and Luis Fortuño-Burset, which were later confirmed under Gov. Ricardo Rosselló-Nevárez’s tenure, supported by the fiscal board.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s the board that governs because it’s the board that’s deciding; the one that has financial control of the government, the one that decides where to invest or not invest in the island, the one that establishes what the cuts will be. And they’re cuts that, some of them, have been scaled back or minimized because people are out on the streets and people are continually protesting,” said Colón Reyes.

The sociologist believes the consequences are not only financial or political but also of the state of mind, how people feel helpless in the situation, protesting, taking cases to court, spending resources and “wasting time in the search for solutions” about a power that is totally inquisitive, that doesn’t give us space to look for consensual alternatives.”

Activist Velázquez, a member of the Jornada Se Acabaron las Promesas, said she was not surprised to see the documents in black and white that confirm many of the complaints that her organization has made in recent years.

She explained that the Jornada’s critical work has evolved from proving that the board does not fulfill the promise of ending Puerto Rico’s problems, but rather contributes to them, to projecting the entity as a dictatorial one and exposing that its decisions have deteriorated all the services of daily life and make the Puerto Rican people suffer.

Valentín, a CPI journalist focused on overseeing the board and the bankruptcy process, said the news coverage about that body has declined compared to its first years, even though the entity continues to make daily decisions, and the process of getting information is becoming increasingly complicated.

“It’s in that limbo where there’s no remedy for journalists to be able to request and get that public information, even though under Puerto Rico’s regulations it’s public,” said Valentín, who also studied law.

He said the federal judicial decision established a “horrible precedent” because the board decides what is and is not given without any remedy to get that information, and with justifications that are not acceptable under the Puerto Rico or U.S. legal systems.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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