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Puerto Rico agency ordered to disclose data on deaths after Hurricane María

By on June 5, 2018

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s Demographic Registry has seven days starting June 4, to deliver to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI by its Spanish initials) and CNN the information they requested about the deaths that occurred in Puerto Rico after the passage of Hurricane Maria in September.

“[In] view of the fact that the State did not demonstrate the existence of greater hierarchical interests than the constitutional right of access to information,” Judge Lauracelis Roques Arroyo wrote in her ruling, the state is ordered to “disclose the requested information taking the necessary precautions so that the Social Security numbers contained in the documents are illegible.”

The CPI filed a lawsuit on Feb. 8 against the director of the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, Wanda Llovet Díaz, after multiple attempts for the agency to provide information on the deaths that occurred on the island after Maria.

Preliminary report on Hurricane Maria deaths in Puerto Rico vanishes

The court issued a consolidated ruling in which it included the request made by CNN after it was revealed that an independent study by Harvard University indicates that from the day the hurricane struck the island to December, there may have been an average of 4,645 deaths from an interval that goes from 793 to 8,498.

After the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute also sued, the Demographic Registry disclosed Friday the number of the deaths registered on the island from September to December. They totaled 11,459. The figures show that 1,356 more deaths were reported in 2017 compared with those registered in 2016.

The 27-page ruling establishes that the CPI will have access to the deaths registered in Puerto Rico from Sept. 18 to the most recent date entered into the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, in a complete database format, broken down by day and municipality.

A copy of the death certificates issued from the aforementioned date to the present; copy of the burial permits granted from that date to the present and copies of cremation permits granted must also be provided. Access was also granted to the handwritten permits granted to each funeral home and cremation house are registered in each of the offices of the Demographic Registry and access to the database on causes of death maintained by that government agency.

The state is also ordered to provide CNN access to a digital copy of the database that is used to keep death certificate records issued in Puerto Rico, from Sept. 20 to Jan. 20. In the meantime, the agency must provide a digital copy of all death certificates issued in that period.

“By providing this information, the government will take all measures it deems necessary to ensure the highest level of transparency both in the recovery of our island, and in the damage to the lives of our citizens caused by this atmospheric phenomenon,” the ruling reads.

“The Government of Puerto Rico complied with what is expressly provided for in the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry Act,” Public Affairs and Public Policy Secretary Ramón Rosario said in a statement. “Our policy, at the request of Governor Ricardo Rosselló, is to work with strict transparency and facilitate access to all public information, so we will be complying with what was recently ordered by the Court.”

Ruling 119243

–Cybernews contributed to this report.

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