In late 2018 Isabel Dieppa, Kari Lydersen, and I were the pleasantly startled recipients of a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, to research and report on property rights in Puerto Rico. We made three trips thanks to that grant — in December, January, and April — and spoke with many, many Puerto Ricans in San Juan, Loiza, and Vieques: activists, bureaucrats, business owners, artists, community leaders, regular folks. Now, the work we did is finally bearing first fruit, just as Puerto Rico seizes the attention of the world.
The first piece, cowritten by Isabel and me, was published by PRI/The World on July 16: Puerto Rico’s Vieques island ousted the US Navy. Now the fight’s against Airbnb.
The second, by Isabel, with additional reporting by me and Kari, was published by Reuters/Place on July 24: Vibrant neighborhood or tourist magnet? Puerto Rico shows hidden cost of urban renewal.
We’ve got more stories in the works and hope to get them out into the world soon. While none of the reporting we’ve been doing is directly related to the (utterly transfixing, inspiring) political crisis breaking on the island in the past week, it’s all connected. The corruption, disrespect, and disdain for accountability that brought down Roselló was common knowledge to everyone we spoke with in PR. They knew there was a reason their roofs weren’t getting fixed; there was a reason the ferry never runs on time; there’s a reason the hospital isn’t being rebuilt. There’s a reason Puerto Ricans are losing their homes while Americans waving dollars are given carte blanche to remake the island as an investment paradise. There’s a reason federal aid is bogged down in a morass of paperwork, focus grouping, and “resiliency studies.” There’s a reason contracts for recovery money were going to very odd places. They just couldn’t prove it. Because, who can? It’s fucking complicated and people have lives to lead.
Well. Somebody can. So I’m just going to take a minute here to shout out the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo, the nonprofit San Juan investigative journalism outfit that broke the #rickyrenuncia text messaging scandal and uncovered the ring of corruption at its core. They are incredibly hard working, talented journalists who I have been very lucky to work with and learn from over the past two years. Carla Minet, the executive director, consulted with us several times while we were in PR this year and some of our work will hopefully find its way to their platform soon as well. Once they’ve gotten some sleep and practiced their Pulitzer speeches.
Real, change-making journalism takes time and it takes money. You can support CPI with a donation here.