- What is your interest in this project?
While living in our new normal, I have found myself with more time for introspection. Thinking about how I can do more, be more present, contribute to something bigger than myself and my immediate needs. As I was struggling to define what that next step should be, I received an email asking me to collaborate on a new project. This project allows me to research, analyze, and inform what the legal response to COVID-19 has been in Latin America, particularly Cuba, Dominican Republic, and my native Puerto Rico. We all have witnessed how fluid the situation has been, and still is. That fluidity exacerbates the impact that constant breaking news has over the information stream. This initiative allows me to share relevant information, consumable by all, in a concise format. On February 4, 2020, Dr. Sylvie Briand, WHO Director of Global Infectious Hazard Preparedness said, “that it was important not to censor information, but rather communicate what is known about the virus, and what is not known.” I argue that this same principle applies to the dissemination of the legal response around COVID-19.
2. What have you noticed since the first week you began monitoring and until now?
On March 6, 2020, I was boarding a flight to Puerto Rico, the airport was business as usual, with a few passengers wearing masks, and I, for one, washing my hands every time I got a chance. A few days later, I flew back to Boston, already with the news that the virus that seemed so far away was right next door. Things started to move quickly. I had one ear in Puerto Rico, following the press and the other in Boston, trying to keep up. On March 11, 2020, the WHO characterized the COVID-19 as an outbreak. On March 12, 2020, the first Executive Order, OE-2020-020, related to COVID-19, was published, and it declared Puerto Rico a State of Emergency. Following that initial Executive Order, OE- 2020- 23, established a curfew, from 5:00 am to 6:00 pm. The order included the closure of all businesses on the Island, with a few exceptions of businesses that tend to basics needs like food and medicine. At the time, Puerto Rico has published a total of 23 executive orders directly related to COVID-19.
On April 9, 2020, Cuba created a multidisciplinary medical task force focused on all things pertaining to COVID-19, including but not limited to quarantine protocols (that started on March 24, 2020), information dissemination, and developing training strategies for health care professionals. Based on these strategies as well as the renowned reputation of its medical services, Cuba has engaged in medical diplomacy efforts as it sends its doctors, nurses and other medical personnel all over the world: Europe, Latin America and other parts of the world.
Dominican Republic has been one of the most heavily affected countries in our region. As early as March 1, 2020, the country confirmed its first case which was also the very first case in all the Caribbean islands. The rapid increase of cases and the need to rapidly implement curfews and other preventive measures have created havoc in the country’s electoral calendar. Some elections were canceled abruptly at the last minute and others have been significantly delayed. The Organization of American States (OAS) has decided to open an inquiry into some irregularities in these electoral processes and has vowed to be a close observer. According to the the country’s Electoral Board, congressional and presidential general elections originally scheduled for May 17 are now set to take place on July 5. On June 1, 2020, Dominican Republic’s President Danilo Medina ratified the social distancing measures and extended the curfew (that began on March 17, 2020) until June 13, 2020.
3. Which situation are you monitoring most closely?
I am mainly monitoring the lifespan of Executive Orders in Puerto Rico, with a particular interest in Access to Justice and human rights. I am also interested in learning more about the contrast in the news about COVID-19 between Cuban official news outlets, like the Granma newspaper and independent journalism like that of Diario de Cuba. Issues of disinformation and ambiguous communication coming from various sources, be it official government information or “experts” informing citizens, are at a priority to our project, and we will be sharing our findings in the coming months.
4. Is there anything else you would like to add?
As we all know, this is a rapidly evolving situation, where many aspects of our lives have been altered one way or another. I am curious to learn more about legislation for economic development in the Caribbean. For example, Puerto Rico’s profile as a jurisdiction with many opportunities has been highlighted as part of the economic and health emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Dominican Republic, international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and the World Bank (WB) have approved a plethora of financial packages to help the country face the current economic impact as well as recover in a more sustainable way in the long term. There is going to be a time where this will all stop being an emergency with reactionary solutions, and when we will have to move towards permanent plans for society and the economy. I look forward to studying future legal developments in this area for years to come.
By Ana Delgado