Months into state of emergency, Puerto Rico finally approves $7 million to combat gender-based violence

Months into state of emergency, Puerto Rico finally approves $7 million to combat gender-based violence

TheEditor
TheEditor
07 May 2021 Friday 13:32
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Months into state of emergency, Puerto Rico finally approves $7 million to combat gender-based violence

An uptick during the last four years had protesters demanding government action.

Over a hundred days after declaring a state of crisis, Puerto Rico eventually will have some funds to tackle an alarming rise in gender-based violence around the island.

The Financial Oversight Management Board, that will be in control of the island's finances, on Wednesday accepted a $7 million request by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi to be used for different programs targeted at preventing gender-based violence.

"We prefer the Fiscal Control Board's decision to allocate the $7 million funding... for the implementation of public policy to eliminate sexist violence," Colectivo Feminista, a community-based group, wrote on Twitter.

The international nonprofit Girls for Women defines gender abuse as violence directed at an individual according to their biological sex or gender identity. This includes physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse.

Considering that 2018, Colectivo Feminista was compelling leaders in Puerto Rico to declare a state of crisis as gender-based killings increased. The government did so on Jan. 24, but the delay in approving the financing proved frustrating for neighborhood assistants, a large number of whom took to the roads on Sunday and Monday, demanding action.

"A state of emergency only seen in newspaper are lifeless words," said Zoan Davila Roldan, a cofounder of Colectivo Feminista.

Based on an analysis from GEN and Form Investigations, the intimate partner murder rate in Puerto Rico climbed to 1.7 per 100,000 women in 2018up from 0.77 per 100,000 at 2017.

In 2020, 60 gender-related killings were reported, according to Puerto Rico's Gender Equality Observatory. At least 21 gender-based killings have been reported this season, one of them Andrea Ruiz Costas and Keishla Rodriguez Ortiz.

According to her family, Rodriguez Ortiz had been romantically involved with Felix Verdejo-Sanchez, an Olympic fighter for Puerto Rico. Rodriguez Ortiz's mother explained the 27-year-old had been pregnant and had received threats from Verdejo-Sanchez, for example needs to terminate the pregnancy. Ortiz went lost, and 2 weeks later her body was located at the San Jose Lagoon, near Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina.

Verdejo-Sanchez was charged with kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking leading to death and murdering an unborn child, according to the Department of Justice, and Judge Camille Vélez ruled Monday that he would remain in jail, with no choice of bail, before a preliminary hearing. A federal grand jury indicted Verdejo-Sanchez and an alleged accomplice on Thursday.

Ruiz Costas' body has been discovered brutally burned in the town of Cayey on April 29. Following her spouse had been identified as a potential suspect, he came forward and confessed, in accordance with local police. In March, the 35-year-old twice filed for a restraining order against her partner but was denied.

"The state and the machine is accountable," Davila Roldan told ABC News. "There's a collapse in the computer system."

Pierluisi held a media conference on Monday to tackle both cases, and he acknowledged the state's fault in Ruiz Costas' case.

"The machine collapsed Andrea," he said.

After the state of emergency was announced and the $7 million has been requested, the FOMB originally approved only $200,000. Since Puerto Rico is going via a bankruptcy that started in 2016, the FOMB gets the last say in most financial decisions of the government. The island has over $100 billion in debt and pension obligations.

In an April 27 letter to Pierluisi, the FOMB wrote, in part, that the authorities"should further assess other financing sources."

"I really don't want to hear excuses from the plank," Pierluisi said on Monday.

The $7 million, currently approved, will help fortify the work of the technical committee called PARE, an acronym in Spanish that means Prevention, Service, Rescue and Education of Gender Violence. It had been created following the state of emergency was announced and consists of organizations which work closely together with experts and representatives from gubernatorial agencies.

"Organizations have been doing incredible work analyzing the different hurdles the system has," Vilma Gonzalez, a PARE committee member and director of the nonprofit Paz Para La Mujer, which roughly translates to Peace For Woman, told ABC News.

Gonzalez said she was one of those worried about the lack of urgency in approving the funding.

"There has to be a dedication from gubernatorial agencies," Gonzalez said. She and other colleagues also said they've experienced delays in distributing paperwork needed to complete the action plan.

For Davila Roldan of Colectivo Feminista, the struggle against gender violence will continue until real change is observable.

"The country must do their part," she said. "We're taking the streets to place stress."

Keywords:
Puerto Rico
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