BuzzFeed News Report: Aide to Puerto Rico Governor Tried to Stop Questions About Death Count

Originally published at Latino USA.

Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló addressing the media on September 27, 2017 (Photo by Chief National Guard Bureau/ Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

A story published Thursday by BuzzFeed News said that a top aide to Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló was not allowing for reporters to ask about the government’s ongoing Hurricane María death toll investigation.

Despite the reported restriction, BuzzFeed News’ Nidhi Prakash wrote that she still asked a question about the investigation. In response, Rosselló said, “we’re going to show the progress and the path forward.”

Rosselló was referring to the January 4 formation of a working group to determine which post-storm deaths were related to the hurricane or not. The executive order said that the working group must submit a report of its findings in 90 days—so the report could be published any time from now until the beginning of April.

“It’s not a report, it’s an outlying of the process that is being taken,” Rosselló told BuzzFeed News. “Of course this takes some time as you’ve seen from other jurisdictions.”

Prakash added that “as BuzzFeed News asked the questions, Rosselló’s spokesperson tried to conclude the interview.”

The spokesperson in question was Yennifer Álvarez, the governor’s press secretary, who tweeted to Prakash after the BuzzFeed News story was published.

Prakash responded to Álvarez’s tweet.

Álvarez also added the following:


A December 7 report from the Center for Investigative Journalism, in collaboration with Latino USA and Latino Rebels, said that nearly 1,000 people died in Puerto Rico the first 40 days after Hurricane María, when compared to the same period in 2016.

Since that December 7 story was published (as well as a December 8 story from The New York Times), Latino USA has been in constant contact with the Puerto Rican government for updates to the death count. Other outlets, including BuzzFeed News‘ October story about funeral directors, also published stories about the death count and why it could have been undercounted.

As of January 4 (the last update Latino USA received), there were 1,194 more deaths in September and October 2017 combined when compared to 2016. September 2017 and October 2017 were the two months with the most deaths in Puerto Rico for the last three years.

The government of Puerto Rico’s official death count from Hurricane María is at 64.

After Latino USA kept asking for additional updates to the January 4 death toll statistics, a spokesperson for the island’s Department of Public Security said on February 1 there will be no more updates to Hurricane María-related deaths shared with the public until a formal report order by the governor is completed.

On February 12, a spokesperson for the island’s Department of Health told Latino USA that “…until [the death toll] investigation is completed, and by recommendation of the CDC itself, we are not authorized to provide new mortality data for the year 2017.” The spokesperson expected to have new data by June or July.


Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela is the founder of Latino Rebels, co-host of In The Thick and a frequent contributor to Latino USA. He tweets from @julito77.


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