Agriculture, Housing officials miss another public hearing
By The Star Staff
Rep. Jorge Alfredo Rivera Segarra, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee in the island House of Representatives, has summoned Agriculture Secretary Ramón González Beiró and Housing Secretary William Rodríguez Rodríguez, along with Javier Lugo Rullán, the director of the Agricultural Insurance Corp., to a hearing next Wednesday, under penalty of contempt, in order to determine the state of the agricultural sector in Puerto Rico after the passage of Hurricane Fiona on Sept. 18.
The summons follows Lugo Rullán’s absence from a public hearing scheduled at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the House of Representatives.
“Our only intention with this hearing was to get a closer look at the status of our agriculture after the Hurricane Fiona phenomenon,” Rivera Segarra said. “To our surprise, [Tuesday] afternoon, the excuse came from the Department of Agriculture that they could not appear.”
The legislator from District 22, which includes the towns of Adjuntas, Lares, Utuado and Jayuya, charged that the Agriculture chief influenced Lugo Rullán’s absence.
“Javier Lugo Rullán was willing to appear at a public hearing …” Rivera Segarra said. “This committee has to be respected for the importance it has for the country, for the importance it has after Hurricane Fiona, and for the food crisis looming worldwide.”
Rivera Segarra stressed that this is the third time the Agriculture secretary has been summoned for a public hearing and failed to appear. He emphasized that his committee is fulfilling its duty of overseeing the Department of Agriculture.
“It is time for Secretary González Beiró to understand the mechanism [of checks and balances] that balances the executive branch’s functions and the Legislature,” the lawmaker said. “We are not going to rest in the exercise of clarifying the issues that are of interest to the people of Puerto Rico regarding something as vital as agriculture.”
“In this public hearing, we wanted to know how agricultural insurance applications were progressing, which is the only thing our farmers have to mitigate the damages caused by the weather phenomenon,” Rivera Segarra said. “The intention was to discuss how we can move at the federal level to expand agricultural insurance benefits so that they are not only applicable after the passage of a hurricane. We want to make it understood that our agriculture needs greater protection since our lands are frequently affected by the geographic position of our island.”
The Agricultural Insurance Corp. administers mandatory insurance for farmers who receive state subsidies from the Department of Agriculture.
According to official statements by the Agriculture secretary, Hurricane Fiona mainly affected plantain, banana, coffee and vegetable crops in the southern region of Puerto Rico.
Rivera Segarra insisted meanwhile that he “will continue to monitor so that farmers know where they stand, and what they can do amid so many crises.”
Farmers interested in claiming agricultural insurance losses should email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 787-722-2748. The deadline to apply for damages caused by Hurricane Fiona is this Friday, Oct. 7.