Calling gender violence ‘a social evil,’ governor declares state of emergency

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia issued an executive order Sunday that declares Puerto Rico under a gender violence emergency 23 days after taking office and promising to do so on his first day.

Pierluisi said last Tuesday that he was working on an “embarking strategy” to address the issue after the death of 29-year-old Angie Noemí González Santos, who became the island’s first femicide victim of 2021 when her husband Robert Félix Rodríguez Díaz confessed to authorities to killing the mother of three girls. The governor declared as public policy to “establish, improve and execute protection, prevention and orientation programs against gender violence and to establish service programs aimed at supporting victims.”

“All violence is to be repudiated, and we have to fight it relentlessly,” Pierluisi said. “Gender violence is a social evil, based on ignorance and attitudes that have no place and cannot be tolerated in the Puerto Rico we aspire to be.”

“For too long, vulnerable victims have suffered the consequences of systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education, lack of guidance, and above all, lack of action,” he added. “It is my duty and commitment as governor to establish an end to gender violence.”

Executive Order 2021-13 establishes specific mechanisms such as the designation of a compliance officer, who will report to the governor, to oversee, follow up on and monitor the implementation of the order.

In addition, it creates the Gender Violence Prevention, Support, Rescue and Education (PARE by its Spanish acronym) Committee, to which 17 members are to be appointed, and increases to three the representation of organizations dedicated to providing services and fighting against gender violence. The committee will be chaired by the Puerto Rico Family Secretary, Carmen González Magaz, who holds a master’s degree and doctorate from Carlos Albizu University, and whose internship and doctoral thesis were on the subject of gender violence.

Another of the comprehensive order’s provisions is the creation of a cell phone application to help victims of gender violence request emergency help while hiding the message sent to protect the victim from her aggressor. Likewise, each agency, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, will have to identify internal resources, state and federal funds, and external funds available to comply with the provisions of the executive order, and if necessary, request additional funds to handle the declared emergency.

Meanwhile, the governor said in a press release that he would be forceful in justifying the state of emergency because he insisted that the causes of violence against women and gender violence “have permeated our society for a long time and we have to be proactive and emphatic in combating it as reparations to all the victims that we have not been able to protect.”

Therefore, to prevent fatalities and provide greater safety to victims, the decree creates a follow-up program for every person who has been granted a protection order for gender-based violence through which they will be contacted and/or visited by a law enforcement officer to verify their safety.

It also mandates the establishment of training mechanisms for all law enforcement officers and government agency personnel relevant to the efforts of the PARE Committee, as well as the optimization of processes to compile reliable statistics on the incidence of gender violence.

An evaluation is also ordered with the purpose of issuing recommendations on the implementation of the ALERTA ROSA Plan and to explore ways to improve attention to vulnerable victims through the specialized divisions of the island Justice Department.

In addition, the order directs the Department of Economic Development and Commerce to create and expand programs that facilitate and encourage the integration of women into the labor force. Likewise, it seeks the collaboration of all legal aid clinics in Puerto Rico’s law schools to assist victims of gender-based violence.

To raise awareness, educate and prevent gender violence, the order calls for the design and dissemination of effective media campaigns on gender violence in alliance with private enterprise.

It also establishes that the PARE Committee shall publish a first progress report within 45 days of the first meeting and every 30 days for the duration of the order, which shall be until June 30, 2022, extendable by the governor at the request of the aforementioned committee.

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