Community leaders reject draft community boards regulation
By John McPhaul
During a public hearing of the Senate Committee on Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction chaired by independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot, a group of community leaders expressed their opposition to the draft Regulation for the Establishment of Community Boards under the Special Communities Program, which was prepared by the Office of Socioeconomic and Community Development (ODSEC by its Spanish acronym), because they said it is not aligned with the communities’ needs, for which they demand participation in the process.
“What we in the committee have proposed is that this conversation gives way to communications with ODSEC and in some way, establishes a bridge where the priority of things is drawn from the perspective of the community, and that senators achieve that perspective without censorship,” Vargas Vidot said during a committee hearing on Senate Resolution 77. “The important thing is that [the hearing on the regulation] is not just an event, but that there are consequences and responses in line with what the community presents.”
Omayra Ríos of the Intersectoral Committee for the Development of Villa Palmeras said the regulation in question requires an in-depth analysis, since it directly affects the way in which the communities are organized, the election of their leadership and their relationship with the office charged with implementing the public policy that defends them.
“The importance and repercussions that approving the proposed regulation can have without previously weighing the points of view of the spectrum of community leadership can be devastating,” Ríos said.
Along similar lines, Mariny Vázquez, community leader of the Movimiento Naguabo Somos Todos, said “it is a document that should not exist.”
“The state should not regulate how communities are organized. … [C]ommunities are the first line of response. … The decision must be made by the community,” she said. “The regulation was submitted and was not consulted, there was no public hearing; the community leadership was ignored.”
Carmen Villanueva, a community leader from Parcelas Hill Brothers Sur in San Juan, also expressed her rejection of the regulation, which would impact some 742 communities on the island.
“It is a shame that they want to impose a regulation on communities that have taken an additional step,” Villanuevav said.” Before, it was a guide that facilitated the construction process based on the needs of the community. The participation of organizations can be effective in the development of communities, as long as they are free and assume the leading role.”
Other community leaders from Guayanilla, Loíza and Canóvanas spoke before the committee in rejection of the measure.
ODSEC Director Thais Reyes, meanwhile, gave assurances during her presentation that the document continues in a consultation process so that it is developed according to the needs of the communities. She clarified to the committee that it is a working document that is not yet in force.
“According to what has been publicly revealed, we announce to this honorable committee that we have launched the creation of a special commission made up of community leaders, which will evaluate the regulation in question, as well as other ODSEC regulations that need to be evaluated,” Reyes said. “By establishing the commission, we do so with deep respect for the work carried out by community leaders for the socioeconomic development of their communities.”