NGO Espacios Abiertos joins freedom of information coalition
By John McPhaul
With citizen participation increasingly limited in the discussion of the budget, and contracts that affect people’s lives and the privatization of natural resources largely hidden, the non-governmental group Espacios Abiertos (Open Spaces) will intensify its efforts in favor of transparency with a new alliance by joining the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), the organization announced Thursday.
Espacios Abiertos (EA) Executive Director Cecille Blondet Passalaqua said that in recent days she was informed that the NFOIC board of directors had decided to invite EA to become a member of the organization, which has 30 years of experience advocating for the right to freedom of information in the United States, where it has members in 37 states and the District of Columbia.
“We are impressed with the work of EA and the influence it has achieved in such a short time in promoting transparency and accountability on the part of the Puerto Rico government and its local jurisdictions,” said NFOIC Executive Director Daniel Bevarly in a press release.
Bevarly noted that the relationship with EA began when the Puerto Rican entity signed a statement from the NFOIC and the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, issued in March, which called for government transparency in handling the coronavirus/COVID-19 emergency in the United States.
The NFOIC defines itself as “a resource” to guarantee the citizen’s right to an open government. The organization and its members strive to ensure that state and local governments and public institutions have laws, policies, and protocols to facilitate press and public access to information and procedures.
“The greatest challenges that limit freedom of information in Puerto Rico are not very different from those faced by other jurisdictions in the United States,” Blondet Passalaqua said. “This alliance will give us the opportunity to learn and collaborate with the other members of the NFOIC in order to advance transparency and access to information in both Puerto Rico and the continent.”
This year, EA has also established alliances with the Center for Law and Democracy in Canada and its counterpart in Europe, Access Info Europe, and continues to strengthen ties with other entities in Puerto Rico such as the Red Transparencia (Transparency Network) and community projects.
The EA executive director noted that the organization has focused in recent years on literacy on fiscal issues and civic engagement to navigate through an economic crisis caused by an unprecedented public debt burden.
“The lack of transparency and accountability of the government in the spending of public funds has been a great challenge,” Blondet Passalaqua said. “If it was necessary to strengthen civic capacities in Puerto Rico before the fiscal crisis, after hurricanes Irma and Maria, the earthquakes in January and now the COVID pandemic, it is more important than before to have a stronger, more committed and participatory civil society to guarantee an open, fair and equitable allocation, distribution and disbursement of public funds.”
She stressed that access to information is key to promoting citizen participation in governmental processes.