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Power, Politics and Journalism in Puerto Rico

The Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) campus in Santurce, Puerto Rico is a place where the paths of power, politics and journalism converge. One can learn an awful lot about Puerto Rican reality and about why the country is the way that it is just by keeping one’s eyes wide open in this higher learning institution. This private Catholic university has a close working relationship with the powerful Ferré-Rangel clan that is illustrative of how power is wielded in Puerto Rico. USC’s communications school, from where so many of the island’s journalists, advertisers, and public relations and marketing specialists have graduated, is receiving, starting in 2014, $1 million a year for the next five years from GFR Media, part of the family’s corporate empire. Since accepting this grant the school has been renamed Ferré-Rangel Communication School (1).

GFR Media runs three local daily newspapers, including El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico’s most widely read paper, and 10 business web sites. It is part of Grupo Ferré Rangel, the family’s corporate umbrella.

“The group selectively owns and invests in a value growth portfolio of leading companies that include business development & investments, real estate, media, printing, distribution, marketing solutions and the health industries. The group’s iconic properties include GFR Media… and City View Plaza, a unique Class A real estate development in the heart of San Juan; as well as other group of companies that service telemarketing and distribution.” (2)

Not everyone in the university is impressed with the Ferré-Rangels’ generosity. “This grant [from GFR Media] means that the poorly formed communicators graduated from the school will have to carry the message and editorial line of the Ferré-Rangels and their publications,” said a source in the USC faculty that refused to be identified. This grant “contradicts the institution’s mission, which is to form persons with intellectual liberty, with critical thinking.”

USC and the Ferré-Rangels collaborate in many other initiatives. One of these is Agenda Ciudadana (AC), a roundtable of business and civil society leaders, which “provides a space for trans-sector encounter on public matters that affect the country in the areas of education, the economy, security, health, environment, government structure, human and civil rights, and family life”. It takes credit for the drafting of the so-called Ten Year Plan (Plan Decenal), which seeks to transform public education in Puerto Rico. Other AC partners are Goya, B. Fernández y Hermanos, Microsoft, Bacardí, and the Banco Popular Foundation. Another instance of collaboration is the Press Freedom Center(CLP), a non-governmental organization housed in the USC campus and founded by El Nuevo Día.

According to our confidential source, the university is a stronghold of militant hardcore activists of the right-wing and neoliberal New Progressive Party (PNP), now in the opposition, and of the ultraconservative Catholic group Opus Dei. The USC’s new president is attorney Gilberto Marxuach, who was legal adviser to PNP governor Luis Fortuño (2009-2012). Marxuach was the lead intellectual author of Fortuño’s infamous Law #7, which led to the firing of almost 20,000 public sector employees and facilitated the creation of public-private partnerships, which have turned out to be thinly disguised privatizations (3). USC trustees include Ramón Ruiz-Comas, president of the Triple S health plan, former Bacardí president Angel Torres-Bacardí, and Oriental Bank president José R. Fernández.

“These are the people behind Agenda Ciudadana, and behind the privatizations of the Electric Power Authority and the Education Department with the Plan Decenal for public schools”, said our source.

The Universidad del Sagrado Corazón and US strategy

One of USC’s top scholars is Ramón Daubón, a Puerto Rican economist who seems to play an interesting role in the United States’ geopolitical strategy in Latin America and the Caribbean. Currently coordinator of USC’s master’s program in community development, Daubón was an official of the Ford Foundation in South America from 1990 to 1993, and USAID deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean from 1993 to 1996 (4). USAID is an arm of US foreign policy and has frequently been accused of meddling in the internal affairs of nations it works in, and of being a front for the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). During 2014 USAID was caught red handed in rather clownish schemes to destabilize Cuba, by using social media and by funding hip hop rappers (5). US citizen Alan Gross, arrested in Cuba in 2009 for smuggling satellite broadband equipment and released in December 2014, was at the time of his arrest a subcontractor for USAID (6).

From 2002 to 2008 Daubón was vice-president of the Inter American Foundation, an entity created by the US government to support grassroots community development in Latin America, and has been since 1995 an associate of the Kettering Foundation, which “seeks to identify and address the challenges to making democracy work as it should through interrelated program areas that focus on citizens, communities, and institutions”, according to its web site.

Since 2008 Daubón is president of Esquel Group, which describes itself thus:

“The Esquel Group (EG) is a private non-profit organization founded in 1984 and dedicated to stalwart citizenship as the common element in sustainable democracy and sustainable economic development. It is a member of the Grupo Esquel network with associate entities in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras and Uruguay. Its focus is strongly—though not exclusively—Latin American. It receives its support from contracted work and from donations from private, public and multilateral sources.

Through seminars, presentations and training programs EG promotes national policies as well as grassroots initiatives dedicated to social inclusion and sustainable development. It fosters inquiry and action towards self governance and greater citizen engagement in public life, particularly at the local level. EG… conducts training on social entrepreneurship for community development, with particular focus on practices for strengthening the structure and functions of civil society networks, deliberative democracy and conflict management skills.” (7)

Not everyone in Latin America is thrilled with this nonprofit’s activities. An article circulated by Voltaire Net, titled “Esquel: the brain of yankee injustice in Ecuador”, claims that “Esquel is another one of the organizations that receives USAID funding; it leads a justice outfit called ‘National Coalition for Justice’. This would be one of the organizations that intervenes in the election and designation of the country’s magistrates, judges and judicial officials.” (8) An article published in the Ecuadorian newspaper El Telégrafo (June 20 2012) about USAID financing for the political opposition in countries that are members of the left-leaning Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) singles out Esquel as subcontractor or partner in a USAID project in Ecuador called “Strengthening Civil Society in Ecuador”, also known as “Active Citizenry”. (9)

Daubón is on the global advisory board of the Foundation for Puerto Rico. (10) Founded in 2011, this new player in the Puerto Rico power scene “aspires to transform Puerto Rico by driving entrepreneurial engagement and exports, encouraging public sector innovation, unleashing human capital, and fostering social innovation. Our mission is to serve as a catalyst for Puerto Rico’s transformation into a vibrant society and economy by driving entrepreneurship and innovation”, according to its LinkedIn profile (11). Another member of the Foundation’s advisory board is the powerful and influential Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City (12). Other heavy hitters on the board include executives from Pixelogic, Doral Bank, Viacom and UBS, and two former USC presidents. The Foundation’s directors include Luis Alberto Ferré-Rangel, director of El Nuevo Día, and former Puerto Rico governor and San Juan mayor Sila Calderón.

Daubón is an adviser and scholar at USC’s Institute for Leadership, Empresarismo and Citizenship (ILEC), which according to our confidential source, serves to “facilitates sustained dialogue and through forums and dialogues convince civic, social and community groups of the necessity of embracing change and privatization.”

ILEC is run by Alfredo Carrasquillo, husband of current San Juan mayor Carmen Cruz (of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD)). Carrasquillo is an intellectual leader of theSoberanista tendency within the PPD. He chairs the board of directors of the Soberanista project Somos País, and was a close collaborator of one of the Soberanistamovement’s top leaders, William Miranda-Marín, the late PPD mayor of Caguas.

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist. http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/ On Twitter: @carmeloruiz

Notes.

1 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero “When Is a Corporate Media Group Too Powerful?” Inter Press Service, November 5 2014. http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/when-is-a-corporate-media-group-too-powerful/

2 http://grupoferrerangel.com/about-us/

3 El Nuevo Día, July 6 2011. http://www.elnuevodia.com/renunciademarxuachsecocinabahacemeses-1008991.html

4 Ramón Daubón. LinkedIn profile. https://www.linkedin.com/pub/ramon-e-daubon/8/634/5ab

5 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero. “The Company that Almost Ruined Cuban Hip Hop is a Profitable Global Operation” Counterpunch, December 29 2014.https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/29/the-company-that-almost-ruined-cuban-hip-hop-is-a-profitable-global-operation/

6 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero. “Who was Alan Gross working for?” Counterpunch, December 22 2014. https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/22/who-was-alan-gross-working-for/

7 http://esquel.org/

8 Voltaire Net. “Esquel: el cerebro de la injusticia yanqui en el Ecuador” March 21 2005. http://www.voltairenet.org/article124334.html

9 El Telégrafo (Ecuador) “Usaid admite que financia a la oposición en países de la ALBA” June 20 2012. http://www.telegrafo.com.ec/noticias/informacion-general/item/usaid-admite-que-financia-a-la-oposicion-en-paises-de-la-alba.html

10 http://foundationforpuertorico.org/

11 https://www.linkedin.com/company/foundation-for-puerto-rico

12 Kathryn Wylde profile in Business Week. http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/person.asp?personId=162770&privcapId=95085

This article originally appeared on http://alainet.org/.

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Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist.

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