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Puerto Rico Seeks To Delay Release Of Death Records Related To Hurricane Maria

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

The Puerto Rican government is seeking to extend a deadline to release records pertaining to the death toll from Hurricane Maria, claiming that it needs more time to comply with a court order to produce the information.

In a motion filed late Monday, the government asked for permission to postpone the delivery of death certificates and other data a judge had ordered to be handed over to the Center for Investigative Journalism and CNN.

Both organizations sued commonwealth Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s administration in February after it refused to release the information.

“This new delay tactic (speaks) to the Rossello government’s credibility,” CPI Executive Director Clara Minet said, according to CNN. “The government didn’t need seven days to hand in most of the information — and yet they haven’t delivered anything at this point, even when they publicly stated that they would comply with the court.”

The last-minute motion comes after a Puerto Rican judge ruled in favor of the news organizations on June 4, giving the government seven days to produce death certificates, burial permits and other records. A day after the judge’s order, the commonwealth office of public affairs agreed to comply with the order, saying the government’s policy is to “work with strict transparency and facilitate access to all public information.”

With the June 11 deadline about to pass, however, the government asked the court to ease the seven-day timetable for delivery of the records.

“Reaffirming our work to faithfully comply with the judgment in this case, we understand that the seven days granted to the state are not enough to accomplish this process that we’re just starting,” Wanda Vázquez Garced, the secretary of justice, wrote in the motion.

The precise death toll related to Hurricane Maria has been the subject of much guesswork since the storm devastated the island in September. The government had stuck to a widely derided official figure of 64 until this month, but outside organizations estimated that the true number of casualties was closer to 1,000.

One highly publicized study by Harvard University researchers claimed there were 4,645 additional deaths in Puerto Rico due to Maria. That figure, which was circulated in the media as evidence of the Trump administration’s negligence in responding to the storm, was not based on a count of verified death records, but rather a survey of about 3,000 households on the island. (RELATED: Critics Blame Trump For The Hurricane Maria Death Toll And Response But The Facts Tell A Different Story)

Puerto Rican authorities said Tuesday they would begin to release some of the information requested by CNN and CPI, but said it would take more time to produce all of the records. Officials did not specify what kind of records would be released.

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