Emergency powers, anti-corruption, and policy failures during the COVID-19 pandemic in Puerto Rico

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This paper explores how the use of emergency powers by the US and Puerto Rican governments exacerbated the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and manufactured the conditions for furthering the multilayered economic, legal, political, and humanitarian crisis affecting Puerto Rico since 2006. The paper discusses three cases. First, it examines how the multiple declarations of the state of emergency, and its constant renewals, produced contradictory public health policies. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Puerto Rican government has issued over 90 executive orders aimed at addressing the emergency, producing an unclear, contradictory, and unequal emergency management policy. Second, the paper focuses on the impact of the passing of Law 35 on April 5, 2020, which imposed severe penalties on those who disobeyed executive orders. As a result, hundreds of Puerto Ricans were arrested, fined, and incarcerated for violating the issued order. Third, the paper studies how, citing the presence of corruption, the Puerto Rican government implemented anti-corruption and anti-fraud policies that made it more difficult for those most in need of it—mainly poor and racialized individuals, as well as immigrants and working women—to access Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Thus, the paper argues that emergency policies designed to address the pandemic, punitive governance, and anti-corruption and anti-fraud policies undermined Puerto Rico's capacity to handle the pandemic, exacerbated its impact, and created an unequal recovery scenario.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-272
Number of pages20
JournalLaw & Policy
Issue number3
Early online dateDec 24 2022
StatePublished - Jul 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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