Gaspar Roca was a Puerto Rican journalist and economist who led the fight for freedom of the press in Puerto Rico. He is an indelible legacy in the memory of the island and the media.
Roca, founder and editor of the newspaper El Vocero, participated as plaintiff and defendant in lawsuits in which he defended freedom of information and promoted litigation so that politicians would make public their personal finances. In addition, the journalist managed to collect a collection of signatures, stamps, and postal material that were recorded for the history of the island.
Gaspar Roca was born in Yauco, Puerto Rico, in 1926. He studied at the Wharton School of Finance & Commerce, University of Pennsylvania, where he graduated in 1947 with a degree in Economics.
The voice of Puerto Rico
In 1974 he founded El Vocero de Puerto Rico, a well-known local newspaper. He was also president and general director of the Industrial Development Corporation, with which he helped to promote industrial investment on the island.
Roca was also a member of other government and private associations, such as the Board of Directors of the Valley Forge Military Academy Foundation in Pennsylvania; he was a member of the Philatelic Society of Puerto Rico, created to promote stamp collecting and the study of postal history.
“El Vocero” for freedom of the press in Puerto Rico
As editor of the newspaper El Vocero, he initially filled a niche for a tabloid that was crime-oriented. However, under his direction, the newspaper became a mainstream version, which included renowned columnists such as Luis Dávila Colón, Obed Betancourt, José Arsenio Torres, Roberto Rexach Benítez, Eudaldo Báez Galib, and Juan Manuel García Passalacqua.
Roca decided to go “against the current” and one of his great contributions to journalism was his willingness to finance lawsuits in favor of freedom of information.
Through an appeal, El Vocero succeeded in getting the U.S. Supreme Court to declare unconstitutional the Puerto Rican judiciary’s rule prohibiting the press from participating in more than 30,000 in-camera pretrial hearings a year.
In 1992, he also participated in a lawsuit that forced political candidates to disclose their personal finances and was a participant in the case that declared unconstitutional Puerto Rico’s “criminal defamation” law, which limited the exercise of the right to freedom of the press on the island.
“As an indelible legacy, we highlight and treasure the line of court cases that Roca brought on behalf of the Puerto Rican press, particularly the historic lawsuit with which he got the U.S. Supreme Court to open preliminary hearings in criminal cases to journalists and the public,” said Óscar Serrano, who was president of the Journalists Association, in 2007 as he paid tribute to Roca on his passing.
In addition to leaving the island a legacy of journalistic verticality, Gaspar Roca also played an important role in the defense of private property.
An economist by profession, he held important positions in the Government of Puerto Rico, among them his participation in the Board of Directors of the Urban Renewal and Housing Corporation and the Public Buildings Authority. He also presided over the Industrial Development Company and promoted the creation of the Puerto Rico Highway Authority.
Gaspar Roca died at age in April 2007 of respiratory failure at his home in San Juan. He was 80 years old.