Los Almendros Beach in the town of Rincón in Puerto Rico has been the scene of protests for the environmental protection of the area and also of allegations of police abuse. For the past few days, police have clashed with activists seeking to preserve the area where hawksbill turtles —an endangered species— nest.
The image of a turtle trapped in the middle of the construction of a swimming pool a couple of weeks ago shocked the inhabitants of Rincón, many of whom have opposed the project. After recovering turtle eggs and proving that it should be a protected area, the experts recommended a ban on construction. The request was supported by the Secretary of Natural Resources Rafael Machargo, who later reversed the decision.
HELP! Carey turtles that most frequents the coasts of Puerto Rico. Residents Rescued "180" Carey eggs from an Illegal swimming pool project Construction PROJECT in Rincón, PR. The hawksbill, like all sea turtles, has been protected by federal and state laws. Was there today. https://t.co/7n1mDZSqGv pic.twitter.com/uMivjFHFJm
— No-Partidista (@WeGDI) July 2, 2021
“He made an interpretation that is completely illogical and without foundation… and this happens after direct interventions from La Fortaleza. And it is something that we in the [Puerto Rico] House of Representatives are going to be looking into,” Rep. Mariana Nogales told Latino Rebels on Tuesday.
Faced with the scandal and the imminent continuation of the construction of the swimming pool that had already existed before Hurricane Maria, activists went to the area to demand that the work be stopped. However, they were met with police repression that has been reported on social media.
“What we have seen is first an excessive deployment of police officers. At times, there have been 100 officers. And at times when there have been only 50 demonstrators, we have the motorized unit there. They have also mobilized the special arrests and extraditions division,” Nogales said.
Complaints from protesters and activists range from excessive police force to unjustified arrests. Several videos on social media have recorded how police officers have attacked the people protesting.
Señoras y señores, antes ustedes; La Policía de Puerto Rico. pic.twitter.com/3hIQMBVZtr
— Robinson Camacho Rodríguez (@RobiCamacho) July 23, 2021
Activist and politician Eliezer Molina has been one of the most involved in these protests and in the defense of the beach. He faces charges for protesting in the area and denounces that there are interests behind this complex.
“The cousin of the governor of Puerto Rico [Pedro Pierluisi] lives in the condominium. His name is Walter Pierluisi. He has a corporation with government contracts that has billed more than seventeen million dollars to administer housing,” Molina told Latino Rebels.
This is not the first time that people have protested against this project and Molina said that what they want is to publicize how Puerto Rico’s beaches are being indiscriminately appropriated by millionaires.
“The primary interest is restoring the habitat of endangered species to its natural state and ending construction on all beaches in Puerto Rico. Because what they are simply doing is granting permission to sell our beaches fraudulently and with this case, we are going to document it and we are going to encourage that this does not happen again,” Molina said.
Last weekend protesters destroyed the construction fence amidst celebration and criticism of the government.
Descansa en paz, verja del condominio. pic.twitter.com/nDMvvpOmDb
— Robinson Camacho Rodríguez (@RobiCamacho) July 24, 2021
Governor Pierluisi used social media to say that the damage to private property is a violation of the law.
Hago un llamado a la prudencia y al respeto. El derecho a protestar es incuestionable pero no hay derecho a la violencia ni al daño a la propiedad privada porque eso es delito. Se puede diferir pero tenemos que defender los derechos de todos. (1/2)
— Gobernador Pierluisi (@GovPierluisi) July 24, 2021
The board of titleholders of the Playa y Sol condominium said last Saturday that it will pause construction of the pool but reserves the right to private property and the validity of the permits authorizing construction.
For now, several politicians and activists continue to press for the Secretary of Natural Resources to publicly answer why the order to halt construction was reversed.
Juanita Ramos Ardila is a Colombian journalist who has written for El Tiempo and ColPrensa. An M.A. Journalism candidate at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, Juanita is also Latino Rebels’ 2021 Summer Correspondent. Twitter: @JuanitaRamosA.