Activists Tear Down Illegal Construction on Puerto Rico Beach

Jul 5, 2022
12:35 PM

Protesters stand behind a barricade that reads “This wall is illegal! Public domain,” Rincón, Puerto Rico, Monday, July 4, 2022. (Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco/Latino Rebels)

RINCÓN, Puerto Rico — On Monday, after more than a year of protesting and occupying the beach, environmental justice activists destroyed parts of the illegal construction that Sol y Playa Condominium was building on Los Almendros beach in Rincón, Puerto Rico.

Last year, environmental justice activists found that hawksbill sea turtle, known as careys in Spanish, a critically endangered species, were laying their eggs inside the area where the condominium was building an infinity pool. Hundreds of people quickly stormed Los Almendros to force the condo to stop construction. The heightened media attention from these protests caused a flurry of information to come out about the condo, including that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi’s cousin owned an apartment there and that the permits were fast-tracked without the proper environmental impact studies.

In February, a judge ordered the condominium to destroy the construction and restore the beach within 120 days. The deadline came and went without any moves on the condo’s part.

Seeing the inaction on the part of the Puerto Rican government and the Sol y Playa Condominium, members of the community decided to take down the construction themselves.

For Puerto Ricans, the beaches matter more than ever now. As the price of rent, electricity, gasoline, and food gets more expensive by the month, the only place left for Puerto Ricans to exist in public without having to pay anything is at the beach. But even that right has slowly been eroded away by land developers and the government’s willingness to sell property to them.

The plan was for people to protest July 4. Video spread throughout social media over the week prior showing Rincón police bringing orange barricades from across the island to their headquarters.

Activists who arrived early over the weekend to stay with Campamento Carey, a small tent city that had been occupying the beach since the events of last year, saw security forces pour onto the beach in the early hours of Sunday morning.

“It was like a surprise terrorist attack,” one activist told Latino Rebels.

Police and Department of Natural Resources (DRNA) officers set up a blockade and a police line where the illegal construction met the beach. Online, many questioned why DRNA were protecting the construction instead of forcing the Condo to tear down the construction.

Security forces violently arrested activist Zaida Morales, who has been attending these protests since last year. Morales was dragged away “from the safety of the people” through the rebar barrier back into the Condo.

She was later released without being charged and had to be treated at a local medical center for her injuries.

“[The court] has already stated at least four times that they’re failing to comply. They have to demolish. They have to restore,” Morales told Latino Rebels.

While in an interrogation room, she claims she heard the police say, “We’re not supposed to be there. These arrests are illegal.”

As more people started arriving following the outrage over Morales’s arrest, security forces moved the line back to the edge of the condo’s actual property line. Activists present saw this as a sign that they had free reign over the construction and started demolishing the wall that separated the beach from the construction zone.

Hand tools, power tools, and generators appeared at the beach overnight alongside about 100 newly minted construction workers with the intent of tearing down what remained of the wall and the cement walkway.

As the day went on, activists moved hundreds of pounds of cement and rebar from the construction zone to the beach’s parking lot, “where it would be easier for the Department of Natural Resources to haul away,” one activist told Latino Rebels.

DRNA Lt. Efrain Garcia eventually gave protesters a signed court order they had sent to the condo on June 30 ordering them to begin the process of demolition or to comply with the demolition and restoration order given to them initially within 10 days. He then asked activists to stop tearing down the majority of the construction, to only focus on pieces that could cause an accident and cleaning up debris.

Interim DRNA Sec. Anaís Rodríguez Vega confirmed today that if the Sol y Playa Condominium did not follow the order, DRNA would demolish the construction then bill the condo for all expenses.

While some were content that things were moving forward through official channels and others were irritated that direct action had stopped, a wave of elation swepth through most as the final pillar from the wall came down.

Eliezer Molina, an activist, organizer, and former gubernatorial candidate, addresses a crowd of protesters in Rincón, Puerto Rico, Monday, July 4, 2022. His shirt reads “The beaches aren’t for sale.” (Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco/Latino Rebels)

“We’re happy because we’re winning. It’s a heavy sacrifice because people here have been hit, they’ve been arrested,” activist and former gubernatorial candidate Eliezer Molina told Latino Rebels. “If they want a fight and fire here in 10 days, we’ll be here.”

Still, many worry that the rising shoreline caused by global warming will mean that the area they just rescued will be underwater in a few years. Hurricane María destroyed the original pool then dragged it under the waves, and the area activists just cleaned up already floods during high tide.

The lawyers for the Sol y Playa Condominium Board have said they still have some legal avenues they can go through and will continue pursuing them.


Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco is a freelance journalist, mostly focused on civil unrest, extremism, and political corruption. Twitter: @Vaquero2XL