The controversy surrounding a tiny park in a well-heeled San Juan neighborhood has become a symbol of the struggle against the corruption encysted in the Puerto Rican government and the ruling pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP, in Spanish), shedding light on the complicated web of double-dealing and deception that is now business as usual in the archipelago.
Parque Borinquen stands at the corner of Avenida Ashford and Calle Krug in Condado, a posh area home to well-to-do Puerto Ricans and foreigners. The park, one of the few green spaces in a concrete-laden neighborhood, is a small oasis where residents congregate, take their pets, and feed pigeons.
The Puerto Rico Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP), claiming it owned the park, sold it illegally for the eye-watering low sum of $145,000 — yes, you read correctly — in 2021 to Krug Property LLC, headquartered in New York City.
There were no public hearings on the sale of what is public domain.
The DTOP registered the property in its name after Krug requested to buy it. But according to the Property Registry, the park has been owned by the Municipality of San Juan since 1972 — meaning the DTOP had no right to sell it.
Neighborhood residents — ironically, many of them PNP supporters — challenged the insular government to prevent the park’s illegal acquisition by the New York-based company, demanding transparency and accountability in any sale process.
They filed a lawsuit against the Puerto Rico government, the Municipality of San Juan, and Krug, requesting the annulment of the sale and demanding the suspension of the building permits for the company and the construction of a 12-story condominium on parkland.
“So, now the Puerto Rican parks are also for sale? Come on!” said community spokesperson Amaury Rivera. “No more, no more. There will be consequences.”
“One of the things that are a constant in all of this is that there always is an outside influence, and there is a party (PNP) donor requesting and for whom all the permits and processes are facilitated,” architect and urbanist Pedro Cardona-Roig said. “This is true in the case of Aguadilla, Rincón, and Condado.
“There is a very favorable environment for corruption (in Puerto Rico). Everything is set in place so that corruption can flourish, grow, and prosper,” Cardona-Roig said. “The system doesn’t permit one to clearly see where the corruption is encysted, creating a perfect storm.
“The park is a small example of this,” he continued. “It is important to defend public spaces, no doubt. But, in this case, it has become an emblem of the vices within the system.
“Take note that this entire transaction was initiated with a request from a PNP donor that asked that the property be sold,” Cardona-Roig said. “‘You get me the property and sell it to me’ — that was the request that started everything.”
Krug and the other names cropping up in the sale are linked to major PNP donors and even members of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi’s own family.
“These are the people behind the curtain that are driving all of this, and these are the ones that the mayor of San Juan” — also a PNP member — “owes favors to,” Rivera said.
Currently, the DTOP, the Municipality of San Juan, and Krug Property have agreed that the park titles belong to the Municipality of San Juan if the court accepts them.
If the court approves, Krug will get back its $145,000 and almost $9,857 in additional costs. What happens next, hopefully, is a transparent process. But it’s anyone’s guess.
“It is very hard when you are dealing with corruption at the level that we are dealing with in Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. “The problem here in Puerto Rico is that everybody involved at this level thinks money is everything. This is having a detrimental effect on our island.”
“People in Puerto Rico are saying the time has come — ya la gota colmo el vaso, ni una gotita mas,” he said. “We need to take Puerto Rico back. We need to rescue Puerto Rico. We have lost our way completely. We have lost it.”
Parque Borinquen is just one example of how corruption is deeply embedded within the bureaucracy of the Puerto Rico government, the PNP, and how it is aided and abetted by La Fortaleza.
For the PNP, all of Puerto Rico is their real estate.
Indeed, there has always been corruption on the island — the colonial status lends itself to it. However, a red line has been crossed, and the repercussions have engulfed the island. These are boom times for thieving after María put a “For Sale” sign up.
Puerto Rico deserves better.
Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is the former News Director for Univision Puerto Rico and a writer and journalist living in New York City. Comments can be sent to her email. Twitter: @DurgaOne
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When is this thievery going to stop? Someone needs to go to jail!