SAN JUAN — A judge in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico has ordered the demolition of two illegal structures built on top of Cueva Las Golondrinas after ruling that a lawsuit filed by the municipality against Aguadilla Pier Corporation has merit.
On Friday, February 10 —following pressure from activists and renewed public interest in the illegal construction— Judge Johnny Reyes ordered the demolition of a gazebo and a horse paddock within seven days. The company, owned by developer Carlos Román González, must also clean up the wreckage within the seven-day time limit.
Aguadilla Pier Corporation said it would comply with the court order and that demolition would start Monday, February 13. The destruction will be overseen by the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA) to ensure no more ecological damage is done to the area.
“Good news! The Court of Aguadilla has just agreed with us and ordered the demolition in 7 days of the illegally built structures in the area of El Muelle de Azucar,” Aguadilla Mayor Julio Roldán said on Twitter.
¡BUENAS NOTICIAS! El tribunal de Aguadilla nos acaba de dar la razón y ordenó la demolición en 7 días de las estructuras construidas ilegalmente en la zona del muelle de azúcar.
Seguimos trabajando para proteger nuestros recursos naturales y defender a nuestro pueblo. pic.twitter.com/PXMuBFmkcW
— Julio Roldán (@julioroldanpr) February 10, 2023
Anaís Rodríguez Vega, interim secretary of the DRNA, ordered the demolition of the two structures in May 2022, alongside a stoppage order for construction by the Cliff Corporation, also owned by Román González. The May order and wreckage cleanup was to be completed within 30 days, yet no effort was made to destroy the illegal construction.
The destruction of a mogote (a hill made of limestone karst) by the construction of villas by the Cliff Corporation has continued unabated despite the new demolition order, even though the stoppage order for the villas also remains in place.
The lack of action forced the municipality of Aguadilla to sue Aguadilla Pier Corporation in September 2022, leading to Friday’s demolition order by Judge Reyes.
“This is a very important situation because in this case the order came from a court,” Pedro Cardona Roig, an urban planner, told Latino Rebels. “The previous order was an administrative order from the DRNA, which didn’t have the diligence to make effective the order they emitted.”
Cardona Roig emphasized the need for reform to construction permit laws that would allow the permitting process to become more agile and pressure government agencies to hold developers accountable for breaking construction and environmental laws.
“None of these entities acted how they were supposed to act,” Cardona Roig said.
The administrative order indicated the DRNA found the construction violated multiple laws and ordinances, including the Law for the Protection and Conservation of Caves, Caverns, and Sumps, and the Maritime-Terrestrial Zone, which states that no permanent structures can be built within 50 meters of high tide.
Activists who brought attention to the destruction of natural resources in Aguadilla in 2018 eventually set up Campamento Pelicano (Camp Pelican) outside the gate leading to the construction zone to demand that the DRNA and the government take action to demolish the structures.
Alvin Alejandro Ortiz, a member of Campamento Pelicano, characterized his reaction to the new demolition order as giving him “frustration and strength.” He emphasized that he was frustrated because it took them five years to get the order and lots of suffering, but felt a sense of strength because the court agreed with their demands.
Activists have held multiple protests, including one at the site of the illegal structures where a security guard opened fire on protesters, hitting one in the left leg. There was another protester on Friday, the same day as the demolition order.
“As I understand it, (González) has the mentality of a greedy kid. If he can’t enjoy it then no one can,” Ortiz told Latino Rebels, referring to the owner of the two companies in question. Ortiz worries that the demolition of the two structures, if not handled properly, could lead to more ecological damage and the destruction of historical sites in the area.
Previously, González tried to rope off two historical structures —a molasses tank and a sugar warehouse— that were part of the ancient Muelle de Azucar operation. When representatives for the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture attempted to pass into the construction zone to survey the historical structures, private security did not allow them to enter.
Activists are hopeful that none of the structures will not be destroyed, but say they will defend them if any attempt to destroy them is made.
Carlos Edill Berríos Polanco is the Caribbean correspondent for Latino Rebels, based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Twitter: @Vaquero2XL