Citizens to file complaint alleging excessive police force in Rincón protest

By John McPhaul

Citizens protesting the construction of a condominium swimming pool in Rincón that they say intrudes upon the maritime zone plan to file a complaint with the police superintendent over excessive use of force against demonstrators, a protest leader said Sunday.

The announcement of the complaint came after Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia called on protesters to refrain from acts of violence.

“I call for prudence and respect,” the governor said on Saturday. “The right to protest is unquestionable but there is no right to violence or damage to private property because that is a crime. It can be deferred but we have to defend the rights of all.”

A spokeswoman for the protesters, Rep. Mariana Nogales Molinelli of the Citizens Victory Movement, said the police were the ones causing the violence and the protesters will file a complaint with the police superintendent.

“There has been violence on the part of the state,” Nogales Molinielli said. “The police have used excessive force.”

She said the police also have directed insults at the protesters, including a homophobic slur directed at a gay couple.

Nogales Molinelli denied that the protesters have committed any violence against private property.

Protesters broke the gate of a wall guarding the condominium project, but Nogales Molinelli said the structure was on public land, and the protesters were carrying out their “duty as citizens.”

Nogales Molinielli said the protest would continue on Sunday, which was Puerto Rico Constitution Day.

Meanwhile, Popular Democratic Party Reps. Jesús Manuel Ortiz González, Edgardo Feliciano, Jessie Cortes, Kebin Maldonado Martiz, and Sen. Ada García, on Saturday demanded the resignation or dismissal of Rafael Machargo Maldonado, the secretary of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), due to the controversy.

“The questionable and not very responsible handling of this case makes the secretary’s tenure in office unsustainable,” Ortiz González said in a written statement. “It is up to the governor to request his resignation and designate a person who can handle the matter with transparency and responsibility. If the governor really wants to protect our natural resources, he has to remove this official.”

Pierluisi said the “government of Puerto Rico has the duty to ensure these rights [to protest], and if necessary, the Puerto Rico Police will intervene to guarantee order.”

Meanwhile, owners of apartments at the Sol y Playa condominium decided to stop construction of the complex’s swimming pool given the increase in the volume of protests.

“Faced with threats, harassment, intimidation, vandalism to private property and invasion of privacy through the use of sophisticated audio and video devices that put the safety of residents of the condominium at risk, the Owners Board has decided to [establish] a voluntarily pause of the reconstruction works in the areas affected by Hurricane Maria,” stated the apartment owners in a letter.

On Saturday afternoon, hundreds of people went to the site to protest. Some of those present broke part of the aforementioned rear gate of the complex.

The controversy began with the reconstruction of the pool, in what is considered by opponents within the maritime terrestrial zone. Sea turtles nest at the site, which caused the DNER to temporarily stop work. However, Machargo reversed the order originally issued and ordered the agency’s employees to allow the work to be completed.

Rep. Edgardo Feliciano, who chairs the Committee on Natural and Environmental Resources and Recycling in the island House of Representatives, stated that “[t]he investigation that we are carrying out in the Committee … has raised many flags about what appear to be irregularities.”

“The committee will be sending out new information requests and will be summoning other officials,” he said. “Let no one have any doubt that we follow through all the way on this.”

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