Feminist collective cleans up abandoned space, could face criminal charges
By The Star Staff
The Colectiva Feminista en Construcción (Feminist Collective in Construction) on Wednesday denounced the intention of the Department of Justice to file criminal charges against several members of the organization, as well as residents of Río Piedras, after they cleaned and refurbished an abandoned space located in that community.
Collective members also charged that the latest action by the government is part of a pattern of harassment and persecution that they have been experiencing for the past year.
“In the last year, since we have been doing work in the community of Río Piedras, where many of us, members of this organization, live, work and study, we began to receive constant harassment and persecution from the Puerto Rico Police and the San Juan Municipal Police,” said the organization’s spokeswoman, Shariana Ferrer-Nuñez. “This has manifested itself in the harassment of officers in patrol cars with intimidating attitudes at times when we have been doing outdoor activities with the community, disproportionate interventions to question our right and legitimacy to do activities in the streets of Río Piedras or merely for standing here, on the street where our premises are located. Also, officers of the San Juan municipal police have searched, without prior notification, parts of our premises carrying long guns, among other interventions.”
Ferrer-Núñez said the pattern worsened once the organization, along with people from the Río Piedras community, cleaned up and renovated an abandoned structure located on Brumbaugh Street, on the corner of Robles Street, where a few years ago the Teatrolandia business was located. The place, abandoned for the past 10 years, was full of debris and vermin, so the community organized to clean it up and relieve those conditions.
“Despite the fact that the only ones who had an obligation to act in this situation were the alleged owners in the first place and the Municipality of San Juan, the community decided to take care of the situation,” said Verónica Figueroa Huertas, also a spokesperson for Colectiva Feminista en Construcción. “Here there were conversations among neighbors, with the Río Piedras Development Trust, the Río Piedras Community Board, with the Center for the Reconstruction of Habitat, and the understanding and information we have is that this property has been abandoned for 10 years and that the municipal government had not done anything about it. In that sense, our Civil Code provides that a neighbor entering an abandoned property such as this one to mitigate dangerous conditions that affect the community and the other homes is protected by law.”
Zoán Dávila, another spokesperson for the organization, members of the collective were subjected to three interventions by the municipal police, the Puerto Rico Police and the Department of Justice, where they were intimidated about filing complaints. When the officials were asked who was filing the complaint and why, they refused to provide them with information. It was not until an eviction lawsuit was filed on Oct. 7 against one of the leaders of the organization that they learned who allegedly owned the space.
“This lawsuit is filed knowing that the space was only cleaned up and that absolutely no one, much less members of the Collective, lives in that space or has become an owner of it,” Ferrer-Nuñez said. “Those who file the lawsuit claiming to be owners are wealthy lawyers with resources and knowledge about the rule of law in Puerto Rico. These people should know that, for one thing, they have the legal responsibility to prevent this property from becoming a ruin that threatens the safety of the community.”
According to the spokeswomen, after the hearing for the eviction case ended, several collective members and several Río Piedras residents received citations for the filing of criminal charges. Dávila Roldán said the action amounts to persecution by public law enforcement agencies since there is no justification for filing charges when there is already a civil case in which the claims of the parties are being addressed.
Collective members demanded that San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero Lugo provide answers as to why the public nuisance has remained unattended. They also called on the mayor to order the municipal police to refrain from harassing and persecuting them.
The organization also demanded that island Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández explain why he intends to file charges against members of the collective and residents of Río Piedras for cleaning up a public nuisance.
“We demand that he also answer why he is trying to criminalize people from the community when there is already a civil process, between citizens, with legal representation from both parties, that seeks to resolve this situation,” Dávila said.
The municipality reacts
San Juan Administrator Israel Alicea said in a written statement that “since we arrived at the municipal administration and under the leadership of Mayor Miguel A. Romero Lugo, we have implemented an intensive work plan with regard to public nuisances and abandoned properties throughout the Municipality of San Juan and particularly in Río Piedras.”
“In the case that is being aired in the media, it is important to note that the property is private,” Alicea continued. “Within the public nuisance declaration process, the owners of said property made a commitment to the Municipality to eliminate the nuisance conditions. Once the contractor and the owners arrived at the property, they realized that some people had recently occupied the property.”
“To this effect, the owners proceeded to file a complaint with the Police. It should be noted that Municipal Police officers visited the property on only one occasion to attend to the complaint filed,” the official said. “We presume that the state police have visited the site in response to the complaint and the judicial proceedings that are in process. In response to those judicial proceedings and the statements made in the media, the State Police issued a summons to the persons allegedly occupying the property without the owner’s authorization.”