Governor: ‘I didn’t see any excessive force’ during arrests of Culebra demonstrators
Says interrupting gov’t services, passenger and cargo transportation included, is a ‘crime’
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Monday justified Saturday’s police intervention in Culebra during which United Forces of Rapid Action (FURA by its Spanish acronym) Maritime Unit agents accelerated an official boat toward protesters in a kayak as the agents moved to arrest at least three of the kayakers, as was shown in various videos uploaded to different social media networks.
The incident took place during protests held over the weekend in Culebra and Vieques to demand an efficient maritime transportation service and the cancellation of the 23-year contract awarded to HMS Ferries through a public-private partnership agreement that will cost $34 million annually.
“So what I saw from the police this weekend was [agents] enforcing the law, which is their function,” the governor said during a press conference at La Fortaleza. “I did not see any excessive use of force. From what I could see in their interventions, and everyone must be clear, the police are called in to maintain order, and if a crime is committed in front of the police, any member of the force has to act.”
Pierluisi added that although he recognized the residents’ right to protest and demonstrate, he pointed out that “no one, I repeat, no one has the right to interrupt essential government services.”
“In fact, it is a crime to interrupt essential government services, including passenger and cargo transportation services to Isla Nena and Culebra,” he added. “So what I am saying to the people of Vieques and the people of Culebra is that we are taking measures. I declared a state of emergency, now, today. In a matter of days, we are going to have more than five vessels serving both islands.”
The governor said that although he considered the actions recently taken by the central government to be less than “ideal” to resolve an issue that has dragged on for decades, “the permanent solution is when the P3 [public-private partnership] becomes operational.”
As The STAR reported Monday, the P3 agreement has been under scrutiny as the 800-page contract’s review and approval only lasted 52 minutes.
“I am keeping an eye on that,” Pierluisi said. “I want it to happen, that is already underway, there has already been a competitive process. I am sure that the entity that was chosen that provides maritime transportation service to New York City, that provides it in Rhode Island, is going to be the difference.”
“From here to there, I am not going to skimp, but I do ask all the people of Puerto Rico that we must respect both the police and the government itself,” the governor said. “We must never interrupt essential government services. We can protest all we want, demonstrate, but not interrupt government services because others will pay for the sins of the guilty; people who have nothing to do with the situation will pay for those consequences.”
When asked if an administrative investigation will be requested for the aforementioned FURA boat intervention with protesters, Pierluisi said “No, not at all.”
“The police did their job, and what we have to do again is for us, in my case and the entire work team, to take all the necessary measures to improve that service to both Vieques and Culebras, but at the same time ask the people to respect order and not to interrupt essential government services because the just pay for the sinners,” he said. “We should never leave Vieques and Culebra without transportation services; there is no justification for that to happen.”