Grassroots organizations demand gov’t take ‘extraordinary measures’ to shut down LMM airport
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Grassroots organizations rallied at the intersection of Fortaleza and Del Cristo streets in Old San Juan on Monday to continue their demand that Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced and government officials shut down Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in Carolina to non-essential trips and take proactive action against the spread of the coronavirus as positive cases are still on the rise.
While Puerto Rico was still reeling from a chaotic primary election day on Sunday, a convoy of organizations such as the Socialist Workers Movement (MST by its Spanish initials), Se Acabaron Las Promesas, Comuna Antilla, Bayamón Town Assembly and the Southeast Environmental Community Alliance at the same time was blocking entrances and exits from the airport and demanding that citizens’ lives come before profits. MST spokesperson Ricardo Santos Ortiz told the Star that although protesters found themselves face to face with “hundreds of police officers” who used excessive force against them, they will still protest until the government takes control over the spread of the coronavirus and the related risk posed by tourism activity.
“Independent of the police repression that was witnessed yesterday [Sunday] as they responded with excessive force, given that hundreds of officers were deployed before the protest started, despite that repression, as our fight is a life or death matter and, maybe, people don’t see it that way as hospitals are not overflowing [with patients], but public health workers are pointing out and insisting that hospitals are reaching their maximum capacity,” Santos Ortiz said. “We are not only calling for the U.S government to take measures, we are also calling for the Puerto Rico government to be emphatic, firm and exert all their capabilities to respect our rights to control arrivals and departures for touristic activities, which our government sees as its main source of income. Many other countries have been capable of doing so, but, as a colony of the United States, we can’t control our borders.”
Santos Ortiz also called out the island Health Department for being “missing in action” as Puerto Rico is seeing a high demand for testing due to positive and suspicious COVID-19 cases and there are not enough reagents available for molecular testing. Meanwhile, he said both the agency and the government have made decisions based on a “political estimate” and not based on science.
“Even if we see an upturn in COVID-19 cases, the data from the Department of Health won’t reflect it except in the amount of people that will be bedridden or intubated at hospitals because we are not carrying out molecular tests,” he said. “If we look at it, we are as unprepared, or worse, than when the crisis began because then we were asking ourselves ‘When will the tests arrive?’ and right now, we are asking the same question.”
“Time has revealed that the government has taken measures based on a political estimate, based on what the government finds more convenient,” Santos Ortiz added. “From the curfew, which no one has been able to explain why people have to get back home by 10 p.m., to the beaches, which no one has explained why we can’t go to them, all of these measures are repressive. And other measures, which are health-based, like shutting down malls, shutting down indoor restaurants that could affect employees that work for less than $7.25 an hour, these other measures, the governor and whoever else is administering don’t have enough sensitivity to attend the matter.”