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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Groups demand management plan for Cueva del Indio reserve



“It is imperative that the court intervene and order all respondent agencies to comply with their legal obligations,” said Michelle Alvarado Lebrón, the legal representative for one of the plaintiff groups and executive director of the Resiliency Law Center at the University of Puerto Rico School of Law.

By The Star Staff


Islote de Arecibo residents and environmental groups have gone to court to force the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and other agencies to comply with laws requiring a management plan for the Cueva del Indio Natural, Marine and Archaeological Reserve.


The groups filed in court a request for a mandamus, a legal tool designed to force officials and agencies to comply with a law. They want the government to comply with laws allowing public access to and the protection of the reserve.


“Today, on the 32nd anniversary of the designation of the Cueva del Indio Natural Reserve, and after two years of inaction in the face of community complaints, we collectively announce these requests in the Arecibo Court so that the relevant agencies comply with their ministerial duty,” said Lauce Colón Pérez, a community organizer with Defendiendo la Cueva del Indio-681 (DCI-681) and spokesperson for the plaintiff groups.


The plaintiff groups are DCI-681, Citizens in Defense of the Environment (CEDDA), and the VEREDAS Group (Neighbors to the Rescue of Accesses and Trails). In turn, the defendant agencies are the DNER, the Municipality of Arecibo, the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture (ICP), and the departments of Justice, Transportation & Public Works, and Economic Development & Commerce.


The Cueva del Indio is considered a national treasure recognized as a natural and cultural heritage site due to its historical, environmental, and archaeological value that, by law, has to be protected. The area is protected as a “triple reserve” through laws and official documents. It was designated an archaeological site in 1988, a natural reserve in 1992 and a marine reserve in 2015.


“However, the only two public and direct entrances and the public domain assets of the Cueva del Indio have been usurped and vandalized, covered with garbage, debris, and fences by the González Freyre National Properties corporation,” Colón Pérez said. “This forces visitors to pass through the privatized lands, with Caracoles Bar & Grill, the leasing corporation, illegally charging them up to $35 per person.”


“The protection of the Cueva del Indio is needed against acts of vandalism, littering, illegal construction and other actions that continue to cause damage and harm the natural, archaeological, historical and cultural resources in the Cueva del Indio Natural Reserve,” says the suit signed by Omar Saadé Yordán, a lawyer for CEDDA, VEREDAS, and other plaintiffs through Legal Services of Puerto Rico.


On Nov. 29, 2023, the plaintiffs met the requirement of the “Prior Request,” a prior legal attempt to request compliance with the law, by sending a letter to the relevant agencies requesting a meeting to formalize concrete actions for the Cueva del Indio.


“No response has been received to this letter, which emphasizes the ministerial duties regarding the management and access to the Cueva del Indio,” said Michelle Alvarado Lebrón, the legal representative for DCI-681 and executive director of the Resiliency Law Center at the University of Puerto Rico School of Law.


Over the past year and a half, plaintiffs have undertaken administrative actions, demonstrations, and community efforts to address egregious violations of the law for the protection of Cueva del Indio. However, none of the initiatives have resulted in appropriate action, as none of the defendants have demonstrated a willingness to address the plaintiffs’ concerns.


“Therefore, it is imperative that the Court intervene and order all respondent agencies to comply with their legal obligations,” Alvarado Lebrón said. “This must begin with the opening of direct public access to Cueva del Indio, as well as the development and implementation of an interagency management plan that guarantees both free public enjoyment and adequate conservation of this natural, marine and archaeological reserve.”


Likewise, she said, the Municipality of Arecibo has failed to comply with administrative actions since the municipal council approved an ordinance in 1980 to acquire the land where the Cueva del Indio is located for $125,000. The purchase was never finalized. Twelve years later, in 1992, the Puerto Rico Legislature gave the municipality $200,000 to purchase the lands, but the municipality did not complete the expropriation process either.


“The Cueva del Indio Natural, Marine and Archaeological Reserve is public, it is located in the Maritime-Terrestrial Zone and the people of Puerto Rico have the full right to its use and enjoyment,” Colón Pérez said.


To make visible and raise awareness about the legal action, the defendant groups are calling for a community march through the Cueva del Indio this Sunday, April 14, at 1 p.m. at the usurped marine reserve entrance at kilometer 7.5 of highway PR-681. “After more than three decades of non-compliance, we now demand a demarcation, expropriation of the land, the installation of Guard Barracks, and the beginning of a community management plan for the Cueva del Indio Natural, Marine and Archaeological Reserve,” Colón Pérez said.

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