King Felipe’s visit preceded by protests, vandalism
By The Star Staff
The visit of Spanish King Felipe VI on Thursday to commemorate the 500th anniversary of San Juan stirred the ire of pro-independence groups and was preceded by the destruction of a centenary statue of the island’s first governor, Juan Ponce de León, in the capital’s historic zone.
Felipe VI, who was welcomed by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and other political leaders late Monday afternoon, had previously spoken about the importance of strengthening cultural ties. He is slated to stay in the Convention Center District in Miramar.
Prior to his arrival, in the early morning hours of Monday, the statue of Juan Ponce de León was toppled from its base. A group calling itself Libertarian Forces of Borikén took responsibility for the destruction of public property.
San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero Lugo said law enforcement will check video surveillance cameras to find those responsible for the criminal act.
“The statute has been there for a very long time and the only ones hurt by this are the people of Puerto Rico because now we have to spend [money] to replace it,” the mayor said. “Instead of using the money to fix a hole in the road, we have to use it for this.”
In the afternoon, San Juan officials put the statue back on its pedestal amid heavy police presence as a group of protesters had tried to stop the work. A man who identified himself as Rafael Capó, a history teacher, sat on top of the pedestal but then climbed down.
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP by its Spanish acronym) leaders repudiated the granting of a decorative medal by the Spanish government to Pierluisi because, they said, it constitutes undue interference by one country in the political affairs of another people.
“As is the case with Puerto Rico, which has been prevented from exercising its right to self-determination, it is an insult for the King of Spain to appear as a spokesman for the Spanish government to award a prize or an honor to someone who denies our identity, our nationality and our inalienable right to self-determination and independence,” PIP President Juan Dalmau Ramírez said at a news conference.
The former PIP candidate for governor also pointed out that the gesture by the Spanish government is simply an act of public relations.
“The King himself has said that he is accompanied by a group of entrepreneurs who, benefiting from laws 20 and 22, have the purpose of meeting with officials of the government of Puerto Rico to, like other rich foreigners, come to enjoy the outrageous tax and other privileges provided by such laws, and from which communities continue to be excluded or marginalized,” Dalmau Ramírez said.
The pro-independence leader also indicated that the party will notify those international organizations of which it is a member or in which it has had participation to denounce what he characterized as diplomatic irresponsibility on the part of the Spanish government with respect to what is a recognized international right of all peoples to their self-determination and independence.
San Juan Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves rejected the acts of vandalism.
“I would like to express my sadness over the acts that led to the demolition of the statue of the first governor of Puerto Rico, Juan Ponce de León,” he said. “Such an act must entail our most energetic feeling of repudiation.”
“Any feeling of recrimination that is had with the facts of our historical past is not resolved with acts of vandalism or damaging historical places or places of tourist value,” the archbishop added. “To protest past events, one must act uprightly, openly and without violence.”
Past injustices, González Nieves said, are rectified through orderly processes of reparation.
“The mistakes and wounds of the past are corrected through decisions and actions achieved as a result of a dialogue, coordinated by the government, between the social, economic, educational, cultural and political institutions of the country,” he said.
Pierluisi, however, who described the vandalism of the statue as regrettable, said the important thing is for the King to be able to meet with government officials as well as private officials.
“The important thing is for Felipe VI to share not only with local officials, but also with private ones,” he said. “People have to understand that Spain is part of our history. Spain has always had close ties to Puerto Rico.”