‘Protecting nature protects the people’
Defendiendo la Cueva del Indio spokespersons Alegna Malavé Marrero, left, and Lauce Colón Pérez (Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)
Activists protest what they say is the illegal construction of a house inside a natural reserve
By RICHARD GUTIERREZ
The nonprofit organization Defending the Indian Cave-681 (DIC-681) stood in front of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) headquarters on Monday to protest the approval by Permits Management Office (OGP by its Spanish initials) of what the demonstrators said is the illegal construction of a house within the Cueva del Indio Natural Reserve in Arecibo.
The rocky hillside on which the house is being built is located north of highway PR-681, the activists said, adding that the house has had an order of restriction placed against it by DNER. They said the concrete house will have at least four rooms, and is intended to be constructed in an area where there was a wooden vacation house, with a pool that has been abandoned for six years. The house, which the activists said belongs to the Cardona Campos family, is also being constructed on top of one of the seven arches, a well-known local geological site, they said.
On Jan. 10 of this year, community members organized to denounce the construction of the house. An environmental consultation was approved for the project; however, the organization argues that the approval was made in violation of the DNER order and that the construction poses an economic danger to the community of Arecibo, and therefore must be stopped immediately.
“According to its platform, the OGP approved the Environmental Recommendation Application with the number: 2023-477219-PCM-023901 under the project titled: ‘Residence of Dr. René Cardona Campos,’ going against the order placed by the secretary of the DNER, Anaís Rodríguez Vega,” said Lauce Colón Pérez, a spokesperson for the DIC.
The DNER order was the result of a community complaint, No. Q-AREM-006-23, filed on Jan. 10.
Colón Pérez denounced the construction of the house in violation of DNER regulations and questioned if there were any permits required from the OGP and the Puerto Rico Planning Board. The DNER hasn’t continued its investigation regarding this situation, he said, nor has the agency updated the community on the illegal construction of this house six months after the complaint was filed. According to the permit, the requester describes the reconstruction of the house as a “single-family residential structure made in concrete which was originally built in 1977, and was severely affected by the winds caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017 …”
Another DIC-681 spokesperson, Alegna Malavé Marrero, told the STAR that “[r]esidents of the surrounding areas have indicated with old pictures that the house was originally built in wood and zinc …”
“Therefore, presenting a permit for the reconstruction of a concrete house is questionable, and that is why they are raising their voices against the agencies,” she said.
Malavé Marrero added that the residents stated that the house was originally used as a vacation home and not for permanent residence, and that the land on which the house is being built is in a district 100% classified as a Resources Preservation District, according to a Planning Board interactive map. According to Section 19.33 of the 2010 regulatory regime established by the Planning Board, Resources Preservation Districts are classified as “specific areas that make up the natural environment.” It states that it is important to protect such areas for scientific research and completely prohibits the construction of any structure that isn’t for scientific use.
“Because of these concerns, we demand an explanation of the environmental research that was supposedly done to approve the Environmental Recommendation Application for the reconstruction of structures right in the middle of a natural reserve,” Malavé Marrero said.
The spokesperson went on to point out some of the possible dangers the construction of the house poses for the Arecibo community.
“How is it possible that an environmental consultation was approved for a project that is obviously illegal and does not follow the active regulation 4860?” Malavé Marrero said. “On top of that, the construction of this house does not follow recommendations of FEMA [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] for post-Hurricane Maria reconstruction. This is not just about the construction of a house in a natural reserve, we are also fighting for the community. The house will be built in a high-risk area, which means the insurance policy for this house will be very expensive, and if that policy is expensive that price will be reflected around the real estate market …, making living in Arecibo much more expensive and increasing the price of commercial insurance policies as well.”
“It’s something that is interconnected, it’s not just about the construction of a house in a natural area,” she added. “It’s something that will make the cost of living much more expensive for everyone.”
Malavé Marrero said the DIC-681 is demanding that the DNER, the Planning Board and the OGP issue a demolition order for the illegal reconstruction and that regulation 4860 is honored for the protection of all natural and agricultural reserves.
The activist said further that the Indian Cave situation in Arecibo is not the first of its kind, and that residents have been prohibited from enjoying the island’s natural inheritance for centuries.
“All throughout Puerto Rico we have been facing the dispute for the right of being in our territory,” Malavé Marrero said. “We were born on a tropical island -- we are used to visiting rivers and beaches. The fact that there are people out there who put fences around beaches and armed guards telling us that we can’t go to a beach or inside a cave, this creates resistance in us because we don’t recognize the people who want to prohibit access to our natural inheritance. The natural environment of this island is for everyone. We have been fighting for these rights since 1952, the year when we first announced ‘the beaches are for the people.’ “However, since 1493 there was a European invasion and since then, our ancestors declared war against them. We are just the next generation fighting for our land.”
Malavé Marrero added that the DIC-681 “will continue to denounce the lack of an active conservation management plan for community assets, with guards assigned as a permanent way to permanently protect areas of great natural and cultural value.”