Tensions rise between demonstrators, police at beachside construction site

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Clashes between residents and Puerto Rico Police officers reached a new high on Thursday as some 20 Motorized Unit agents arrived at a demonstration taking place at Almendros Beach in Rincón, where islanders continued demanding that Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado enforce a cease and desist order filed last week.

“The beaches belong to the people, the beaches belong to the people!” chanted protesters early in the morning as police agents began surrounding the site under dispute since late May as some allege that construction work on a swimming pool violates the federal Endangered Species Act and invades a sea turtle nesting area.

Late in the morning, 40-year-old Waldemar Alcobas Santiago, a resident of Hatillo, was arrested by the Rincón district officers for allegedly obstructing the construction work, vandalizing the concrete fence and using a shovel to throw sand where contractors were going to pour cement.

During a Facebook Live broadcast by community group Legal Solidarity Brigade, Alcobas Santiago swam off the beach for many hours to prevent the arrest he said was “illegitimate.”

He would become the fifth demonstrator to be arrested at the site. Alcobas Santiago was issued summons for Aug. 19 to the Aguadilla Superior Court by prosecutor Héctor Crespo.

“I am ashamed of what they are doing. They don’t arrest one corrupt person here, but they arrest five Puerto Ricans,” said activist Eliezer Molina, who also pointed out how authorities did not take action when a resident was injured when he was pushed from the same concrete fence by a security guard from the Sol y Playa condo.

That incident occurred on Wednesday night, when the injured demonstrator was taken to a hospital immediately after slamming his jaw into the concrete barrier.

“The complaint about an assault perpetrated by a Sol y Playa Condominium security guard and a resident, who is allegedly [attorney for the New Progressive Party] Rita Vélez, is stalled,” Citizens Victory Movement Rep. Mariana Nogales Molinelli said on her Facebook page. “The police have contacted the victim to indicate that they have not been able to locate the aggressor security guard to take his information, although the guard has been on the condominium premises today [Thursday].”

The lawmaker also urged Police Commissioner Antonio López to order his officers to take action immediately.

“Not acting intentionally is negligence on the part of the police and shows that they work for some and not for others,” she said. “Enough of impunity!”

During the afternoon, Alcobas Santiago returned to the protest, where he said that even though authorities treated him with deference, he would come back as “this was the place to be.”

Meanwhile, demonstrators carried on their activities, including live music and picnics, and urged the government to take action on the matter.

“Puerto Rico Police, a tool for the rich! Puerto Rico Police, a tool for the rich!” sang protesters while officers stood by in a line facing them.

A hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday at the Aguadilla Superior Court to address both a permit dispute with the construction project and the cease and desist order filed by the DNER.

The construction work adjacent to the beach comes to within 20 feet of the water’s edge.