Puerto Rico: ACLU delegation criticizes abuses

Following up on earlier efforts to highlight human rights abuses in Puerto Rico, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) hosted a high-publicity fact-finding delegation in San Juan on May 2 and 3. The group, which included ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero, political scientist Angelo Falcón, actress/choreographer Rosie Perez and recently retired baseball player Carlos Delgado, interviewed University of Puerto Rico (UPR) students, UPR rector Ana Guadalupe, union leaders, journalists, police chief José Figueroa Sancha and others.

At an emotional May 3 press conference, the delegation members said the situation was worse than they had expected. They found clear evidence of police abuses in the handling of student strikes and protests at the UPR over the past 18 months, they said, and even police chief Figueroa had finally acknowledged that there had been abuses. Perez called the treatment of the students “deplorable.” She charged that “the culture of fear here” inhibits free speech. “It breaks my heart,” she added.

Puerto Rican secretary of state Kenneth McClintock criticized the delegation for announcing its preliminary findings so quickly and said the “rights of those thousands of students” who wanted to attend classes “should be equally entitled to ACLU interest and protection as the rights of the hundreds who participated in the demonstrations.” Romero agreed that students have the right to attend classes, but he called the use of “excessive force against students who are exercising their right to free expression in a public place anti-American and unacceptable.”

The delegation expects to present a final report to the US Department of Justice by September. (ACLU announcement, April 27; El Diario-La Prensa, New York, May 3; Associated Press, May 4, via CBS News; Primera Hora, Guaynabo, May 4)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 8.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.