Puerto Rico: eco-activist eludes police

On Nov. 13 Puerto Rican environmental activist Alberto de Jesus (“Tito Kayak”) ended a week-long protest at a small island near San Juan with a spectacular escape from a police operation that included four launches, motorboats and a helicopter. De Jesus had occupied the top of a 200-foot-high crane; he and the environmental organization Friends of the Sea were attempting to block completion of the Paseo Caribe tourist complex on what they said was public land with historic value. The sit-in was opposed by a builders association and construction unions. There was at least one demonstration by Paseo Caribe supporters, and at least seven shots were fired at De Jesus during the week.

The police began the Nov. 13 operation after the Puerto Rican government turned down De Jesus’ offer to present himself in court with certain guarantees about his treatment. At about 6 PM, the activist climbed down a rope as police units got into position to arrest him. But other activists from Friends of the Sea, some swimming and some in kayaks, surrounded De Jesus as he jumped into his own red kayak and paddled away. In what journalists called a “humiliation” for the police, the huge operation, broadcast live on radio and television, failed to intercept the activist in the water. Once he got to shore, De Jesus fled while the police were hampered by the crowds that had gathered to watch the drama. (El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Nov. 10, 14)

On Nov. 14 De Jesus, accompanied by Father Alvaro de Boer and two nuns, turned himself in to the authorities, who had now agreed to his condition that he would not be handcuffed. He was released on bail. On the same day, eight judges on a “People’s Tribunal” ruled unanimously that the Paseo Caribe project was illegal and that errors and criminal acts were committed in granting permission to build it. Antonio Fernos, considered by many to be the leading constitutional law expert in Puerto Rico, read the verdict.

De Jesus’ arrest came amid rumors that Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila himself might face arrest by the US federal government on corruption charges. (ED-LP, Nov. 15) But there is speculation that the corruption investigation was politically inspired. Acevedo Vila’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD) is close to the US Democratic party, and under former US attorney general Alberto Gonzales, the US Justice Department appeared to target Democrats for corruption probes. The new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, may be planning to drop the investigation. The New York Times reported that Mukasey held a meeting with Acevedo Vila’s lawyers in Washington on Nov. 14, just hours after he was sworn in. (NYT, Nov. 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 18

See our last post on Puerto Rico.