Puerto Rico: thousands protest gas pipeline

Thousands of Puerto Ricans marched to La Fortaleza, the governor’s residence in San Juan, on Feb. 19 to protest rightwing governor Luis Fortuño’s plan for a 92-mile, $450-million natural gas pipeline cutting through the island. The march included political figures like Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a US Congress member of Puerto Rican descent, and Puerto Rican senator Alejandro García Padilla, the gubernatorial candidate of the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD); environmental activists like Alexis Massol, founder of People’s House (“Casa Pueblo“), which has organized opposition to the pipeline; and youths in street theater acts representing potential dangers of the pipeline, which is popularly known as the “Gasoducto.” A support march was reportedly taking place in New York City at about the same time.

Fortuño insists that the imported gas the pipeline would bring to San Juan is necessary to keep down the cost of electricity, while pipeline opponents say this wouldn’t make up for the dangers of explosions and the damage to farmland, forests and archeological sites that the Gasoducto would create. Opponents also cite the cost of the project and claim that its real purpose is to create business for friends of the governor and of Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner (non-voting representative) to the US Congress.

At the San Juan demonstration, Sen. García Padilla charged that Puerto Rico’s Electric Energy Authority (AEE) has already spent $100 million even though nothing has been built. The senator said the expenses include $20 million for consultants, $3.5 million for publicity, $10.3 million for acquiring houses and vacant lots along the pipeline’s route, and $116,000 on promotional materials like pens and brochures. He demanded that the US Justice Department investigate what he called “the largest misappropriation of funds in the history of Puerto Rico.” (El Nuevo Día, Guaynabo, Feb. 19; Prensa Latina, Feb. 19)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 19.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.