Puerto Ricans protest against beach privatizations

By Esther Alaejos

San Juan, Nov 22 (EFE).- Puerto Ricans have been banging drums and pots and pans and holding sit-ins to protest the privatization of beaches on that United States commonwealth, where laws guarantee unfettered access to those and other public spaces.

The “beaches belong to the people” movement has fought a years-long battle against the construction of hotels and private residences in those locations and, in some instances, the charging of beach entrance fees.

A succession of Puerto Rican governments have “dismantled and removed” funding that allowed for oversight of these public domain areas, activist Lauce Colon told Efe.

Colon is primarily focusing his efforts on defending Cueva del Indio, a cave facing the Atlantic Ocean that is surrounded by dramatic cliffs.

Located in the northern municipality of Arecibo, it is notable for its pre-Columbian indigenous petroglyphs and is a prime example of the recent privatization drive in Puerto Rico.

“In 2016, businessman Jose Gonzalez acquired three nearby properties and put up fences that sealed off access to the archaeological site and to a spot that was designated a marine reserve in 2005 and has been known as the Cueva del Indio Natural Reserve since 1992,” 51-year-old activist Alegna Malave said after carrying out a sit-in protest.

She added that the firearm-wielding administrator of the site, Carlos Mena, has refused entry to activists and members of the general public and charged $10 for parking.

Gonzalez, however, told Efe that Cueva del Indio remains accessible by beach and that is not necessary to traverse his private property. He said the activists are “vandals” and called on the government to provide security.

Activists are also focusing their attention on Balneario El Escambron and have launched a movement aimed at preventing construction of a 500-car parking lot at that marine park in San Juan.

“We’re appalled at what this will mean for pollution and the privatization of the park,” Gradissa Fernandez, a 50-year-old activist, said during a recent demonstration outside San Juan City Hall.

In mid-February, beach defenders won a victory when a judge scrapped the license for an ocean-facing building in Rincon, a municipality on Puerto Rico’s western coast.

The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico ordered Sol y Playa Condos to demolish the building under construction and carry out restoration work in that area of Los Almendros beach, where activists had held numerous demonstrations.

Activists also have received the backing of Puerto Rican rapper and singer Bad Bunny, who criticized beach privatizations, gentrification and blackouts in his recent hit song “El Apagon.”

“It’s up to the people to rise up, to realize that if we don’t fight these people will get these projects approved under the table,” Fernandez said. EFE


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