Puerto Rico Beach Protest Is Flashpoint Over Island's Future
Rincon’s Playa Almendros, a couple of miles out of the center of town, is usually a serene respite from more-crowded area beaches packed with locals and tourists, but this weekend it’s been jammed with protesters objecting to the construction of a condominium swimming pool 15 or 20 meters from the shore.
The beach is a sea turtle nesting area, and the Condominio Sol y Playa swimming pool would be a blotch, and the latest example of monied interests swallowing up Puerto Rico’s ever-more-scarce natural resources, the protesters argued.
Among its powerful and connected residents, Governor Pedro Pierluisi’s cousin lives in the development. The condo’s lawyers argue they have a permit to proceed with construction despite a cease and desist order from environmental authorities.
Joselynn Cortes and Danny Morales drove 45 minutes from San Sebastian to Rincon on Puerto Rico’s northwest coast to join the protests and camp out on the beach. The protesters maintain a presence on the beach 24/7 to try to block the swimming pool’s construction.
Morales, who told Real Puerto Rico on Saturday that he believes in peaceful protest, was one of three people Friday who laid down in front of cement truck, successfully blocking the truck’s entrance onto the site — for now. He said he took the action spontaneously.
“The law only applies to those who are poor, not to those in power,” said Cortes, adding she feared for Morales’ safety during the Friday protest. She’s been chronicling the protests on her Instagram.
Others exhibited their bravery, as well.
The demonstrations have been ongoing over the weekend, with protesters chanting and dancing amidst a heavy police presence, including cops on motorcycles moving in convoys in and out of town, and police helicopters flying overhead along the beach.
Andres Romeu, an oceanographer and president of Salva Rincon, argued that Puerto Rico governmental maneuverings over the pool construction permits involved typical “corruption” and political favoritism.
The Department of Environmental and Natural Resources granted the condominium an exception to the requirement that the 20 meters between the shore and a development must be reserved for public use.
“In a Solomonic decision, they decided to give them five meters,” meaning they can build 15 meters from the ocean, Romeu said. “We don’t care. But we are not going to allow them to take up all the dry sand on the beach so they can use a swimming pool perhaps one out of three weekends.”
The condominium previously had a swimming pool on the site, but Hurricane Maria destroyed it. Condominio Sol y Playa is using insurance money to try to rebuild it.
“What people don’t understand is that this is not a property in the middle of the island,” Romeu said. “This is a property on the ocean. There is a risk factor involved building in front of the ocean.”
Romeu said swimming pool opponents are challenging the construction with authorities based on scientific data about the hazards, including to the sea turtles, but they need to exhaust all administrative remedies before they can challenge the project in court.
Meanwhile, the standoff continues.
Here are more photos from Saturday’s protests.
Thank you for this report. It is critical that the people do not lose another beach to development, that endangered sea turtles keep their place to nest, and that this stealing of public resources end immediately.