Caribbean Matters: Another victory in the battle to keep Puerto Rican beaches accessible to all

Caribbean Matters: Another victory in the battle to keep Puerto Rican beaches accessible to all

It’s always heartening to see environmental activists celebrate a win in the long battle against the depredations of developers, corporate interests, and governmental cronyism. July 4 in Puerto Rico was one of those days. These activists had a celebration that had nothing to do with American independence (after all, Puerto Rico is still a colony). Instead, it had everything to do with a decades-long struggle to keep the island’s beaches open to the public as the law dictates, yet hasn’t played out in practice.

The Las Playas pal’ Pueblo (The Beaches for the People) movement started in the early 1960s and has continued to this day, growing to work on other issues like conserving and preserving the rainforest and wetlands, decontamination of military and industrial zones, and pushback against gentrification.

#LasPlayasSonDelPueblo (Beaches Belong to the People) is now a familiar hashtag on social media—and the people are proving it true!

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

I reported on this fight for Caribbean Matters back in February.

In the case of Los Almendros beach in Rincón, when a swimming pool was built in front of the Playa y Sol luxury condominiums, it destroyed the egg-laying habitat of an endangered species of sea turtles. Protests ensued in 2021, resulting in arrests of demonstrators who have refused to give up their battles to both protect the turtles and keep the beach open and accessible.

It was announced on Monday that a judge has ruled in favor of the protesters, demanding the pool be demolished and the sea turtle habitat restored. It’s one small but important victory—for both the people and the turtles!

But it turned out that this victory in court did not translate into removal of the condominium’s beach barricades. Nevertheless, the people defending beach access persisted. 

One of the main Puerto Rican independent journalists posting about this in English is Bianca Graulau.

Protesters won in Rincón, Puerto Rico. On the surface this was over the construction of a pool. But it was really about who does the beach belong to. (Click video to see captions at the bottom) pic.twitter.com/t2DVNT7hOg

— Bianca Graulau (@bgraulau) July 4, 2022

Another great resource is Carlos Berríos Polanco, who has been writing about the confrontations at Rincón since 2021. 

In Feb, a judge gave the Condo 140 days to remove the construction. The time limit has passed yet the construction still stands. @ElUrbanistaPR has called for the PR Govt, Dept. of Natural Resources, and Rincon Govt to sue the Condo for contempt of court https://t.co/yh0i3dkmOO

— Carlos Berríos Polanco ⚰️ (@Vaquero2XL) June 29, 2022

On July 3, the activists had enough with waiting and showed up at the condominium to protest, with plans in place for a larger event on July 4. 

Earlier today, protesters gathered in Rincón to protect Sol y Playa Condo’s illegal construction. They were met with dozens of cops. Some of them violently arrested a protester who was just walking on the beach, then dragged her past the rebar barrier.https://t.co/BXo4st1Cdx

— Carlos Berríos Polanco ⚰️ (@Vaquero2XL) July 3, 2022

Police retaliated by dragging off one of the protestors, as shown above in the video posted to Eliezer Molina’s Facebook account. As Molina wrote (and I translated):

“Look what trash Pedro R. Pierluisi does to a lady trying to save the beach in Rincón that his cousin stole. We cannot allow this, here the line is drawn and you crossed it, Governor Pierluisi. Anyone who wishes not to be robbed of the little that remains, arrive in Rincón and set an example to their children that their country must be defended. Now they’ll know what we’re made of.”

The arrested protester was hurt by police.

More info on the protester who was arrested for walking on the beach. Reportedly, she had to be treated for her injuries then was brought back to police headquarters.https://t.co/aCmfRPuiMf

— Carlos Berríos Polanco ⚰️ (@Vaquero2XL) July 3, 2022

Translation:

Zaida Iris Morales was arrested in Rincon this morning without knowing what she was accused of by @PRPDNoticias and the Vigilantes Corps @DRNAPR. They did not take her before a prosecutor or to court but she had to go to the hospital. Agents continue to protect the illegal wall in Rincon.

After Morales was released, she came back to the beach and had a few words for the Puerto Rico police. “I am here resisting. I am a Puerto Rican with pride in my country … I am exercising my rights as a Boricua.”

Soltaron a Zaida Iris Morales y tiene unas palabras para La Policía de Puerto Rico. ✊🏻 #LasPlayasSonDelPueblo#TumbenElCabrónMuro pic.twitter.com/36MtYYyg2L

— Robinson Camacho Rodríguez (@RobiCamacho) July 3, 2022

On July 4,  the turnout was large and the people were fired up, shouting, “The beaches are the people’s!”

Dilo más duro, ¡MÁS DURO! pic.twitter.com/tH49khOHum

— Robinson Camacho Rodríguez (@RobiCamacho) July 4, 2022

Eliezer Molina, part of the opposition of the Puertorican status quo, smashes a poster of the Gorvernor of Puerto Rico On a wall built on the beach, building on Puerto Rican beaches is illegal. The governors cousin was part of this illegal building project. https://t.co/8tg2u9UpnE

— manadorkPR🇵🇷 (@manadorkpr) July 4, 2022

From now on, for the activists, July 4 will be “the day the Rincón wall fell.” A huge Puerto Rican flag was unfurled, and people sang the Puerto Rican National Anthem, “La Borinqueña.”

De ahora en adelante el 4 Julio se le llamará “el día que cayó el muro de Rincón”. pic.twitter.com/9V4Nqn1YNE

— Robinson Camacho Rodríguez (@RobiCamacho) July 4, 2022

Then sledgehammers were lifted, and the illegal concrete barrier was knocked down blow by blow.

More and more and more of this please. There’s a legit line of angry people who’ve been here for a year on and off, people who’ve had court cases come and go, some pending. There’s anger and I’m here for it. Vengan por su pedazo de muro antes de que se los cobren 🫶🏽 pic.twitter.com/a6yxHyE3Ff

— Pepe Toallas (@pepetowels) July 3, 2022

The police ultimately retreated, and beach cleanup is now underway. The ongoing war to give the beaches back to the people is not won, but it’s certainly good to see some people-powered victories in these days of trouble. 

Join me in the comments for more from Puerto Rico, and for the weekly Caribbean Matters news roundup.

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