Puerto Rico Opposition Calls For Emergency Measures Against Crime

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A leading opposition politician in Puerto Rico has called for the imposition of a state of emergency, citing rising crime that has killed almost 500 so far this year as the territory becomes a increasingly important asset for drug traffickers.

The leader of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), Alejandro Garcia Padilla, has called upon Puerto Rico’s governor to impose a state of emergency to confront rising drug crime. As El Nuevo Dia reported, Padilla’s suggestion would put certain government agencies on 24-hour shifts, as if the country were dealing with a natural disaster or public health emergency.

According to Padilla, who is also a candidate in the 2012 gubernatorial election, of the 1,136 homicides recorded last year, three quarters took place on the streets, and 90 percent were shootings. He noted that of 1,000 security cameras installed on a major highway more than a month ago, none had been connected.

EFE reported that 491 people had been killed in the territory so far this year.

Insight Crime Analysis

Some of Padilla’s criticism of Governor Luis Fortuño is no doubt political — the two are rivals in an upcoming election — but his is not the only one raising the alarm about the security situation in the US territory. Republican Michael McCaul, the chair of a recent congressional subcommittee hearing, recently expressed serious concerns about Puerto Rico’s rising crime (see pdf). Last year, according to McCaul, its murder rate was around 30 per 100,000, significantly higher than any US state, and at least half of it from drug-related. The total of 1,136 homicides is the highest in the territory’s history, as Fortuño noted in Congress testimony (see pdf).

Puerto Rico’s rising homicide rate is partially the result of its desirable qualities for drug traffickers. For one, since it is a US territory, contraband can easily make it through Puerto Rico into the rest of the country, avoiding customs inspection, as both McCaul and Fortuño pointed out . This, along with rampant corruption, helps make the territory a key transshipment point for drugs from Colombia and Venezuela.

Illustrating the scale of the problem, US authorities recently busted more than 30 people at San Juan airport for their involvement in a massive drug trafficking scheme.

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