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The timing is downright tragic.

The same week the Obama administration made historic moves to combat human rights violations of LGBT global citizens, Puerto Rico is on the verge of turning back the clock.

Puerto Rican lawmakers are poised to vote on a revised penal code this week that includes a provision that would eliminate LGBT-specific protections from the island’s hate crimes law.

The Puerto Rico Senate late last month approved a provision that would eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity and religious beliefs from the hate crimes statute that was included in the penal code that lawmakers approved in 2004. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the amended penal code this week during an extraordinary legislative session that Gov. Luis Fortuño convened.

It is hard to imagine what has suddenly become so onerous about hate crimes protections enacted years ago that they must now be stricken from the books?

Particularly as the books seem to be the only place these laws actually exist. The Puerto Rican LGBT community has seen a sharp escalation of hate crimes—more than two dozen LGBT people have been murdered there since 2009. The population of Puerto Rico is approximately 4 million. 

What they haven't seen is any inclination to address the rising violence. Puerto Rico's ACLU chapter reported in 2009:

Although the commonwealth has had sentencing guidelines since 2002 that give prosecutors and judges the ability to seek more severe punishment for hate crimes, prosecutors have never investigated a crime as a hate crime.

Only after the Puerto Rican ACLU helped flood their office with more than 2,000 calls and emails did the local Department of Justice finally agree to investigate the gruesome murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado as a hate crime. Mercado's body was found decapitated, dismembered and partially burned.

This was also reported at the time:

Investigator Angel Rodriguez was quoted in local media reports as saying, "When these type of people get into this and go out into the streets like this, they know this can happen to them."
In September, the Department of Justice released a report that the New York Times characterized as a "blistering condemnation" of corruption in the Puerto Rico police force.
Investigators “uncovered troubling evidence” that law enforcement officers in Puerto Rico appear to routinely discriminate against people of Dominican descent and “fail to adequately police sex assault and domestic violence” cases — including spousal abuse by fellow officers.

The 116-page report included 133 recommendations for improvements including a suggestion that the police take hate crimes toward LGBT people more seriously. This is one way to solve the problem of unsolved hate crimes, but probably not what the DOJ had in mind.

Presumably, relaxing laws on violent crime was not among the DOJ's recommendations to address Puerto Rico's soaring murder rate. The Times reported 786 homicides by Sept. 2011, up 117 from the same time the previous year.

Lobbying efforts from the states have begun with New York Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and New York City Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez, Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer issuing a joint statement on Tuesday, urging the Puerto Rico House to vote it down.

Thursday, U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) penned a letter urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special task force to the address the situation.
"If Puerto Rico doesn't want to protect its residents from attacks, violence and murder, then the federal authorities need to step in and ensure the most basic rights of life and liberty are protected.".
The Congressman asks Holder to consider "steps you can take to protect the communities that the ruling party in Puerto Rico has chosen to specifically put at risk." A pdf of the letter has been posted to Gutierrez's House website 

Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act does apply to Puerto Rico, but there, as with the mainland, deference is given to local authorities to lead investigations. The contingency that the local authorities be unable—or unwilling—to protect minorities certainly seems to apply.

Native Puerto Rican pop star Ricky Martin, still tremendously popular there, spoke out on his website and tweeted a link to a petition started by Puerto Rican born and raised activist Jorge Sepulveda. The petition urges the President of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, Hon. Jenniffer González, and others to reject the proposed changes.

Sepulveda said, “I would hate to return home to a place where me and my people are not protected.”

Human Rights Campaign has also condemned this move.

Originally posted to Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 07:20 AM PST.

Also republished by LatinoKos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I Can Only Speak for The "Gay" Folks I Know (16+ / 0-)

    but they sure do travel a lot. And last I checked Puerto Rico makes a ton of money on tourism. Seems pissing off a large percentage of potential customers isn't the smartest thing to do. But what the heck do I know.

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 07:26:16 AM PST

    •  this certainly has made me reconsider (6+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bnasley, Rogneid, sfbob, cooper888, jayden, bythesea

      if Puerto Rico is still one of the safe havens in the Carribbean.

      Hmmm, you just made me think of an action. A handful of LGBT cruise lines use Puerto Rico's ports, RSVP, Atlantis, Olivia. Perhaps they can be engaged?

      I admit after a rash of hate crimes in Jamaica a few years ago, I wrote to one line and told them they should remove Jamaica as a port of call on one of their tours. Both as a political statement and out of concern for the safety of their gay, American guests who may be naive. They basically told me no way. It was disappointing.

      I suspect as they charter from major cruise lines it may be logistically and financially onerous task to reroute. But still, it's a way to really hit them where it hurts.

      0: Number of Wall Street bankers arrested over crash of 2008. 4784: Number of Americans arrested protesting Wall Street's fraudulent practices 11/29/2011

      by Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 09:17:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I Wonder Why the Homeaux Are Always (0+ / 0-)

      Traveling around everywhere. Adventure? Escape? I know I really like the new perspective that a long journey somewhere far away can give you.

      I'm not all that interested in taking that journey to Puerto Rico after reading this, though. I can get plenty of good food from the Spanish Caribbean without leaving New York.

      "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

      by bink on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 09:18:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hey Scott you look just like q guy who used to (12+ / 0-)

    post here under a different name? LOL

    On a serious note thanks for the story.

    -1.63/ -1.49 "Speaking truth to power" (with snark of course)!

    by dopper0189 on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 07:33:48 AM PST

  •  Question. (0+ / 0-)

    If the crime is decapitation, that is, brutal murder, would it being classified as a hate crime really make the punishment any greater than it already is?

    •  Depends on what the increased penalties are (5+ / 0-)

      I assume you think criminal penalties have a deterrence effect, right?

      Ok, so I read the polls.

      by andgarden on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 07:56:14 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well, you can only execute a person once, (0+ / 0-)

        and we only have one life to spend in prison when sentenced to life in prison.

        •  Doesn't address my question (0+ / 0-)

          Let me try another one: are you in favor of moving to strict liability criminal law?

          Ok, so I read the polls.

          by andgarden on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:03:01 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I am in favor of having the diarist (0+ / 0-)

            or someone else try to answer my question. I was not making a statement. You don't have to jump up to challenge my question. If you don't have an answer then just don't respond. Once a crime is a capital crime, is it not the case that it becomes irrelevant if it is a hate crime. Yes or no?

            •  In our system of criminal law, (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Marjmar, bythesea, Scott Wooledge

              we almost always care why you did what you did. Surely you must be aware that not every hate crime adds up to life in prison or the death penalty, right?

              Ok, so I read the polls.

              by andgarden on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:12:36 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Seems more than a bit of a "straw-man"... (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Scott Wooledge

              Crimes (of hate) are more often less severe than "decapitation."  They're also more chilling and intimidating to segments of communities, generally.

              So, having hate crimes legislation in place allows for "aggravating" circumstances to be added to any charges.

              [That] can increase the "extent" of any punishment needing to be doled out.

              And is supposed to be a deterrent, as well as a reflection of the values held by a society, in so far as providing protections to "traditional" targets of discrimination is concerned, and insisting that all citizens in good standing are able to fully participate in public life.

              "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed." ~ Steven Biko

              by Marjmar on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:17:07 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  I answered the your question. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bythesea, Scott Wooledge
              Because the answer is, of course, no.

              The reason your question is challenged is because it is the typical one asked on more conservative sites. It's the question I get from my wingnut neighbors -  If it's already a crime, why make hate (intent) an escalator?

              Mere passive citizenship is not enough. Men must be aggressive for what is right if government is to be saved from men who are aggressive for what is wrong. - Robert M. LaFollette

              by stcroix cheesehead on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:17:55 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  I answered your question (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              stcroix cheesehead

              To the best of my abilities below, here.

              You could write the ACLU and ask what was their impetus for calling upon the DOJ to investigate it as a hate crime? It's not a bad question, but as that incident is two years old and tertiary to the bigger story and might require reading the Puerto Rican penal code in Spanish to authoritatively answer, it isn't high priority for me to investigate the answer to that question on your behalf.

              In disagreements between police and the ACLU I will admit some bias in persuming the ACLU is fighting on the side of the angels.

              0: Number of Wall Street bankers arrested over crash of 2008. 4784: Number of Americans arrested protesting Wall Street's fraudulent practices 11/29/2011

              by Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:44:30 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

        •  A common misconception of Hate Crimes bills (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          bythesea, stcroix cheesehead

          is that their only component is enhanced sentencing to act as deterrent.

          The US Federal law had a host of other things like improved data reporting, funds and materias made available to local units for training and education on dealing with minority communities. And of course expanding Federal jurisdiction to violent crime in the event locals were unwilling or unable to serve justice.

          I don't know enough about PR's bill or criminal justice system to know why the ACLU called on their DOJ to take this action. It may well have been outside their usual jurisdiction to investigate this crime at all. There may be more proceedurally that just affecting just the ultimate sentencing recommendation.

          I am sure you could look it up if you're curious.

          0: Number of Wall Street bankers arrested over crash of 2008. 4784: Number of Americans arrested protesting Wall Street's fraudulent practices 11/29/2011

          by Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:12:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  Not the best question. (9+ / 0-)

      Because the answer is, of course, no. But this is pretty uncommon - has anyone been decapitated because they're gay?

      A better question would be - if the crime is substantial battery (in my state,  an alleged victim has suffered stitches, a broken bone, loss of a tooth, or is knocked unconscious), would it being a hate crime result in an escalation in penalty? It should be.

      For every Matthew Sheppard, there are thousands and thousands of people beaten up "just for fun" because of their perceived sexuality. Stop that and maybe we won't have anymore Matthew Sheppards.

      Mere passive citizenship is not enough. Men must be aggressive for what is right if government is to be saved from men who are aggressive for what is wrong. - Robert M. LaFollette

      by stcroix cheesehead on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 08:01:03 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And there are thousands more (5+ / 0-)

        who never report their victimization because they are ashamed or they don't trust the police.

      •  If it is not a great question then (0+ / 0-)

        I guess you must think the diarist was wrong to use the case as the example. I was asking about the case because it was featured in the diary, I didn't just pull it out of left field.

        •  Actually, I'm rather certain that (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          "investigating" it as a Hate Crime will feed the data and investigation to the US DOJ, via Matthew Sheppard/James Byrd Hate Crimes Act.

          It will then be counted as a hate crime in the end of year statistics report.

          "Investigating" it as a simple murder would probably leave it out of the national statistics.

          As outrageous as the statistics are, they actually are incomplete, particularly because local police do not properly reporting crimes to the US DOJ. It's a way, intentionally or not, of erasing the reality of brutality committed against minor populations.

          0: Number of Wall Street bankers arrested over crash of 2008. 4784: Number of Americans arrested protesting Wall Street's fraudulent practices 11/29/2011

          by Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 02:13:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  The issue of this diary is not (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sfbob, bythesea

      The effectiveness or wisdom of Hate Crimes legislation. That debate was made mooted when both Puerto Rico and the US Congress passed laws deciding to experiment with the idea, yes? Obama has many times expressed his support for hate crimes, is he wrong?

      Neither jurisdiction has actually engaged the laws yet, so it's a bit early to even make a judgement whether they work as advocates would say, or not.

      0: Number of Wall Street bankers arrested over crash of 2008. 4784: Number of Americans arrested protesting Wall Street's fraudulent practices 11/29/2011

      by Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 09:22:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Wow. You and everybody else seem to (0+ / 0-)

        be inclined to read as much as possible into my very simple question. Is there, or is there not, any point in charging someone who is charged with a capital crime with the additional charge of committing a hate crime? I was expecting something like a yes or a no actually.

        •  It is bizarre that anyone remembers (0+ / 0-)

          your previous commentary in other contexts on various subjects that all seem to have a common thread of concerns or questions, isn't it?  Almost eerie in how inexplicable it all is.  

        •  Well, my diary quotes ACLU as asking it be (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          "investigated" as a hate crime. Your question jumps forward to the sentencing, which isn't mentioned.

          It's entirely possible these are different procedures, with different implications.  

          As I am not a Puerto Rican lawyer or policeman, I can't give you the answer you are looking for, but caution you from jumping to conclusions.

          0: Number of Wall Street bankers arrested over crash of 2008. 4784: Number of Americans arrested protesting Wall Street's fraudulent practices 11/29/2011

          by Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 01:50:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Puerto Rico has a reputation (11+ / 0-)

    for being a favored tourist destination. It would seem like a boycott is in order.

  •  Ugh (5+ / 0-)

    Ok, so I read the polls.

    by andgarden on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 07:56:22 AM PST

  •  What are they leaving in? (5+ / 0-)
    eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity and religious beliefs

    If they're removing gender id, sexual orientation, race and religion, what the hell is left to be a hate crime?  Aren't those the lynchpins of hate crimes legislation?  If they've still got 'hate crimes' legislation, what do they protect against?  'Hate crimes' by age?  By political affiliation?

  •  Don't forget James Byrd, Jr.'s name (7+ / 0-)

    in the Federal Hate Crimes Act.

    It's an itty bitty pet peeve of mine that Byrd's name isn't invoked when people talk about the hate crimes bill.

    Also, considering that this is a case where Puerto Rico would like to remove ethnic identity from the list of protected classes in their own hate crimes statute, that's really important to note.

    Otherwise, great post, but what else would I expect from the latest FPer at Kos?

  •  Totally unacceptable. (7+ / 0-)

    No one who is a part of or knows a person under the already protected classes PR wants to un-protect must travel to PR if this proceeds. Total boycott as well as of any goods imported to the mainland US from PR. Total, complete, 100 percent boycott.

    Capitalism may be our enemy, but it is also our teacher. --V.I. Lenin

    by commonmass on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 08:23:53 AM PST

  •  Even as governments are scrambling (9+ / 0-)

    to deal with an economic crisis, they always have the time and money to hate on minorities.

  •  I haven't read any explanation anywhere as to (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Eddie L, jayden, bythesea

    WHY this has suddenly become important to the Puerto Rican legislature.

    Did the Tea Party suddenly invade San Juan?

    •  For these purposes, Fortuño is a Republican (0+ / 0-)

      I think.

      PR politics is divided on the statehood question, but there are some internal divisions that are fairly inscrutable to me. Doesn't help that I can't read spanish!

      Ok, so I read the polls.

      by andgarden on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 09:47:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fortuno is a pro statehood (0+ / 0-)

        there is no republican party in the Puerto Rico General Elections, his party is the Partido Nuevo Progresista and they favor pro statehood for Puerto Rico, they also sympathize with republican or democrat since they want to be integrated into the US and are''wanna be's'' but in reality, he is no (R ) or (D), he is ( PNP).

    •  I haven't been able to dig up (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      why proponents for changing it are arguing to take the action? Of course I recognize animus to minorities, but can they actually use that as an affirmative argument? I don't think so. I would think they'd have to come up with a reason Puerto Rico will be a better place without hate crimes legislation. I don't see how you make that argument. Seeing as they don't actually use the law, how onerous can it be to the criminal justice system? You certainly can't argue they've solved the problem of minority targeted violence.

      0: Number of Wall Street bankers arrested over crash of 2008. 4784: Number of Americans arrested protesting Wall Street's fraudulent practices 11/29/2011

      by Scott Wooledge on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 10:24:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Proving a motive is difficult. Arguing for motive (0+ / 0-)

        from the characteristics of the victim is even more difficult.  Law enforcement agencies, unfortunately, are grand at coming up with excuses for why they don't respond appropriately to crimes that they don't consider a high priority. That they don't want to waste resources on difficult cases that won't stand up in court is a favorite excuse.  So, law makers are persuaded that, if they don't complicate things, the cops will do a better job.
        Truth is that cops are into the culture of obedience and abuse, of all kinds (women, children, foreigners, peculiar people), is consistent with their own predilections.
        The line between the crook and the cop is always thin--never thinner than when abuse is on the agenda. If abusive cops aren't being prosecuted, that's a clue. Organized mayhem by zombiecops in LA and Oakland is another. Our agents of law enforcement are insubordinate.  They rely on the law as an instrument of coercion and abuse, not justice.

        People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

        by hannah on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 11:07:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  yes, jp, it apparently has in a BIG WAY. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Scott Wooledge

      in a diary dated feb., 2011, dkos member Denise Oliver Velez wrote this excellent diary, The Republican Gov we are ignoring: Puerto Rico, that didn't get too much attention at the time. i remember reading it and tucked it away.

      apparently, fortuno used many of the brutal tactics on demonstrators and then some.

      At most events young women are the first to be targeted for police violence. At the University of Puerto Rico, female students, many of whom were beaten, were also sexually harassed, groped and assaulted (touched) by police. Students have been mercilessly beaten, mazed and shot at with rubber bullets. Citizens have accused, which images captured confirm, police of applying torture techniques on immobilized student protesters. In the past two years, there have been several riots at protests in and around the University of Puerto Rico. Many protesters have accused the police of causing the riots, which some videos also seem to confirm.

      my emphasis added

      the republicans have control of all three branches of the government and have run roughshod over everything they disagree with and are radically changing the economy and lives of the puerto rican people. tourism is way down and unemployment is way up.

      Since taking the oath of office, the current administration, which controls all three branches of government, has set out to quash Freedom of Expression. In Puerto Rico, Expression has been in the form of protests against government policies, such as the firing of approximately 26,000 workers in total, privatizing government, closing off access to public information and legislative sessions, attempting to close down the university FM radio station during periods of civil unrest and going after the Puerto Rico Bar Association, which was a mandatory integrated Bar and is Puerto Rico’s oldest institution. The 171 year old Puerto Rico Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico) has historically been a known focal point for liberal dissent against government policies.

      my emphasis added

      the attempt to gut the hate crimes act, just seems like an expansion of radical teabag idealogy.
      here's the linky.

      of course, wsj thinks he'd be a fine v.p. candidate.

      There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

      by dear occupant on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 11:28:30 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Having spent a big part of my childhood there (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Scott Wooledge, bythesea

    I'm sad to read this is happening.

  •  put some goddam cloths on those animus! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Scott Wooledge

    we'll stand him up against a wall and pop goes the weasel /rufus t. firefly

    by 2nd balcony on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 11:24:53 AM PST

  •  the Pro Statehood party is the one doing this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Scott Wooledge, bythesea

    it is the pro statehood party, which in puerto rican politics spectrum is located in the right wing (pro sovereignty/independence taking center left and left) the one sponsoring this bill, it does not help that Mr Fortuno is a Thatcher/Reagan/US republican party sympathizer either.
    The pro statehood party, according to all polls, is not expected to win in 2012. Over 60% say things are going terribly wrong in Puerto Rico.

  •  Bizzarro World for sure. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, Scott Wooledge, bythesea

    Just when we think wow, we are really making progress, boom, two steps backwards.

    Up is down and down is up.
    ↑ = ↓
    ↓ = ↑

    I'm glad we have you and many others as relentless warriors with ears to ground keeping us informed. Too bad for them there is no way to hide the hatred any more.

    OWS = "You know what you did. You have our stuff. Give it back." - Gordon Lafer, The Nation

    by cooper888 on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 11:59:01 AM PST

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