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!
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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.
Another great resource is Carlos Berríos Polanco, who has been writing about the confrontations at Rincón since 2021.
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.
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.
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.”
On July 4, the turnout was large and the people were fired up, shouting, “The beaches are the people’s!”
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.”
Then sledgehammers were lifted, and the illegal concrete barrier was knocked down blow by blow.
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.
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