Nuestro Puerto Rico del Alma

Una vida no es fuerte sino cuando se ha consagrado a conquistar su ideal por sencillo que sea. Eugenio María de Hostos.

miércoles, 5 de octubre de 2011

Puerto Rico Prodded to Get Tough on Police

The discrepancies in the Puerto Rico police logs were hard to miss. Burglaries, including stolen plasma televisions and jewelry, were coded as mere breaking and entering. Large-scale thefts of telephone company cables were labeled property damage.

After months spent investigating, it was clear to Norman O. Torrens, an internal affairs agent for the Puerto Rico Police Department, that scores of felony crimes in Vega Alta, in the north, were being intentionally recorded as misdemeanors. The result was that these crimes were not counted in statistics released by the Police Department to support its claim that while the murder rate was higher than ever, other felonies were declining.

“They are lying to the people of Puerto Rico by telling them that crime statistics are going down,” said Officer Torrens, 37, who was abruptly demoted this summer after presenting his findings, first to his supervisor and then to officials in Puerto Rico’s Justice Department. “The bosses are the ones who push this to happen. The culture here is if you don’t produce, you get nowhere.”

The manipulation of statistics, long suspected by Puerto Ricans, is just one of the systemic failures that the Police Department must reverse after a blistering report last month from the United States Department of Justice outlined widespread dysfunction and civil rights violations.

For decades, the Police Department has operated without much oversight and officers have maneuvered with little supervision, training or accountability. The failings, detailed not only in the Justice Department report but also by the governor’s own monitor, are glaring:

Until recently, not one police precinct had instructions for handling domestic violence; civilian complaints piled up by the thousands, unaddressed; hate crimes went unrecognized; continuing training for police officers was unheard of; officers went unpaid for long stretches; and the Police Department was not connected to the national crime database, which meant that criminals from the 50 states could easily slip through the cracks here.

Gov. Luis G. Fortuño, a Republican, said in an interview that he was well aware of the department’s turbulent history and that the problems were worse than anticipated when he took office in 2009.

“Most of the problems occurred before my time,” Mr. Fortuño said. “I accept responsibility. My mandate is to change that. But this will take time. It was years in the making, and it will take years to fix.”

Rooted in the dictate of “la mano dura” — the Puerto Rican version of “get tough on crime” — the department operated for decades under a system that rewarded arrests much more than community policing, criminologists say. The result, they say, is that most Puerto Ricans do not trust or respect the police, including claims that most violent crime is down.

“This was all predicted 15 years ago, this problem,” said Dora Nevares-Muñiz, a criminologist and law professor at the Inter American University of Puerto Rico who sat on a commission that evaluated the Police Department in 2008. “The vision of the police is not a vision of prevention. The vision is a vision of control, of intervention after the crime is committed. And even at that they are not efficient. And then every time the government changes here, they want to reinvent the wheel.”

Ms. Nevares-Muñiz said the public’s views about the police force had further deteriorated under Mr. Fortuño, whose New Progressive Party won supermajorities in the 2008 election. There is a sense, Ms. Nevares-Muñiz said, that the governor further politicized the Police Department — already an established tradition — and installed people who were overly eager to please.

This was one reason that ill-trained police officers used too much force on demonstrators last year in front of the Capitol, she said. The demonstrators were protesting government layoffs and college fee increases. The other reason is that Puerto Rico lacked an explicit policy on when and how to use force. The governor was widely criticized for his handling of the protest.

Favoritism in the department, Ms. Nevares-Muñiz said, had reached the point that many supervisors no longer relied on exams to promote officers.

This is why, in part, Officer Torrens chose to speak publicly. Rather than being promoted for his diligence — he had been assigned the task of investigating the department’s statistics in the Bayamón District — he was returned to patrol duty in the precinct he had investigated, a tricky turn of events for an internal affairs officer. He is suing the Police Department for what he said was his wrongful transfer.

“An officer knows he can get a special job if the boss is able to say that crime is going down,” said Officer Torrens, who has a record of positive evaluations. “So with traffic cops, you give tickets. With drug busts, you make arrests, whether the person has drugs or not. If you don’t arrest, you’re out.”

The governor said he was already working to change the culture of the Police Department along with its operational nuts and bolts long before the Justice Department report. Last month, he announced that the police and prosecutors would now work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on armed robberies, carjackings and other crimes in five regions. Those cases will be handled in federal court, and the regions have been assigned six special prosecutors to expedite the cases.

Mr. Fortuño said he recognized that the department needed outside assistance last year, so he contracted Robert Warshaw, a career police chief who specializes in overhauling police departments. The same year, Puerto Rico finally looped into the national crime database.

Mr. Fortuño said he and his aides also had sought out experts in New York City. One day after the June 30, 2010, demonstration in front of the Capitol, during which the police struck protesters with truncheons and used pepper spray, the governor called to ask Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly for help, he said. The city complied.

The governor began in internal investigation of his own last September, when he appointed an independent monitor to investigate the scope of the failures, a precursor to the Justice Department report. The conclusion: the department was in disarray.

Four months ago, Mr. Fortuño replaced the police chief and began phasing in some of the changes, including better training — 2,000 officers so far have received it — and a detailed “use of force” policy. The tactical squad, which was often at the center of abuse accusations, has been cut by half. And promotions are reverting back to an exams-based system.

Other changes will follow in the next year, including the retraining of all supervisors and police officers and new software to track statistics and complaints.

But a few things are not likely to change soon. While police officers finally received the pay they were due, their salaries — the lowest in the United States — are not likely to rise with the economy still struggling. The median salary for a police officer in Puerto Rico is $31,000; in Orlando, Fla., for example, starting salaries are nearly $42,000. Still, police jobs are coveted on an island where college graduation rates are low and unemployment is high.

The governor’s critics say they wonder whether the flurry of changes will amount to anything lasting. After all, they say, the findings did not come as a surprise.

“There had to be pressure from outside for this to change,” said Osvaldo Toledo Martinez, the president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association and a vocal critic of Mr. Fortuño. “So it will change because he is now obligated to comply. We have to believe that people will trust in the police again. But they have to see positive action right away. If that happens, they will have confidence.”

October 4, 2011
Puerto Rico Prodded to Get Tough on Police

lunes, 3 de octubre de 2011

Ibrahim Zaza, el niño de Gaza que los periódicos ignoraron

“Ibrahim tenía los dos brazos arrancados, un agujero en el pulmón, parte de sus piernas habían desaparecido y el hígado en muy mala situación… Necesitamos que la gente nos apoye”. Estas fueron las palabras de un hombre exhausto mientras describía la situación de su hijo moribundo en una entrevista con The Real News, una fuente alternativa de información.

Ibrahim Zaza no era más que un niño de doce años. Él y su primo Mohamed, de 14, fueron alcanzados por un misil israelí en Gaza, un misil disparado desde un avión no tripulado cuando se encontraban jugando delante de su hogar.

La historia empezó el 18 de agosto. Al día siguiente, el Telegraph británico informaba: “Israel toma represalias tras un ataque de militantes en la frontera egipcia”. El encubrimiento de los recientes ataques israelíes contra la asediada Gaza le hace a uno preguntarse si acaso todos los periodistas utilizaron las explicaciones del ejército israelí cuando trasmitieron la historia. Se castiga a los palestinos por un ataque contra los israelíes que al parecer se produjo cerca de la frontera israelí con Egipto. No existen pruebas que vinculen Gaza con el ataque y las autoridades egipcias están también ahora cuestionándose el relato israelí de los hechos.

“Al menos seis palestinos murieron en la primera oleada de bombardeos. Israel dijo que pertenecían, incluido un líder, al grupo militante conocido como Comités Populares de la Resistencia, acusándoles de la responsabilidad de los ataques”, escribieron Phoebe Greenwood y Richard Spencer (The Telegraph, 19 de agosto).

Los Comités Populares de la Resistencia se habían desvinculado del ataque, al igual que Hamas y todas las facciones palestinas. Pero eso no fue suficiente para perdonar las vidas de los inocentes hombres y mujeres de Gaza que bastante tienen ya con soportar una situación de inenarrable dureza. Entre los muertos de esa oleada de ataques sobre “militantes” había dos niños, uno de tres años y otro de trece.

En los medios, las víctimas palestinas solo ocupan un lugar cuando alcanzan una cifra considerable. E incluso entonces, se les sitúa en un contexto que priva a esas víctimas de cualquier simpatía, o peor aún, se culpa a los militantes palestinos de responsabilidad indirecta (que empujan a Israel a echar mano de la violencia para defender su seguridad). De hecho, el término “seguridad palestina” es prácticamente inexistente, aunque miles de gazatíes hayan muerto asesinados solo en los tres últimos años.

Incluso la noticia de los niños palestinos asesinados en los ataques de agosto se dio a conocer de forma vaga y dudosa. Las redes de información restaron importancia al hecho de que la mayoría de las víctimas palestinas eran civiles. The Telegraph informaba así: “Hamas, que gobierna Gaza, declaró que también habían muerto dos niños en los ataques aéreos…” Citar a Hamas y no a fuentes hospitalarias ni a grupos por los derechos humanos, no es algo que sorprenda cuando el periodista tiene su sede en Tel Aviv o Jerusalén.

Tampoco fue una sorpresa que el niño, Ibrahim Zaza, muriera. Su corazón era el único órgano que continuó funcionando durante casi treinta días tras el ataque con aviones no tripulados. Al padre, a quien se permitió acompañar a Ibrahim y Mohamed hasta un hospital israelí, se le impedía abandonar el hospital porque constituía una amenaza para la seguridad. Se quedó allí dando vueltas alrededor del frágil cuerpo de su hijo, esperando y rezando. Hizo un llamamiento a la gente para que apoyara a su familia, subrayando su falta de medios para comprar una silla de ruedas, que pensaba que Ibrahim iba a necesitar una vez que consiguiera despertarse de nuevo.

Ya no hay necesidad alguna de una silla de ruedas. Y el implacable dolor de Mohamed continúa. Sus piernas han perdido toda la piel. La zona de su estómago está completamente expuesta. Sus gritos son estremecedores.

Parece que la muerte de Ibrahim obligó un poco, en algún caso, a la cobertura de los medios. No hubo artículos en el New York Times, tampoco ninguna foto en la revista Time de la desconsolada madre y la devastada comunidad. La existencia de Ibrahim en este mundo ha sido breve. Su muerte no supuso acontecimiento alguno fuera del pequeño círculo de quienes le amaban entrañablemente.

No habrá debates sobre la utilización de Israel de ataques aéreos que asesinan civiles ni ninguna reunión urgente en las Naciones Unidas para tratar las incesantes muertes causadas por los aviones no tripulados israelíes, que en sí mismos constituyen una industria muy rentable. Sus clientes no tienen dudas acerca de la eficacia, por ejemplo, de los Elbit Systems Hermes 900 UAV, sólo necesitan contemplar los videos de la Fuerza Aérea Israelí con los teledirigidos cerniéndose suavemente sobre Gaza. Según UAS News, “llegan a alcanzar una altitud superior a los 9.000 metros… y pueden rápida y fácilmente transformarse ajustándose a las necesidades del operador, sin tener que cambiar la infraestructura de funcionamiento en cada misión” (6 junio 2011).

Israel lleva años probando sus teledirigidos con los palestinos. En Gaza, esos buitres se pueden observar a simple vista. Cada vez que el planeador se acerca, la gente corre a protegerse. Pero fue necesario un informe de WikiLeaks para verificar que Israel utiliza los aviones no tripulados con propósito de matar. Según un documento recientemente filtrado, el fiscal general del ejército de Israel, el general de división Avichai Mandelblit, había informado, en febrero de 2010, al anterior embajador de EEUU en Israel, James Cunnigham, del uso de Israel de aviones armados no tripulados para matar a militantes sospechosos.

En el informe del video de The Real News, Lia Tarachansky habla con el teniente coronel Avital Leibowitz, un portavoz del ejército israelí, para intentar entender por qué Ibrahim y su primo se habían convertido en un blanco.

Lia Tarachansky: “Según los testigos, solo hubo un disparo de misil y cayó sobre dos niños, de 12 y 14 años de edad, que estaban sentados fuera de su casa”.

Avital Leibowitz: “La lógica es que cuando alguien está intentando lanzarte un cohete, entonces la lógica es que… mejor es darle a esa persona antes de que ella nos dé a nosotros”.

La única foto que he podido recuperar de Ibrahim Zaza le mostraba posando tímidamente para la cámara, con el pelo peinado hacia delante. El corazón se me rompe cuando pienso en él y en todas las demás víctimas de la “lógica” de Israel.

N. de la T.:

Véase video de vigilia organizada frente a la embajada de EEUU en Tel Aviv con pancartas donde se expresa: “Necesitamos esperanza, no apoyo militar”

Ramzy Baroud ( es un columnista que publica sus artículos en diversos medios internacionales. Es editor de Su último libro es “My father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, Londres), disponible en


Por Ramzy Baroud
Ma’an News
Traducido del inglés para Rebelión por Sinfo Fernández

sábado, 1 de octubre de 2011

Vito Marcantonio

Lo que Puerto Rico necesita para resolver sus problemas
Es soberanía, plena soberanía.

Vito Marcantonio