Protest Faceoff at Puerto Rico Control Board Meeting

Homeland Security forces shove demonstrators, deny photographer access to public meeting

by and

The Fiscal Control Board that has been appointed to run Puerto Rico’s finances held a “listening session” yesterday at the Alexander Hamilton Building on Bowling Green, where they were met by protestors organized by the Call to Action On Puerto Rico, an anti-colonialist, pro-independence group. The demonstration soon ended up with federal security officers physically confronting both protestors and a photographer working for the Puerto Rico-based Center for Investigative Journalism.

For Puerto Rico, the future of its public energy utility is at the center of its rebuilding process from Hurricane María, since 40 percent of its people still lack electricity. The island’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, said last week that he intends to privatize part of the utility, which is in the midst of a bankruptcy process, as is the territory itself.

Inside, the board held a session called “The Future of Puerto Rico’s Energy Sector,” whose agenda included some of the big players interested in the energy sector. Federal Homeland Security officers placed a barricade outside the building to demarcate the protest area, in the process pushing demonstrators, as well as an accredited photographer who was shooting pictures of the protest.

When the photographer tried to enter the building to take photos of the event and showed the New York press ID he had handing on his neck, an officer asked him to accompany him inside. There, he asked the photographer for his ID, then to show another ID proving his New York residence. When the photographer refused, he was told he would not be allowed in after a decision by the “head of security of the Promesa Board.” (Roberto Escobar, a former federal agent and president of ESC Group, a private security firm, is in charge of the board’s security matters, according to a board spokesperson.)

A press spokesperson for the control board, José L. Cedeño, he said the photographer wasn’t allowed in because “he acted on a violent manner and he didn’t wanted to present his ID, as the protocol established.” (The photographer denies this.)

A short video recorded by a CIJ reporter shows how the Homeland Security agents shoved people with  barricades during the protest without warning. Prior to the incident, the protest was taking place inside a previously established perimeter in front of the Alexander Hamilton House, yet no barricades were in place at the entrance of the building.

This story was reported for the Center for Investigative Journalism in collaboration with the Village Voice.