[JURIST] The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] on Thursday urged [letter, PDF; press release] the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] to take action against the government of Puerto Rico [BBC backgrounder] for alleged civil rights violations. In a letter addressed to Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, the ACLU asked the DOJ to conclude its investigation into rights abuses reported [text, PDF] by the ACLU of Puerto Rico [advocacy website] since 2008 and publish a report of its findings. It also urged the DOJ to intervene to provide remedies to end the alleged police abuses which include: violence against student protestors; the fabrication of drug-related charges against over a 100 individuals in the city of Mayaguez; the violent and inhumane eviction of members of the Villas del Sol squatter community, including the denial of fresh water to the community for eight months; and actions the de-certification of the Puerto Rico Bar Association [official website, in Spanish] and other actions to stifle dissent. The letter continued:
Clearly, these allegations raise troubling questions about the Puerto Rican government’s commitment to the human rights of its citizens and the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of assembly, expression and the right to petition the government. We hope that DOJ will soon conclude its investigation and intervene into these unconstitutional practices.
The ACLU also expressed concerns over actions by the administration of Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuno (R) [official website, in Spanish]. Since he took office in 2009, the ACLU alleges that police have reacted violently to protests against the closure of legislative sessions to the public despite constitutional guarantees to the contrary and student protests against fee increases at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) [academic website, in Spanish]. Residents of Puerto Rico, an unincorporated US territory, are US citizens and have the same federal First Amendment and due process [Cornell LII backgrounders] rights in relation to the island’s government as a mainland US citizen would have against a state government.
Last week, US Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) [official website] reiterated his earlier criticism [statement text] of the actions of the Puerto Rico government and entered the ACLU report into the Congressional Record. During his earlier statement, Gutierrez also criticized a ruling of Chief Judge Jose Fuste of the US District Court for the District of Puerto Rico [official website], who he alleged to be complicit in the rights abuses [statement text] by the Fortuno administration. Puerto Rico has faced several major protests in recent years [El Nuevo Dia report, in Spanish] as students and state workers demonstrate against government policies which have seen significant cuts in funding to UPR and reductions in the state workforce. The cuts were part of an attempt to reduce a $2 billion budget deficit. Following the cuts to the university, UPR students engaged in a strike [NYT report] after it was announced that new student fees would be used to fill the budget shortfall.