Six Months Living Under a Dictator’s Rule

Despite Puerto Rico’s corruption woes and a location in the path of hurricane alley that every year anages to trigger the PTSD Hurricane Maria lodged in our minds, my repeated attempts to relocate to the mainland have never prospered.

There’s a reason for it: there‘s no place like Puerto Rico in the entire world.

My opinion may be a tad biased. I was born and raised in the island.

Nonetheless, my opinion also relies on experience.

My college and graduate school years allowed me to live in fantastic, yet radically contrasting places. The lessons I learned outside the classrooms of the Manhattan, Paris and Vermont institutions I attended were as unforgettable as the ones its professors taught within the walls of each one.

I live in paradise, but the past six months have been hell.

Since January, very few people on the face of the earth have been spared from the ravages that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed on countries everywhere.

Despite the tragic events that the people of Puerto Rico have gone through since 2017, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been so much of a debacle for us in terms of casualties.

I believe that Puerto Rico’s COVID-19 trajectory has differed from that of other countries due to unique characteristics of our island and our people.

As early as March 12, the government declared a “state of emergency” and thereafter put in place a host of control measures. The people’s self-discipline and commitment to fight the pandemic were crucial to the control of the spread of the disease.

Regarding factors we cannot control, it is worth mentioning that the average Puerto Rican carries genes from contrasting ethnicities. Hardly anyone will fit the “genetically white male over 60” profile — the ethnic group at the highest risk.

The island’s extreme heat, humidity and scathing sun exposure transforms surfaces into hostile environments for the virus to survive. People barely use a/c in their homes because of the exhorbitant cost of the kilowatt per hour, making it less likely for the virus to find favorable environments where to proliferate in.

The synergy of these factors may have contributed to the fact that in an island of 3.1 million people, the total confirmed casualties stands at 147. Adding to that equation the fact that over 75% of the victims are over the age of 70, it even gives the false impression that we have an exemplary healthcare system.

That is not the case.

Then there are the infamous Executive Orders that Puerto Rico’s acting governor, Wanda Vazquez Garced, has imposed on the population.

Ms. Vazquez is an attorney. Prior to becoming the island’s governor when hundreds of thousands marched demanding that then-governor Ricardo Rossello renounce, she was Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Justice.

Since she took office, she has demonstrated a complete disregard for democratic rights and civil liberties of citizens.

She has the persona of a quintessential Latin American dictator.

THE MAKING OF A DICTATOR

The first two COVID-19 cases documented in the island were those of an elderly Italian tourist and her husband who arrived in a cruise ship on March 8th.

On Friday, March 12, 2020, Ms. Garced issued the first Executive Order declaring a “State of Emergency” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike the national counterpart, the declaration of “State of Emergency” in Puerto Rico can unconstitutionally last for six months without requiring a renovation grounded upon a showing of a compelling state interest for its renewal.

When Ms. Vazquez issued the first executive order, Puerto Ricans were generally in agreement that drastic, cautionary measures had to be undertaken to prevent a full-scale epidemic.

The March 12th order became the foundation for the continuous thread of the lockdown executive orders that Ms. Vazquez has issued thereafter. The draconian controls and provisions imposed on the population have no correlation to the control of the spread of the virus.

Most of their provisions present serious civil rights deprivations.

Today, it is a fact that Ms. Garced continues to come up with new, updated executive orders that maintain people locked up in their houses. She has unnecessarily dragged Puerto Ricans through an indefensibly long and unconstitutional torment that uncovered her true nature as a Latin American caudillo.

The March 15th order.

The first executive order only allowed people to be venture out of their homes from 5:00 am to 6:00 pm. It prohibited anyone outside of the family nucleus to visit the family, including relatives. It ordered the shut-down of all non-essential businesses and all government offices. The only businesses that were open until 6:00 pm were drugstores, supermarkets and banks. Restaurants and fast-food establishments could only sell prepared food on a delivery or drive-through basis.

The initial executive order’s lockdown period was for two weeks. The second order extended it for two additional ones. The lockdown mandate persists to this day, making it illegal for anyone to be outside of their homes from 10:00 pm until 5:00 am.

Although science has shown that locking people in their homes has proven to propagate the virus, both she and her gun-for-hire Secretary of Health hide this fact from the population.

The first two executive orders, included prohibitions as preposterous as the following: no hardware stores could open; no one could not walk outside, not even to walk your dog or exercise; you could not ride your bike; you could not take your boat or jet-ski for a ride; you could not go to your office; no mechanic could come to your home to fix anything that broke down; no gardener, pool maintenance guy or even plumber could come to your home to fix anything.

No one could go to their physician.

Domestic violence victims found themselves prisoners of their aggressors, whose violent streak and alcohol intake became exacerbated as they could not ventilate their anger outside the home.

Roads were closed to prevent people from protesting in organized caravans.

After one month without exercising and caged in their homes, many athletes that never had a drink before became alcoholics.

Although Ms. Vazquez touts her Christian beliefs publicly and even wears Jesus’ cross on the custom-made COVID masks she wears, she does not seem to find Jesus path in order to follow it.

Unable to get their guaranteed meals at school, thousands of children have gone hungry for months. The court had to order the governor to open school kitchens for hungry children to have a place to eat.

Ms. Vazquez had Giovani Roberto, an activist known for feeding the poor, arrested and thrown in jail.

His crime? Marching against the government’s refusal to let him open his dining facility to feed the hungry.

The court dismissed the charges by the end of the day.

So far this year, 89 persons have taken their lives. Hundreds more have attempted to do so.

Women’s shelters are overcrowded.

The Government’s emergency alert system has been programmed to trigger an alarm on people’s cell phones an hour before everyone turns into a pumpkin.

In hornbook dictator style, Ms. Vazquez has slowly implemented totalitarian control mechanisms that have conditioned people to fear her gestapo-style police upon hearing the sound of the alarm. People hurry home like fugitives afraid of being arrested without realizing they have not comitted any crimes.

Even worse: their lack of legal background and failure to read the medical journals and articles updating the findings on the fight against COVID-19, they believe anything that Ms. Vazquez and her lieutenant-in-command, mouthpiece and hired gun, Secretary of Health Lorenzo Gonzalez, say to justify the latest restrictions she conjures.

The day Ms. Vazquez took away people’s freedom, she became inebriated with power. Since that day, she has refused to give it up.

The subsequent amendments to the executive orders that Ms. Vazquez has issued include crafty, ridiculous conditions such as:

1) Scheduling the days people could come out of their homes based on the last digit of their license plate (3 days per week);

2) Ordering people to be in their homes by 5:00 pm, then changing it to 7:00 pm. It now stands at 10:00 pm;

3) Prohibiting the sale of alcohol after 7:00 pm;

4) Prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays, including restaurants and supermarkets;

5) Closing of gyms and bars;

6) Beachgoing was first prohibited until May 26th; she then gave permission for people to practice “water sports”; thereafter she allowed people to go to the beach only to exercise or practice water sports; the current order prohibits anyone from bringing a beach chair or cooler, and a face mask must be worn at all times.

Currently, no alcohol can be sold anywhere between 7:00 pm on Saturdays and 5:00 am Mondays. Restaurants can only seat 25% of their capacity.

On Sundays, restaurants can only sell their fare on a delivery or takeout basis, even if they have outdoor seating.

Businesses have laid off employees. Many have no financial recourse as the government has mismanaged the pandemic assistance funds, denying the claims of people with a legitimate right to apply for them, and granting the claims of people without a right to them.

When incorporating new conditions to her executive orders, Ms. Vazquez doesn’t cite any data, precedent or scientific reasons for her provisions.

During a press conference a few weeks ago, after the governor was done announcing one of her Executive Orders containing an updated list of capricious prohibitions, journalist Valeria Collazo inquired about the raison d’etre behind some of them.

Without skipping a beat, Ms. Vazquez candidly replied:

“En algún lugar hay que mantener el control.”
“We must somewhere retain control.”

Ms. Vazquez blatantly admitted that her executive orders are nothing but a charade to cover up her goal of keeping the people of Puerto Rico under her dominion. Her statement is prima facie evidence of the unconstitutional and dictatorial motives behind her seemingly genuine acts.

The latest proof of Ms. Vazquez’s sheer disregard for the Constitution is the most recent executive order whereby she made it into a crime to be in public without wearing a mask.

This executive order violates the legality principle that derives from and is contained in the Puerto Rico Constitution and the Puerto Rico Penal Code, respectively. It specifically prohibits the executive branch (namely, the governor) from enacting criminal statutes.

These are but a few examples of the atrocious acts by governor Wanda Vazquez. A de facto dictator ruling under the American flag.

I do not hide the aversion that Ms. Vazquez’s unconstitutional transgressions inspire in me. My disgust, however, is due to the intellectual dishonesty and hypocresy of her actions. While she pretends that her executive orders are for the benefit of “mi gente”, my research so far proves otherwise.

I hold no doubt that it is the evil of corruption that fuels Ms. Vazquez’s instiable greed to control Puerto Ricans’ freedom.

THE FRINGE BENEFITS OF A DISGUISED DICTATORSHIP

While Ms. Vázquez keeps free, innocent individuals prisoners in their homes at night, she brags about how she has achieved a reduction in crime numbers. It is obvious that keeping potential victims out of the streets safely locked up in their homes will render the desired result of reducing crime numbers.

On the lack of oversight arena, the “State of Emergency”declaration allows her and the agencies within the executive branch to ignore legal requirements in contracting procedures. Mandatory bidding process required under normal circumstances for contracts in excess of $200,000.00, are ignored while the “state of emergency” declaration is in place.

The Comptroller’s Office records show an obscene amount of funds allocated for preposterous contracts executed during the past six months.

The most dangerous power that Ms. Vazquez is generously exerting under the “State of Emergency” declaration is the Permit Administration Office’s and Department of Natural and Environmental Resources’ granting of permits. Both agencies are sidestepping of environmental regulations enacted for the evaluation and approval of land extraction, construction, demolition, etc. permits.

Although most governmental agencies are still closed, permits are being granted in record time. Permits that had been denied since 2009 are being granted in record time while people were locked in their homes. Many government offices are still closed, making it impossible for the public to examine files.

Citizens find out about the approval of projects when the bulldozers arrive at the premises to destroy everything they find along their path. By then, it’s too late to do anything about it.

COVID-19 did not ravage our island.

Our totalitarian governor’s thirst for power has.

The United States Constitution applies in Puerto Rico, where there is a United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico whose appeals are within the jurisdiction of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

On April 27, 2020, Attorney General William Barr issued a memorandum whereby he instructed all United States Attorney’s Offices to be on the lookout for cases where state directives violated constitutional rights and civil liberties.

Whether because of our condition as an island that has a physical barrier from the United States or because of Puerto Ricans’ status as second-class citizens, the United States District Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico has not acted pursuant to AG Barr’s recommendation to look into Puerto Rico government’s undue deprivation of our constitutional rights and civil liberties under the guise of public health concerns.

The USDOJ’s intervention to stop Ms. Vazquez’s dictatorial ways is long overdue.

“WHAT DOES NOT KILL ME MAKES ME STRONGER.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Every night, the government’s emergency alert alarm still rings on everyone’s phone herding people to rush home or else.

Not on mine, though.

I am an innocent woman who refuses to relinquish her freedom.

Despite it all, I derive a little pleasure by rebelliously exerting my right as a free woman that has the moral courage to enjoy a drink while plunging into a beautiful beach, witnessing a spectacular sunset in what is, bar none, the best place in the world.

The darkness I have endured for the past six months has served as an enlightening inspiration of what’s to come. Facing never-before experienced difficulties, I have reinvented a new life path in the pursuit of two passions that I had long forsaken:

a) Engage in investigative reporting of politicians’ corrupt shenanigans and their impact on indigent communities and the environment; and

b) Take up the fight to clean up the impaired waters of Puerto Rico and expose EPA’s dubiously amicable relationship with the largest polluter of the island, the Puerto Rico Government, exposing the history of the agency’s systemic, institutional racism against our people.

Until January 3rd, 2021 comes around, or USDOJ intervenes to rescue our civil rights before then, I vow to use the time hereinafter to trace the path of my quest and work towards my ultimate goal of making Puerto Rico an even more amazing place than it already is.

So help me God.

I ❤️ my beautiful 🇵🇷

Puerto Rican mother, attorney, warrior & survivor; fighting for equal environmental rights, one pipe at a time”. “Mi nada, a nadie se lo debo.” Julia de Burgos.

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