SAN JUAN – As the sun rose Tuesday on the statues of U.S. presidents outside Puerto Rico’s capitol building, four of them were seen to be painted with aerosol, an act of vandalism coinciding with a congressional hearing in Washington that could be key to the island’s ability to declare bankruptcy.
The suspects, of whom three have been arrested, sprayed red paint on the faces of Harry Truman, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt, police said in a statement.
Those taken into custody were identified as Francisco Negron Aleman, Luis Ramon Bonano and Elvin Rodriguez Perales.
On the cement walkway of Paseo de los Presidentes linear park, inaugurated in 2010, the vandals spray-painted the word “Asesinos” (Killers).
The same word was repeated on the bronze plaque of Truman, with its biographical information about each of the presidents.
The act of vandalism comes as Puerto Rican authorities struggle with Washington to allow the island, sunk in a severe economic and fiscal crisis, to protect itself under the bankruptcy law as a way to handle its crippling debt.
Congress will hold a hearing on Tuesday about the island’s economic woes in connection with the accumulated debt of Puerto Rico’s state-owned electric company.
Harshly criticized over the past few weeks in Puerto Rico has been Washington’s apparent disinterest and unwillingness to lend a hand in resolving the problems of this U.S. commonwealth.
A group of cops witnessed the acts of vandalism as they happened: while patrolling the area around 1 a.m. they saw the three individuals spray-painting the statues’ faces.
Capitol maintenance workers undertook Tuesday to clean the statues.
Sen. Jose Nadal Power of the ruling party denounced the acts of vandalism and said in a communique that “the rights of expression guaranteed by our constitution are so broad they allow us to protest effectively in all kinds of legitimate ways.”
Paseo de los Presidentes was inaugurated in 2010 in honor of the seven sitting heads of state who have visited Puerto Rico: Gerald Ford, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama, plus the four whose statues were disfigured.