SAN JUAN – The wave of crime besetting Puerto Rico seems to be out of control with 800 murders being committed here so far this year, but the island’s top police official says the problem does not fall exclusively within his department.
“It’s part of a social sickness and it’s not only the responsibility of the Police of Puerto Rico,” Jose Figueroa Sancha said after a weekend with 17 new killings and during which the public was shocked by the grisly murder of a young gay man.
The new murders came amid the controversy sparked after the release of a homemade video on which boys brandishing firearms act out drug-corner shootings.
Figueroa Sancha acknowledged that the number of murders is above the figure for last year and he lobbied for the launching of a government campaign to eradicate the violence.
Gov. Luis Fortuño also remarked on the matter saying that the administration is taking the necessary measures to combat the blight of crime in Puerto Rico.
Manuel Torres Marquez, a sociology professor at the Universidad Interamericana, told Efe that Puerto Rico is a world-class “drug capital” because of its strategic geographical position, one of the factors that he said explains the high crime indexes.
He said the U.S. commonwealth in the Caribbean has the most sophisticated clandestine drug laboratories in the world.
Torres also said that the island, unlike some drug-producing nations in Latin America, besides selling the drugs is also consuming them in elevated quantities, a circumstance that creates a propitious environment for the explosion in street crime.
“In Puerto Rico, we produce a large amount of the drugs that are consumed a lot in all social classes,” he said, noting that the policy of taking a “heavy hand” against crime pursued by successive administrations had not had the hoped-for results.
Torres said that up to 55 percent of the island’s population receives government assistance, something that shows the shortcomings of Puerto Rican society.
Meanwhile, sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Puerto Rico Jose Luis Mendez emphasized that one of the causes of crime is the fight for control of retail drug sales.
Mendez also noted the influence of the culture of violence coming from the mainland United States and, recently, unemployment, which has pushed many Puerto Ricans to seek ways of making a living that are on the margin of, or outside, the law.
Regarding the murder of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado, police on Tuesday arrested Juan Martinez Matos in a case that the press has reported could have its origins in homophobia.
The arrested man, according to the version published in the local press, decapitated Lopez Mercado, dismembered his body and set fire to certain parts of it. EFE