SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico is seeing an alarming rise in the number of minors mixed up in crime, police superintendent Jose Figueroa Sancha said Monday, citing the arrest of a 14-year-old suspect for a killing last week in San Juan’s upscale Condado neighborhood.
Julian Romero Rodriguez, 21, was relaxing on the beach with his girlfriend last Monday night when he was fatally stabbed in the course of a robbery.
The teen suspect was arrested the next day as he was trying to carry out another robbery in Condado, the police superintendent said.
Romero’s slaying alarmed Puerto Rican authorities, who promptly beefed up police patrols in Condado in a bid to reassure tourists, while the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association has convened a meeting Tuesday to consider the possible negative impact on the island’s vital tourism industry.
Most robberies are linked to the drug trade and the gang bosses prefer to use minors because they are treated far more leniently by the justice system, Figueroa Sancha said.
The suspect in the Romero killing already has a substantial criminal record, the secretary of the Puerto Rican Department of Families, Yanitsia Irizarry Mendez, said.
Though her department has taken charge of the suspect, she acknowledged that in a case like this one, where the youngster began getting into trouble as a pre-teen, rehabilitation is very difficult.
She said Puerto Rico needs a prevention program focused on eliminating the rampant criminality that has become a “lifestyle” in thousands of households on the Caribbean island.
The Department of Families has an initiative, Educating Families, conceived as a way of battling family disintegration, seen by many analysts as Puerto Rico’s biggest social problem.
Authorities say 124 of the 357 homicides registered so far this year in Puerto Rico are related to a battle between gangs for control of drug corners.
A police operation launched in December 2009 has led to the elimination of 300 drug corners and the arrest of nearly 1,200 people.
Despite those efforts and a heightened police presence, 11 people were slain during Holy Week.
And not all the carnage can be attributed to the drug trade or street crime, as evidenced by Saturday night’s slaying of Aida Ivette Cruz, who had her throat slit, apparently by her boyfriend. EFE