Population: 3.7 million
2011 murders: 1,136
2012 murders (as of 12/10): 894
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I grew up in Ciales, located in the Central Mountain Range. It was an idyllic setting, with majestic mountains, pristine beaches, warm weather and equally warm people. It was as close as you could get to paradise on Earth. But something has gone wrong. Seriously wrong. Our beautiful paradise is almost lost.
The murder rate in Puerto Rico is close to six times the national average. This is appalling, even more so when you consider that the island has the second largest police force in the nation. Unfortunately, police corruption is one of the contributing factors to this terrible crime wave that is covering Puerto Rico from coast to coast. In 2010, nearly a hundred police officers were arrested after an investigation by the FBI revealed they were offering protection to drug dealers and involved in drug transactions.
Back in the 1980s, South American drug cartels began to use Puerto Rico as a route to smuggle drugs into the United States because, as a territory, shipments from the island to the mainland aren’t subject to U.S. Customs inspections. And it is suspected that drug trafficking has increased on the island in recent times due to intensified surveillance along the border with Mexico.
Most of the crimes on the island are related to drugs – traffickers fighting to protect their territory and drug users committing crimes to sustain their addiction. The number of innocent victims who have gotten caught in the crossfire of drug-related shootings or become prey for criminals trying to get money for their next fix has been increasing at an alarming rate. Criminals have also become incredibly brazen, committing crimes in broad daylight and in public spaces, and also killing police officers.
Why isn’t the Puerto Rican government getting a better grip on the problem? Probably because it’s part of the problem. Puerto Rico has the highest number of public corruption cases in the U.S. When people’s trust in the government and authorities is low and unemployment, poverty, and the presence of drugs is high, you have a recipe for disaster.
Why isn’t the federal government getting a better grip on the problem? Good question. If this was happening in any of the 50 states, you better bet the federal government would be way more involved than it is on the island (like it is along the southwest border).
As for the almost four million boricuas living on the island, it seems like they are so sick of living in fear and watching their patria being destroyed by crime, they have decided to join forces. After the brutal murder of José Enrique Gómez, a local publicist who was burned alive and then beaten to death two weeks ago by two men and two women after forcing him to withdraw money from an ATM, Puerto Ricans took to social media to demand an end to this madness. The social media movement Todos Somos José Enrique was created as a call to action to stop the violence in Puerto Rico and is bringing international attention to the problem.
Our beautiful paradise may be almost lost, but it won’t be completely lost if Puerto Ricans continue to maintain a united front against crime and refuse to let it go to hell.