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We are all… united

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Amidst unrelenting violence on the island of Puerto Rico, calls for peace.

“Puerto Ricans on and off the island came together on Saturday night to show solidarity with their homeland, which is experiencing record-breaking levels of crime, in an event called ‘Un Abrazo Para Puerto Rico.’

With lit candles and signs reading ‘We are all José Enrique’ and ‘We Are All Puerto Rico,’ organizers met in Manhattan’s Christopher Park to voice their thoughts against the island’s violence. Demonstrators took a minute of silence to honor those that lost their lives.

Among the community leaders were human rights activist Pedro Julio Serrano, the New York City Council Member Melissa Mark Viverito, Karina Claudio of the Make the Road organization, and Guillermo Chacón from the Latino Commission on AIDS.

‘You carry the country in your soul,’ said Serrano. ‘The country is not a geographical space, we are part of Puerto Rico. Each of these victims, each of these families, each of these communities who are suffering violence, if they suffer, we too are suffering. We are all Jose Enrique… We are all Puerto Rico.’ “

The signs refer to publicist José Enrique Gómez Saladín, whose charred remains were discovered in Cayey. According to a statement by suspect Edwin Torres obtained by El Nuevo Día, four perpetrators beat Gómez Saladín and burned him alive with gasoline after forcing him to withdraw $400 from an ATM in Caguas. Torres later returned to the same ATM to withdraw more money from Gómez Saladín’s account, and police were able to plaster his photo on the local news. It was Torres’s own mother who turned him in to the authorities.

Gómez Saladín’s brutal murder seems to have been the tipping point for a Puerto Rican community already woeful over the devastating level of bloodshed on the island. Last year saw a record-breaking 1,136 murders, or 26.2 for every 100,000 islanders. The figure surpasses Mexico’s for the same year (23.7), and this year’s murder rate is at least five times that of the actual United States.

While places like Mexico and Colombia receive much of the attention in Latin America’s drug war, the Caribbean ships around 30 percent of the illegal narcotics that reach the United States. Puerto Rico is a preferred destination for narcotraffickers in the Caribbean, because once the product reaches the island, it can be shipped to the States as domestic cargo with fewer inspections. CNN even went so far as to label Puerto Rico the “forgotten front in America’s drug war.”

“Inside the Caribbean island territory known by many Americans as a scenic tourist destination, U.S. citizens are gunned down and stabbed daily in drug-fueled attacks as rival traffickers feud over turf and addicts fight for another fix. …

Drugs are behind more than 70% of the homicides, local officials have said, arguing that the staggering number should be a wake-up call for Washington.

In February, a statement from Puerto Rico’s government described the island as ‘the under-protected front in the nation’s war on drugs.’ “

Inflaming the issue is the high levels of corruption in Puerto Rico’s police force. A 2010 FBI investigation led to the arrest of nearly 90 officers in cahoots with local drug dealers, and the insular police have been criticized for pervasive brutality for quite some time.

In light of such factors, Puerto Rico is seemingly lawless in the eyes of many, which only exacerbates the levels of violence, drug trafficking and police corruption on the island.

Fortunately, Puerto Ricans on and off the island have said enough is enough. They’re now relying on the community and the remaining good half of the police department to quell the violence and crime.

New York City witnessed hundreds of Puerto Rican mainlanders gather this past Saturday in solidarity with their island cousins and Puerto Ricans everywhere. On December 15, Puerto Ricans on the island will participate in the “March for Peace,” calling for a suspension of violence for the foreseeable future.

Members of the Diaspora have decided to take matters into their own hands. If the government is incapable (or unwilling) to address the crises — violence, crime, drug abuse, unemployment, poverty — then it is up to the Puerto Rican people to rise to occasion.

And that’s exactly what they’ve begun to do.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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