The brutal murder of boxing legend Hector “Macho” Camacho, the latest victim of increasing violence in Puerto Rico, highlights the deep challenges for the island.
With unemployment still near 14% and a stagnant economy, Governor-elect Alejandro Garcia Padilla will face a crisis when he takes office. His administration’s priorities must reduce violent crimes, much of which stem from drug trafficking. This is fundamental for protecting the lives of islanders and projecting an environment that is safe for tourism.
When he campaigned, Garcia Padilla pledged to increase police presence and proposed an extensive plan to refocus the work of the police department on crime prevention.
While that’s a good start, the strategy must also include appointing a superintendent with the leadership and guts to route out corruption and misconduct, and bring credibility to this law enforcement agency. Police officers have been tarnished by complaints about deals with drug lords and also for violationing civil rights of protesters.
The crime-fighting plan should also include a clear plan to obtain resources and support from Washington and Caribbean basin governments.
The National Drug Intelligence Center reports that cocaine seizures on the Puerto Rico-USVI route tripled between 2009 and 2010, turning the area into a competitive illegal drug and money laundering market. Yet, Washington has earmarked an anti-drug budget for this area of less than $100 million per year, compared to more than $2 billion for the Mexican border.
A starting point is a request made by Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi in 2011 to expand the Obama administration program known as the “Southwest Border Initiative,” which since 2009 has doubled the number of anti-drug agents in the region.