In Defense of a Puerto Rican Biologist and a Mangrove Forest
On December 1, 2005, there was an article in the newspaper El Vocero in which Javier Velez Arocho (Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources) attacked biologist Luis Jorge Rivera Herrea (Initiative for a Sustainable Development). Velez alleged that Rivera had been issuing personal insults despite the fact that he (Velez) had made available data compiled by his institution. (Rivera is currently trying to protect the environment on the northeastern part of the island in a battle against hotel development projects by the Four Seasons and Marriot hotel chains.) Although we cannot verify the validity of the charges against rivera, Velez's attitude is sadly rather typical of many governmental leaders. These tend to see their offices as lifetime fiefdoms, erroneously defining the emission of public records as a 'favor' rather than their professional duty. According to this nefarious perspective, the citizen should feel thankful and indebted for having received the attention of the public functionary; the ignorance of many Puerto Ricans over their rights and responsibilities sadly helps promote this uneven relation between government and public. Worse yet, these problems were foreseen by a 1978 US Department of Commerce study debating the control of coastal waters to the local government. It pointed out many of the problems we are seeing today. "Possibly the most serious threat is to the mangroves along the northeast coast, from Boca de Cangrejos to Fajardo, where development pressures are intense. Within this region, litigation has already resulted over the threat to the Piñones-Torrecillas-Vacia Talega Forest, one of the largest and most productive mangroves in Puerto Rico." Has the local government fufilled its responsibilities during the last thirty years?