Puerto Rico's Wave of Drugs and Brazen Murders Reverberates to Miami

See the slide show "Puerto Rico Awash in Violence and Drugs."

Puerto Rico's Wave of Drugs and Brazen Murders Reverberates to Miami
Illustration by Pete Ryan

Julio Ramos Oliver died over a spilled drink.

It was just after midnight January 20, and Old San Juan shook with the fiesta de San Sebastián. Under the golden glow of street lamps, more than 100,000 Puerto Ricans packed onto the narrow cobblestone calles for the year's biggest party.

Dressed in a baggy yellow shirt and black hat, Ramos had met family members and friends hours earlier underneath a 40-foot totem pole overlooking the churning Caribbean Sea. Reggaeton refracted off the colonial architecture, and drunken revelers and empty beer cans littered the plaza.

Hector Pesquera, former head of the FBI's Miami office, oversees the much-maligned Puerto Rico Police Department.
Michael E. Miller
Hector Pesquera, former head of the FBI's Miami office, oversees the much-maligned Puerto Rico Police Department.
AK-47 bullet casings at a triple murder scene in Canovanas, east of San Juan.
Michael E. Miller
AK-47 bullet casings at a triple murder scene in Canovanas, east of San Juan.

At 12:52 a.m., Ramos headed down a packed side street. As he raised a beer can to his lips, the 32-year-old fisherman clattered into the back of the man in front of him. The man spun around, his white jersey dripping with beer. Ramos apologized, but it was too late. The man raised his shirt to reveal a pistol. "We're prepared," he said. Ramos reportedly removed a knife from his pocket and answered, "So am I."

See the slide show "Puerto Rico Awash in Violence and Drugs."

As the two men stared each other down, a third figure emerged from the crowd behind Ramos. A gun muzzle flashed. The fisherman fell to the ground, blood spurting from his throat onto the cobblestones. The gunmen fled, but not before blasting two more rounds into the dying man.

Ramos's killing was just one in a relentless wave of murders in Puerto Rico over the past three years. In 2011, the tiny island's record 1,136 killings put it on par with civil war zones such as the Congo and Sudan in terms of murders per capita. Last year was little better. And in the past four months, a series of particularly horrific slayings has terrorized the tropical paradise. First, boricua boxer Hector "Macho" Camacho was mysteriously gunned down in November. Two weeks later, a well-known publicist was kidnapped, set on fire, and beaten to death. And just last month, a gangster ran his car over an entire family, killing six.

Ramos's death in the heart of the city during the crowded SanSe fiesta was the most brazen and symbolic slaying yet. It signaled to the world what Puerto Ricans have known for several years: The "Isle of Enchantment" has become bewitched by violence. A crackdown on drugs coming across the Mexican border has only pushed contraband through the Caribbean, transforming the American commonwealth into the newest nexus for narcotraffickers.

"If this were anywhere else in the States, it would have created a national security crisis by now," Puerto Rico's police chief, Hector Pesquera, says of the sky-high murder rate, roughly seven times the national average. "But we are out of sight and out of mind."

Yet Americans who ignore the island do so at their own peril. As Puerto Rican politicians make an unprecedented push to become the 51st state, the commonwealth has become more central than ever to the United States' drug and crime problems. Pesquera estimates that 80 percent of the narcotics entering Puerto Rico end up in East Coast cities, particularly Miami and New York. Guns and money move in the opposite direction, and fugitives freely flow back and forth, frustrating officials. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans are pouring into Florida, New York, and Texas to escape the gunfire gripping their homeland.

Pesquera's police force is outgunned and overmatched. To make matters worse, rampant corruption and civil rights violations dog the department, which, at 17,000 employees, is the second largest in the nation. Whether because of these doubts or the spiraling national debt, the feds have been reluctant to help. Something has to give.

"This is the United States of America, whether people like it or not," Pesquera says. "We are the country's third border. If we don't protect it, you guys are fucked."


By 10 a.m., the blood had already disappeared from Calle Saint Just. It wasn't cleaned up, like the scores of AK-47 cartridges that were scattered across the intersection like rice after a wedding. Instead, the blood was simply gone — returned to the Puerto Rican earth.

"The trucks roll by and spread it all over the place," says Officer Angel Martinez, a gruff, blue-eyed homicide detective.

Like most murders here, the blood belongs to gangsters who have gunned each other down, Martinez says. Around 9 p.m., a black SUV full of drug dealers ambushed their rivals on this industrial stretch of east San Juan. Three men fled into a funeral home parking lot — a fitting place to die. The ambushers cornered them and mowed them down with assault rifles. One man survived; the others bled out on the dirty pavement. In the hours after those deaths, five other people were killed around San Juan.

Martinez has no choice but to shrug off such horrors. Grisly scenes are as regular as morning cafecito for Puerto Rican cops, who have the unenviable task of bringing order to San Juan's increasingly blood-soaked streets. As murders have doubled since the late '90s, the cops have found themselves overwhelmed by drug traffickers, marooned by an indifferent federal government, and undercut by corruption.

At the head of that effort is Pesquera, a 66-year-old with a white beard, glasses, and a sailor's mouth. "Every morning, I look at the stats and ask myself: 'What could we have done to prevent this?'" he says during an interview in his corner office. In these particular cases, not much, he concludes. "But guess who is blamed?"

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113 comments
msquixotegoescountry
msquixotegoescountry

Thank you for this information. Let me share a TRUE STORY of MURDER IN P.R.  Yes, the increasing murders in Puerto Rico are happening at the peril of the U.S. and the U.S. for so long has ignored Puerto Rico in so many ways. Think of a line tracing events, from point A to point B, point A marking events such as the Grito de Lares.  Well, think for a moment, point B marks the ruins of events like Grito de Lares, which were not resolved, so that people are crippled with social programs, and have adopted violence as a social front.  Take for example, Jason (real life story, name changed here). Jason grew up near one of the beach drug infected communities.  He was shy and insecure, with a smothering mother, and only 360 games for a companion.  He had no neighbors, no kid to play with. When he went to school, too insecure, some of his schoolmates made fun of him.  He premeditated getting even with a schoolmate, sat behind him in class, and jammed a key on the back of the kid's skull.  The boy survived miraculously without brain damage.  Some corrupted enemies of his father pretended to befriend him, and influenced him to seek homosexual encounters to prostitute himself, maliciously introduced him to drugs, and turned him against someone who helped raise him, in order to isolate him. Jason appears "blank", as if suffering from multiple personalities.  He was not one of those teenagers who wished to get a job to pay for a car, or for a constructive hobby.  He only sold himself to get money to buy body building products to satisfy his insecurity building his body to threaten people.  He was using drugs.  At the same time, he has moments when he likes the Bible, as if he had multiple personalities.  But, rather than letting the Bible win, he threatened to murder the very same caring human being who helped raise him, so that he is completely alone, with his "blank" mind that preying drug dealers fill with violence.  His mother, due to an inheritance issue, inculcated violence in Jason against a member of the family who cares about Jason and who wants no part in the inheritance.  Well, as a result of filling his blank mind with hatred, Jason hates himself and others.  YES, VIOLENT MEN LIKE JASON WHO PREMEDITATE MURDERS ARE SUICIDAL. Jason has had episodes when he "shits" on the moment of his birth.  With the inheritance that his mother took away from someone else, he purchased a nice Mazda to show off to make up for his insecurity, instead of investing his money to build a future for himself.  After he premeditated to kill the kid in school who bullied him, he was found innocent. Jason has continued to premeditate murders, to use drugs, and to seek the company of drug dealers. Now that he wasted away his inheritance, he is used by drug dealers to do the dirty work.  He is serving a prison sentence. His so called friends who use him to get his hands dirty, are waiting for him to get out of prison to continue to prey on him.  Jason is point B, he and many other Jasons in Puerto Rico are the "blank point B", with reflexes like cave men, inhuman. I have posted this comment to create awareness about this social bloody epidemic.

anonemos
anonemos

Two Cubans asked me if I was nuts taking my 3 kids to PR in the summer of 2011.  We spent a week there travelling along the northern and eastern coasts and Vieques.  No problems at all.  We had a great time exploring the natural wonders of the Camuy caves and the rainforest of El Yunque as well as the historic forts and buildings of Old San Juan.  As long as you're not looking for drugs, you can have a great time in PR with some very nice people.

BigGeech
BigGeech

Not funny, but the actions depicted in this article resemble a Monday afternoon in Mexico.

chelo.boricuazo
chelo.boricuazo

go and criticize your country mr. miller  first full of psychos,  largest prisoner pop in the world, most invasive government, and many others.


lawmia
lawmia

Miller just reported facts..not Puerto Rican tourism false advertising that has been put out for years. PR is a cesspool and has been a drain on the US for years. They kicked us out of  God forsaken Culebra as a Navy bombing target which was all it was good for. Then the wanted us to close Roosevelt Roads, which we did which caused their economy to dry up on their east coast.Smart.

Fine, they are of no use to us, they don't want our money, so stop propping up their corrupt government. They want to be free...GOOD IDEA. Americans need to wake up and cut off this crime ridden,fiscal drain.

If you want to vist there, for some unknown reason--maybe you want to hear those annoying little bastard frogs...buy a gun as sooon as you get there to protect yourself and your family.

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

In addition, in PR we do not grow Coca plants or any other type of drug. At least not in large proportions. Maybe some marijuana in small proportions. We do not fabricate guns in any way. The only ships that transport goods to PR has to be of American Flag. Not from any other country. If drugs are smuggled from South and Central America, we are not the responsible, since we are not in power to protect our borders. You need to ask TSA and Border Patrol if they are doing their job. So, somebody is allowing those AK-47 bullets and guns to arrive to the island. See if you can talk about something more interesting next time, you brat. 

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

Mr. Miller, I forgot to tell you something. Other prof that you are a bias incompetent. The picture of the mother and daughter step on the place where a police officer killed her two sons only reminds me of the two delinquent that try to kill the police officer. I don't think you knew enough about the story to include it in your report. You have no business doing this job. Your only intentions are to damage the image of our island, but you have enough problems in your city to do  that. 

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

Mr. Miller, I think your segment is bias and you have no business doing this job. I can write the same negative things about Miami, starting by drug addicts that eats the face of a living human being. PR security problem is complex and I see no professional reason to use our flag like that. It shows the lack of respect you feel. Let me tell you something. You are no better than us. The problems your city have with crime are the same.  All those crimes you mentioned, 99% are between drug dealers. The same drug that is brought from Colombia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic to PR so they can ship it to your city. This is a major problem that affect us all. Would you like to see the FL flag in a disrespectful way, like you do?  For example, I can say that Miami has 501 crimes per square mile, while the US average is 39.6. Is that good for you? That is nasty. You should write about your city and try to be a professional. 

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

Chicas Puertorriqueñas son calientes!

gardenia073
gardenia073

Excellent article Mr, Michael E Miller !

vyampier
vyampier

Este periódico debe ser censurado por la comunidad hispana en general. A los americanos hay que respetarle su bandera y ellos utilizan la de PR en una portada que más que reflejar una situación demuestra el poco respeto que existe hacia PR. Este reportero debe pedir disculpas por ser tan ignorante y publicar un reportaje que más bien es morboso . Criminalidad hay en todos lados y en PR la existe hace un tiempo, nada nuevo y más bien es por drogas. Aquí ocurren masacres en cines ,en escuelas ,matan niños y eso en PR no se ve así que como se atreven a hablar de criminalidad ?! Porque no pusieron en portada cuando PR le gano al equipo de Estados Unidos? Porque no ponen en portada a los policías que fueron a arrestar jóvenes en plena graduación por ser indocumentados ? Son unos racistas y quieran o no ,les gusté o no Estados Unidos está lleno de latinos que trabajamos y pagamos taxes y contribuimos a la economía de este Pais !

vyampier
vyampier

This newspaper should be censored ,shows only little knowledge, morbidity and racism. How you guys had the nerves to used PR flag in such a caricature when here in USA we have to respect your flag? I bet that this mediocre newspaper did not mention PR when they beat the U.S. team a week ago? No!they had a "better" story to talk about,wao!something that happens on the island while ago:criminality. Not all in PR is bad,not all the people living in PR are poor or at risk. American do not forget that USA invaded PR. USA is not the" good samaritan" with PR there is no reason for this ridiculous cover!

riveraf0
riveraf0

Es facil escribir un reportaje el cual hable mal de donde o quien sea el papel aguanta todo lo que escriban pero lo mas humillante es la portada porque hacer una ilustracion de la bandera de Puerto Rico en el piso tapando un cuerpo. Michael estas equivocado en cierto aspecto. PR no esta como lo estas presentando porque mejor no hablas de Mexico que cogen y encierran a 54 personas en un vagon y las dejan solas hasta que mueran o peor aun has lo mismo con la bandera de EU para cuando el joven entra a esta escuela elemental y asesino a muchos chicos y maestros y si te quieres botar habla de la injusta guerra de Iraq que tiene EU.

Viste en PR las cosas no estan malas solo pasan situaciones fuera de comtrol. A esa historia de que hablastes el tipo solo mato a uno en San Juan no mato a docenas como suele suceder en ejemplo Mexico o EU.

Te escribo en español porque es mi idioma primario but if i like i can also do it in inglish but i just want you to look for some one or use a translate software jajajajaj takecare.

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@chelo.boricuazo Chelo, I don't agree with your comment. Mr. Miller's country is my country. US and PR are the same country, even if you don't like it. I don't like Mr. Miller comments since Miami has the same problems, so it is kind of hypocrite on his behalf.  Please, don't bring comments that does not contribute to the subject in any way.

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@lawmia Funny thing about Culebra is that yesterday a little kid from North America got burn by a live ammunition that remained in Culebra. The media said it was phosphorus or something like that. Karma is a bitch, right?

I disagree with you Sr. First of all, that we are American citizens, same as you. So please, don't talk about us like we are from other country. Even if you like it or not, we are still the same country, even though we do not have the right to vote for the president and we have no vote in the Congress.  

I don't know if you are aware, but after the last election, there were movements of people writing the White House requesting the independence of some states. Even today, there are movements inside the 50 states that don't like the Federal Government. My point with this is, that in all countries, there are people with different lines of believes. However, in democracies, the majority get to chose what it is going to happen. PR is not an exception.  We have some groups that does not like the statehood idea. However, the majority of us feel that we are 1 Country with the US and we all are American Citizens with PRIDE. So much PRIDE, that we are active in every war our President and the Congress agree to go, even though we do not have the right to vote for them.  

My point is, there is diversity; however, we, the majority are Americans like you. It is a fact that we have problems with drug dealers, there are problems with immigrants coming from CUBA, Haiti and Dominican Republic, but the problem is complex, out of our reach in many ways, by our limitations of making decisions that only the President or the Congress can do (TSA, Border Patrol, Etc.).

In addition, you talk about crime? Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, California, all those cities have the same problem. So, stop pretending the problem is only in PR, since you have the same issues near your house.

gardenia073
gardenia073

@vyampier Mira lo que a este individuo le perturba y le molesta, la caricatura de una bandera ? NO el crimen rampante en PR, NO NO NO ! Una caricatura !!

gardenia073
gardenia073

@riveraf0 No hay PEOR ciego que el que NO quiere ver.  Argumentos estupidos por una caricatura de una bandera mientras el reportaje trata de un problema mas grave que una estupida bandera.  No escribes en Ingles por que NO puedes ! 80% de la poblacion de PR no SABE HABLAR en INGLES ! Mas quieren ser estado.  jaja

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@gardenia073 @Honestperson31 Cierto, mirate a ti como te duele que te digan que eres una pobre despatriada recibida en los EU por pena. Yo vengo a este pais como ciudadano. Verdad que te duele?

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@gardenia073 I think you use the word MORON when you look at the mirror? Ops, is it when you look at your face?

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@gardenia073 @riveraf0 Mira idiota, tu solo eres otra Cubana de mierda envidiosa. Sabes cuantos Cubanos muertos de ambre hay en Puerto Rico? Porque no se van pal'caraj en Cuba? Tienen que venir como pobres diablos pidiendo clemencia en EU. A diferencia tuya yo vivo en EU y en PR y viajo en PRIMERA CLASE cuantas veces me de la gana. Sobre el ingles, verifica a ver cuantos Cubanos en tu apestosa isla hablan ingles. Lo de ser estado, aunque te duela, lo vamos a lograr. 

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

Same as it happens in Miami and your pathetic country of origin. That is the problem, he should be speaking about his city that has enough problems to criticize yours first. 

riveraf0
riveraf0

@gardenia073 @riveraf0

Let me tell you something user Gardenia073.

First I will respect you opinion and I wait from you to do same them what Mr. Michael is writing about is real I don’t blame him what I blame is why they use a picture that make the symbol like in Puerto Rico is the worst place to be, that is not real we don’t have people running crazing killing in theater or school bunch of people ok do I make myself clear, why he don’t talk about all the kill in Iraq, all the kill in Mexico or better talk about all the kill in the 48 state that have to be very high and make a portal magazine with al united stated map cover with the flag of United State and Blood on the border what you think that people will say. That is the point.

And let me tell you something I maybe don’t know better English that you but I know Portuguese and French . Aprenda a ir recpetar pessoas e suas opiniões. Apprenez à faire des gens recpetar et leurs opinions.

Thanks.

riveraf0
riveraf0

@gardenia073 @riveraf0

Let me tell you something user Gardenia073.

First I will respect you opinion and I wait from you to do same them what Mr. Michael is writing about is real I don’t blame him what I blame is why they use a picture that make the symbol like in Puerto Rico is the worst place to be, that is not real we don’t have people running crazing killing in theater or school bunch of people ok do I make myself clear, why he don’t talk about all the kill in Iraq, all the kill in Mexico or better talk about all the kill in the 48 state that have to be very high and make a portal magazine with al united stated map cover with the flag of United State and Blood on the border what you think that people will say. That is the point.

And let me tell you something I maybe don’t know better English that you but I know Portuguese and French . Aprenda a ir recpetar pessoas e suas opiniões. Apprenez à faire des gens recpetar et leurs opinions.

whisper198335
whisper198335

@chelo.boricuazo @Honestperson31Yes it is.


"Puerto Rico is an unincorporated organized territory of the United States, subject to the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress and with the right to establish a constitution for the internal administration of government and on matters of purely local concern.

On July 25, 1898 at the outbreak of the Spanish–American War, Puerto Rico was invaded by the United States with a landing at Guánica. Following the outcome of the war, Spain was forced to cede Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States under the Treaty of Paris."

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@gardenia073 @Honestperson31 I don't deny the problems we have in our island. Thanks G's I can make the choice to get a plane in First Class and select the State I want, right? In your case you need to swim with sharks and beg the Americans to accept you in their country. So sad for you, right? Is that the reason you hate us? Way for 10 years with a green card? If they catch you in water you are going back to your hated island, he he. So funny, right? Any way, since Cubans arrived to Miami, the crime rate is sky high. So I have no idea why are you talking, pathetic Gardenia!

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@gardenia073 @Honestperson31 @vyampier Estas enojadita? Si no aguantas preción no te metas brutita! Vete a fregar platos en la calle 8 cubanita. No critiques si no quieres que te critiquen, y si te metes entonces aguanta preción. Recuerda, siempre vas a tener las de perder.

gardenia073
gardenia073

@Honestperson31 @gardenia073 @vyampier A ti que te importa imbecil ? El articulo es sobre la realidad en PR, lo que pasa es como en la isla te doran la pildorita te encabrona que venga un gringo a decir la verdad ! La Caricatura de la bandera ? Pamplinas ! Indignate con el sistema judicial de PR y no una estupida caricatura !

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@gardenia073 @Honestperson31 You douche, as you know, I'm citizen, so I can travel whatever I want. Sorry that your story is not the same. Parece que eso es lo que comes, mier..... 

paradiseno
paradiseno

@Honestperson31 @gardenia073@riveraf0WOW! WE SAW A GUY GET SHOT AT DUFFYS IN ESPERANZA VIEQUES ISLAND JANUARY 2014 LAST MONTH! SEE for yourself at ParadiseNO.com! They work close with ViequesNO.com also works with the NewYorkTimes. Dangerous place!

riveraf0
riveraf0

@gardenia073 @riveraf0

No voy a ponerme a tu nivel, solo quise dar mi opinion y use de ejemplo a esos paises. Pero trankilo sigue viviendo el sueño.

riveraf0
riveraf0

@gardenia073 @Honestperson31 @riveraf0

Gardenita ahora digo aprende a escribir jajajajaja

Honestperson31
Honestperson31

@gardenia073 @Honestperson31 @riveraf0 Desde el principio pude ver que eres una cafrecita Cubanita! jaja. Que patética eres! Quieres hablar de los problemas de tu isla? Ah? Bendito, no sigas humillandote tu misma. Educate, no seas bulgar. 

gardenia073
gardenia073

@riveraf0 Mira mijo , mejor te quedas hablando en ESPANOL por que en INGLES no se te entiende NADA. NO sabes el idioma, luces bastante tonto tratando de escribirlo.  Por que el autor de este aritculo escribe sobre PR y no de USA , MEXICO, IRAQ ? Sencillo, le dio la gana de escribir sobre PR ! Bajate del caballito ! EStas dando patadas de ahogado, el crimen arropa a PR, aceptalo !

 
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