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.
A memorial left at the intersection where Jonathan Soto Bonilla, AKA "787," drove a stolen car into a family of seven. Six died, including four children.
Michael E. Miller
A memorial left at the intersection where Jonathan Soto Bonilla, AKA "787," drove a stolen car into a family of seven. Six died, including four children.
Puerto Rico Police Lt. Ricardo Haddock shows bullet holes left at a triple murder scene in Canovanas, just east of San Juan.
Michael E. Miller
Puerto Rico Police Lt. Ricardo Haddock shows bullet holes left at a triple murder scene in Canovanas, just east of San Juan.
Wanda Figueroa (left) and her daughter, Zuleyka Perez, stand in the spot where a Puerto Rico Police officer shot Figueroa's two sons.
Michael E. Miller
Wanda Figueroa (left) and her daughter, Zuleyka Perez, stand in the spot where a Puerto Rico Police officer shot Figueroa's two sons.
La Perla, a slum infamous for its drug trade, is sandwiched between Old San Juan and the sea.
Michael E. Miller
La Perla, a slum infamous for its drug trade, is sandwiched between Old San Juan and the sea.

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?"

Before Pesquera can save the island from chaos, he must first fix an antiquated police force infamous for graft and brutality.

"There have been scandals about police corruption and cops killing civilians in the streets for years in Puerto Rico," says Bruce Bagley, an expert on organized crime in Latin America and a professor at the University of Miami.

This isn't the first time waves of violence have broken over Puerto Rico. Perched at the strategic entrance to the Caribbean, the Connecticut-sized island has a long and bloody history. Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León slaughtered Taíno natives beginning in 1508. Over the centuries, slave uprisings and independence movements were put down with deadly force. By 1898, the colony had won a degree of autonomy, only for the Spanish-American War to transfer control to the United States.

When Puerto Rican politicians voted for independence in 1914, the U.S. responded by granting boricuas U.S. citizenship — just in time to be drafted for World War I. Another 30 years passed before Puerto Ricans were allowed to elect their own governor.

Under U.S. rule, the island became a popular vacation spot. But by the 1980s, with Colombian cocaine flowing through Puerto Rico to South Florida, violence became endemic. Murders decreased in the 1990s as drug routes shifted to Central America and Mexico, but in 2006, newly elected Mexican President Felipe Calderón declared an assault on cartels. Two years later, the U.S. launched its own $1.6 billion Merida Initiative to combat gangs.

"That is why in the past three years, Puerto Rico has become increasingly visible in regard to drug scandals," Bagley says. "This is an unintended consequence of the pressure being brought in Mexico and Central America."

Today, drugs from Haiti, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic stream in on Jet Skis and go-fast boats. "Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, illegal contraband that makes it to the island is unlikely to be subjected to further U.S. Customs inspections," Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, head of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said during a hearing last year.

McCaul isn't the only official worried about the trend. A source at the Drug Enforcement Administration tells New Times that massive shipments of drugs arrive regularly via "internal conspiracies entrenched in [San Juan's] Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport" as well as ports and airports in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Jacksonville, and New York City. With more than 2 million Puerto Ricans in Florida and New York alone, there's perfect cover for smugglers. Weapons, meanwhile, move in the other direction, often on cruise ships, according to the DEA official.

"Right now, somewhere on the streets of New York, Miami, or maybe a few blocks away from where we sit in Washington, drug dealers are selling cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. These drugs entered the United States through the wide-open back door," McCaul said at the June 21 hearing.

Pesquera, who'd been appointed chief a few months before that hearing, listened quietly in the audience as then-Gov. Luis Fortuño accused the feds of having "no strategy." Puerto Rican by birth, Pesquera spent 27 years working for the FBI, running the agency's Miami office from 1998 until his retirement in 2003 and overseeing infamous cases including the "Cuban Five" spy ring and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta. Last March, at Fortuño's request, he took a leave of absence from his job as head of security at the Port of Miami to try to save his homeland.

Today, he looks exhausted. Pesquera lives close to his office but is — by law — watched over night and day by heavily armed guards. ("I do go out sometimes without them knowing," he says with a smirk.) He is ferried to work in a brand-new, gleaming black SUV with lead in the doors. The windows in his corner office are bulletproof.

Amid the violence and paranoia, Pesquera has instituted practical reforms: updating aging equipment, improving training, and winning public support by sacking bad cops. And there have been small improvements. In 2012, murders fell to just less than 1,000 from their peak the year before, thanks to an odd arrangement with federal prosecutors. (The first two months of 2013 saw 148 new corpses on the island — a shocking total but slightly below the number during the same period last year.)

Unlike laws anywhere else in America, Puerto Rican law allows anyone — even accused murderers — to bond out of jail. Drug dealers often spring out, skip court, disappear, and keep on killing. "We've had guys wearing [electronic] ankle bracelets murdering people," Pesquera says. In the past year, however, the Department of Justice has increasingly used federal gun charges, which prohibit bond, to keep criminals off the street. "We're sending two flights a week to the U.S. because we can't hold them all."

Still, the bloody tide has barely receded. "In reality, all of San Juan is hot," Angel Martinez confesses as he cruises away from the funeral-home shooting toward the next crime scene: a triple homicide in the town of Canovanas, ten minutes east of the capital.

Martinez guides his unmarked car east on highway PR-3, where suburbs give way to farmland. The cruiser takes a turn up a steep hill covered in pastel cinder-block houses. At the bottom of the hill, a small bar is pockmarked with bullet holes. Gunmen fired more than a hundred AK-47 rounds here last night, and a handful still lies scattered around the crime scene. Water in a nearby drainage ditch is cloudy with blood.

"There was a fight here at the bar," explains Ricardo Haddock, a second lieutenant. "A group left and came back to get their revenge."

He adds with a sigh: "Up until last night, we had three less murders compared to this time last year. Now we have one murder more."


Julio Ramos Oliver's January killing made grisly headlines as far away as Canada. Puerto Rico was already reeling from a string of sensational slayings and battered by 14 percent unemployment; the last thing the commonwealth needed was to scare off tourists. Suddenly, the island's slogan, "Puerto Rico does it better," seemed less an invitation than an assassin's snarl.

"People here are fearful," Pesquera says. "It's because there is indiscriminate shooting in public areas between [drug gangs], and innocent bystanders get hit."

But even that statement oversimplifies things. Recent murders such as the SanSe killing have terrified residents precisely because of their senselessness. "You cannot honk the horn of your vehicle because the person might shoot you," says Sujeylee Ramos, Julio's older sister. "It's out of control."

A deeper look at the past year's most brutal crimes — and the stories of those affected by the bloodshed — illustrates even better than eye-popping stats why educated Puerto Ricans are fleeing to Miami, New York, and Texas like never before. Nearly 5 million Puerto Ricans now live in the mainland U.S., compared with just 3.6 million on the island. As the commonwealth shrinks by 15,000 people a year, Florida's Puerto Rican population grows by 7,300 annually. Texas, a state with no prior history of immigration from the island, now welcomes nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans a year. They're driven by a lack of jobs, but also by the carnage.

"Last year there were 180 less murders than in 2011, but they were probably even more brutal and shocking," says Luis Romero, the founder of anti-violence group Basta Ya! Romero should know: His son was stabbed to death in 2011 while walking with his girlfriend. But recent murders have been so "ghastly," Romero says, Puerto Rico is suffering from island-wide posttraumatic stress disorder.

The string of shocking killings began two months before the SanSe festival, with the death of Hector Camacho, the boxer who had garnered worldwide fame by winning 79 fights (and losing just six) with a flamboyant style. Camacho and a friend were fatally shot as they sat in a car outside a bar in his hometown, Bayamón. Police found ten packets of cocaine in the car, one of them open. The boxer had been shot in the face.

Two weeks later, an even more bizarre case exploded on late-night television. On November 29, a well-known publicist named José Enrique Gómez Saladín went missing. Soon, footage emerged showing Gómez being forced to take out $500 from an ATM. Four days later, he was found burned and beaten to death with lead pipes.

The day that police announced they had arrested four suspects for kidnapping Gómez in a seedy neighborhood, a popular TV show called SuperXclusivo aired a segment about the killing. The show's main character, a puppet named La Comay (slang for godmother), stunned viewers by suggesting Gómez got what he deserved. "I ask myself if this killing was not involved in sex, drugs, homosexuality, and prostitution," La Comay said. "Did he get what he was looking for?"

A boycott forced the program off the air weeks later, but the damage had been done. The La Comay scandal seemed to expose a newfound heartlessness, as if boricuas had become numb to the violence.

Then came the SanSe murder. Sujeylee Ramos was there that night beneath the totem pole but left shortly before her brother was shot. Her teenage niece tried to revive Julio when cops failed to do anything.

"What really bothers me is that it happened right in front of the police," she says. "There was a mobile police station less than 50 feet away. They saw the argument and they never did anything... They didn't even chase the shooters."

The bloody tide continued to rise. On January 23, 24-year-old Steven Cruzado López was shot in the back on a basketball court in San Germán after another player took offense to a foul. Less than a week later, a man and his wife were killed hours after abandoning the island's witness protection program.

None of that compared to the carnage of February 1. Seven relatives were crossing the street near their housing project in San Juan when a stolen car careened into them. The collision killed six, including a grandmother, her granddaughter, and four great-grandchildren.

That crime illustrates another regular challenge for police: The driver, 21-year-old Jonathan Soto Bonilla — nicknamed "787" for the Puerto Rican area code tattooed on his neck and already a suspect in a drug-related double murder — fled the scene on foot before catching a flight hours later to New York City.

Soto is far from the first fugitive to flee to the mainland. In 2011, another 21-year-old drug dealer named Luis Valdez Meléndez fled to New York after shooting a rival nine times in the head and spraying a crowd with bullets. The reverse is also common. In the summer of 2009, nine people were killed in drug skirmishes in Buffalo, New York. When authorities cracked down on gangs, many members fled to Puerto Rico. Last year, a New Jersey marijuana trafficker named Felipe Cantres-Sanjurjo, wanted for two murders, was caught in Puerto Rico. And this January, officials in Camden, New Jersey, charged 36 members of a heroin ring linked to the Ñetas, a powerful gang operating inside Puerto Rico's prisons.

"These guys will go from Puerto Rico to New York because something happens in Puerto Rico and they have got to run," says a recently retired NYC gang investigator, who asked that his name not be used. "Other guys come here because of the drug trade or because they are no longer in good graces with their gang [on the island]... It's definitely a strong network."

Despite all the media attention and police response, few of Puerto Rico's recent grisly murders have been solved. In some, such as Camacho's killing, cops don't even have suspects. And even if they make arrests, witnesses are often too afraid to testify.

"Most of these cases are not resolved," Sujeylee Ramos says. "If you're a criminal, you'll do anything because you know you'll never be caught."


Wanda Figueroa left work just in time to see her two sons get shot.

It was a muggy afternoon in Manatí, a city of strip malls surrounded by jagged green hills to the west of San Juan. Figueroa had walked out of the Taco Maker, where she worked, and into the parking lot to meet her 22-year-old daughter and her youngest son, Saul, but she found him in a shouting match with a stranger holding a club.

She watched in horror as the man struck her 19-year-old over the head, sending him crashing to the pavement. Her older son, Adrian, stormed out of the restaurant and grabbed the man's weapon. Then the man pulled out a gun. He sprayed Adrian four times in the chest, shoulder, and foot and then turned, sinking two fatal shots into Saul's stomach. Finally, he pointed the gun at Figueroa and pulled the trigger. Click. It was out of ammunition.

It wasn't a robber or a drug dealer tearing apart Figueroa's family on April 27, though. The barrel she was staring down was government-issued. Her son's killer was a cop.

That double shooting is one of hundreds of cases of alleged brutality by the Puerto Rico Police Department, which was slammed in a 2011 DOJ report that cites "the staggering level of crime and corruption involving PRPD officers," including drug dealing, gun running, and murder. A 2012 ACLU probe, meanwhile, determined that PRPD is "a dysfunctional and recalcitrant police department that has run amok for years. Use of excessive or lethal force is routine, and civil and human rights violations are rampant."

Pesquera disputes those findings — "I don't care about all that special-agenda crap," he says — but to critics, Figueroa's story shows why many Puerto Ricans fear cops more than thugs.

"Police here are like an enormous octopus with its tentacles in everything," Figueroa says. "They do whatever they want."

A tiny woman with bleach-blond hair, Figueroa has worked at the Taco Maker for 23 years, rising to manager and raising her three kids by herself, bringing them to work to earn an honest living.

The day of the shooting, Figueroa and Adrian, then 20, had been working at the restaurant. Her daughter, Zuleyka Perez, and son Saul had been visiting his sick 5-month-old in the hospital. They arrived in separate cars, bearing the same good news: The infant was recovering from a bacterial infection.

The trouble began, everyone agrees, when Zuleyka parked her car in the Taco Maker lot and found Officer Alfredo Delgado Molina behind her on his motorcycle. "You ran the light," he told her. Saul quickly walked over, and Figueroa came outside.

That's when the facts get murky. Figueroa and her daughter say Delgado snapped at Figueroa: "If you're not a judge or a lawyer, you need to get the fuck back inside!" When Saul demanded that he stop yelling at his mother, the cop struck Saul and then — as Adrian ran out to help — pulled his gun and began shooting.

"We aren't bad people," Figueroa says with a sob, standing in the spot outside Taco Maker where she watched Saul die. "We all work in the same place, stay out of trouble. I raised all three kids by myself as best as I could. They aren't criminals. And then they take them away like this? It's difficult."

The police disputed that story. Delgado, who couldn't be reached for comment, said in a statement that the brothers had hit the officer in the face and knocked out a tooth. ("It was either his life or theirs," his supervisor added.) Cops also claimed to have found a metal pipe at the scene used to beat Delgado.

Pesquera adamantly defends his officer, who was cleared by the force's Special Investigations Department. "These two guys came out and hit the officer," the chief says. "He defended himself."

In fact, Pesquera says he wants his cops to act just like Delgado. "If you challenge a police officer and you bring a weapon, expect to be shot at."

Figueroa's struggle didn't end with Saul's death or Adrian's long recovery, though. Incredibly, both mother and son were slapped with five criminal counts ranging from assault to obstruction of justice. Under a law passed by Fortuño, they both face 99 years in jail because the alleged crimes resulted in a death — namely, Saul's.

"They are blaming us for my own son's death," Figueroa says in disbelief, raising her pant leg to reveal an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Whomever's story you believe, there's no question that cases such as the Figueroas' exacerbate Pesquera's challenge. Consider the DOJ's 2011 findings, including that trigger-happy cops often unload rounds without reason, "unnecessarily injur[ing] hundreds of people and kill[ing] numerous others," usually in poor areas.

If that accusation isn't bad enough, many Puerto Rican cops are straight-up criminals. Between 2005 and 2010, more than 1,700 PRPD officers were arrested on charges ranging from theft and assault to drug trafficking and murder. The FBI arrested 61 islander cops in one swoop in 2010, accusing them of protecting drug traffickers. Officers killed 21 people in 2010 and 2011, including the recent fatal shooting of an unarmed 14-year-old. "The PRPD is using excessive force as a substitute for community policing," the ACLU report concluded.

Pesquera counters that he's already fired more cops in ten months than his predecessors did in four years. When he discovered there were 4,000 pending internal investigations, plus another 7,000 awaiting adjudication from the legal department, he made them a priority. "We are down to 700 that still need to be investigated," he says.

But Pesquera's own record isn't spotless. In 2003, New Times reported on a DOJ investigation into his close friendship with convicted Cuban felon Camilo Padreda, a pre-Castro policeman who specialized in bribing city officials. Pesquera let him hang around the FBI offices so much that employees eventually reported their concerns to outside agencies. One cop recounted seeing Pesquera accept a gold watch from the crook.

Pesquera brushes aside the decade-old accusation. "There is nothing to it," he says. "Literally nothing. It's BS." And when it comes to reforming Puerto Rico's shambolic police force, he is equally blunt. Some degree of corruption is inevitable in a place where drug money is rampant and cops' salaries are minuscule (the median was $31,000 a year in 2011). But he denies that brutality and crime are deeply rooted.

"Like any institution, there are going to be guys who beat people," he says with a shrug. "It's not the institution's fault unless you don't do anything about it."

Wanda Figueroa isn't convinced. "This cop didn't kill some street thug. He didn't kill a drug dealer. He killed a good, honest, hardworking person."


Four hundred feet from the spot where Ramos died over a spilled drink, a steep cliff drops precipitously into the sea. Wedged between the cliff and the Caribbean lies La Perla, a slum infamous as a redoubt for drug traffickers and a tourist mecca for marijuana, cocaine, and heroin.

"They have sophisticated radio equipment so they can listen in on us and signal blockers keeping us from spying on them," says Juan Nieves, a veteran cop with salt-and-pepper hair, as he peers down into the dark, densely built barrio from his cruiser on the higher ground of Old San Juan.

La Perla — where police are powerless and the drug trade paramount — is a microcosm of Puerto Rico, which is sure to see ever more drugs and violence as the States and Mexico clamp down harder on their shared border. And though 80 percent of the island's murders are drug-related, Pesquera's requests for federal aid have fallen on deaf ears. In fact, the sequestration cuts hitting the Coast Guard and Customs mean he's likely to receive less help than ever this year.

"We are not going to arrest our way out of our murder problem," Pesquera says. "We need help fighting the flow of drugs. That's what's killing us."

To see the challenge firsthand, the police chief arranges for New Times to spend a night in a squad car patrolling the most dangerous parts of the city. Sitting in an unmarked Chevy Caprice in the shadows overlooking La Perla, Nieves and his partner, Osvaldo Merced, point out a drug deal under way.

"Check out these two guys. They are looking to score," says Merced, a young cop with a buzzcut and superhero-size shoulders. Two teenagers in black rock 'n' roll T-shirts approach a stone staircase plunging toward the ocean. An old man perched next to the stairs says something lost in the surf. "That's the lookout," Merced says.

The teens disappear down the staircase and then emerge a few minutes later. The one in a Rolling Stones shirt drops something into the old man's hand. The two then head toward one of San Juan's most popular nightclubs.

Tonight, Merced and Nieves aren't making arrests, just showing a journalist how the city works. But in 2011, Puerto Rican police did conduct a rare raid of La Perla, arresting nearly 70 members of a drug ring, including its leader, Jorge "Truck Face" Gómez-González.

"You can tell where the bichotes (big shots) live because they have the fanciest homes," says Merced, pointing to several three-story houses. "They have three, four Mercedes and girlfriends with bodies sculpted by the best plastic surgeons in the world."

"They are better than us," adds Nieves, who is two days from completing 25 years on the force. "We arrested Truck Face, but someone else just took his place."

There are growing signs that the whole War on Drugs is the same kind of zero-sum game — not only in La Perla but also in all of Puerto Rico and around the Caribbean.

"The Caribbean drug trade is both an old and new story," says Bagley, the organized crime expert. "Old routes have come back into play. But we haven't seen this level of criminality and corruption in Puerto Rico before. The island is really suffering."

For now, Pesquera is pleading for help, including at a recent meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who pledged support. "I don't think she was blowing smoke up my ass," he says. Yet when the Coast Guard unveiled a fleet of 12 new cutters, they went to Miami and Key West — where drugs rarely arrive via the ocean these days — instead of Puerto Rico.

Truth is, there's little willpower in D.C. to spend heavily on an island of 3.6 million people whose ballots don't count. Perhaps that's why Puerto Ricans are debating louder than ever their identity as a U.S. commonwealth. When boricuas went to the polls last November, 54 percent rejected the status quo. But the vote was split between those who favored independence, statehood, or remaining a commonwealth. Fortuño — the governor who appointed Pesquera — was dumped out of office.

The chaos and uncertainty go far beyond the ballot box. The son of a former police chief was recently arrested for using his late father's estate as a drug stash. Pesquera, meanwhile, isn't sure whether he will remain police chief beyond the end of March, when he is scheduled to return to Miami. His department remains in flux: 17,000 cops with frayed uniforms, aging equipment, no computers, and — if the fatal shooting of Saul Medina Figueroa is any indication — more than a few bad apples.

Like the island nation, the families touched by its dizzying array of violence face an uncertain future in which justice is by no means guaranteed. "Death, jail, drugs, killings. That's what the streets are now," Hector Camacho Jr. said after his father's fatal shooting.

Figueroa recently received two years' probation as punishment for witnessing a cop kill her son. Her other son, Adrian — who still has a bullet buried in his collarbone — accepted a deal of three years in prison to avoid a life behind bars.

On February 27, David Bonilla Fernández, wearing a white polo, spiky hair, and an expression free of emotion, walked into San Juan's central courthouse. Cops were waiting for him. Five days earlier, they had distributed photos of Bonilla and three others surrounding Ramos moments before his murder at the SanSe festival. Prosecutors had charged Bonilla in absentia, and the scrawny 24-year-old had arrived to turn himself in.

But there was no relief for Ramos's family. Bonilla hasn't confessed, and the video evidence against him is thin. Unless terrified witnesses can be persuaded to testify, a jury will likely let him off.

In fact, Bonilla could be strolling around free even earlier. Last November 4, Puerto Rican voters rejected an amendment that would have revoked the automatic right of accused criminals to bond out. So if Bonilla can come up with $120,000, he will walk.

If that happens, Sujeylee Ramos — like so many before her — will probably leave Puerto Rico to join her family in the States.

"To tell you the truth, I am worried to be here in Puerto Rico," she says. "If somebody can do something like that to my brother, surrounded by so many people, they can do anything."

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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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