Puerto Rico

There have been no major challenges to freedom of the press in recent months, other than some conflicts that are continuing in the courts. Among other incidents, on March 27 popular television puppeteer Antonio “Kobbo” Santarrosa was ordered to pay $270,000, plus accumulated interest, to businessman Adolfo Krans, who won a libel suit nearly two years ago. Santarrosa took the case to the Appeals Court and then to the Supreme Court, on two occasions, without success. Krans accused Santarrosa of having defamed him in his popular TV show by saying that he was unfaithful to his then wife and Puerto Rico’s governor, Sila María Calderón. On June 14 the Puerto Rico Federal Court presiding judge, José Fusté, threw out a libel suit filed by television producer Carlos “Topy” Mamery against singer Noelia, who is his stepdaughter, and her manager and husband, Jorge Reynoso. Judge Fusté ruled that the plaintiff was unable to present evidence to prove malice aforethought. Mamery alleged in his lawsuit that Noelia and Reynoso had declared “knowing it to be untrue” that he had sexually abused the singer. On June 18 the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that preliminary hearings in which an undercover police officer makes a statement can be closed to the public and the press. Chief Justice Federico Hernández Denton declared that exclusion of the public and the press is not automatic, but rather that a discussion on such a need has to take place first. On August 30 The San Juan Star ceased operations, although its owner, Gerardo Angulo, expressed the hope that publication could be resumed in the near future. He said that closure of the newspaper, founded in 1959, was due to financial problems and the refusal of the Journalists and Graphic Artists and Allied Union (UPAGRA) to let its members continue working there for no back-payment of salary and benefits. On September 17 the trial of freelance news photographer Humberto Trías for assaulting a police officer began in the San Juan High Court. The incident occurred in 2006 as Trías was covering an event at the Capitol. The officer, Rivera, is in charge of the police barracks there. Trías’ defense counsel alleges that it was Rivera who assaulted him, grabbing him by the neck. In another development, the United States Supreme Court ruled not to review a petition by the Puerto Rico Department of Justice seeking access to FBI and Federal Department of Justice evidence in the cases of the death in 2005 of farm worker leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and attacks on journalists. Puerto Rico’s Justice Secretary Roberto Sánchez Ramos said that both cases would be closed. The Supreme Court’s decision was announced on April 1, 2008. Regarding the follow-up of the legal action concerning attacks on four journalists by the FBI, the presiding judge of the Federal Court in San Juan, José Fusté, allowed the FBI to file a new motion of summary proceedings to reject the charges made against it and again submit its claim to qualified immunity. The hearing, held on September 17, 2008, was at the request of the six journalists seeking to initiate a process of presentation of evidence, ordered by the Boston Circuit Appeals Court on June 19, 2008. In its ruling the Boston court did not uphold the plaintiffs’ assertion that the aggression they suffered was an infringement of freedom of the press. The court did, however, determine that the agents had used excessive force in preventing the reporters from covering a raid on an apartment block in Río Piedras.