Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO Physical and verbal aggression, as well as criticism, continued to plague Puerto Rican journalists. Legal action was taken to repeal criminal defamation provisions in statutory law. Several cases are being heard in state and federal courts in Puerto Rico. The three fronts in the developments are:  Disruption of Puerto Rican press coverage of the U.S. Navy’s conflict with civilians who demand a halt in the use of Vieques island for naval maneuvers.  Governor Pedro Roselló and his Cabinet members’ constant accusations that the press fabricates and politicizes news.  Physical and verbal violence spreading to political and religious circles and show business. On August 17, eight of nine journalists arrested and charged with trespassing on a Navy-controlled zone on Vieques pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in San Juan. A trial date has not been set, although a ban on their returning to Vieques was lifted. The accused said they would base their defense on the constitutional right of freedom of the press and of expression. The journalists entered the Navy-controlled zone on June 1, 17 and 23. In another case related to the Vieques protests, a federal judge stated that military bases are not forums for public expression. The arrested journalists were Wanda Liz Vega and Camille Roldán of El Nuevo Día; Carlos Webber and Santiago Santos of TeleOnce; José Jiménez of Primera Hora; Humberto Trías of The San Juan Star; Walter Soto León and Edmundo Cid of Canal 4/Televicentro; Aidsé Maldonado, correspondent of the weekly El Horizonte, and Mari Mari Navárez of the weekly Claridad. On August 9, Radamés Torres, a reporter for the Cadena Radio Puerto Rico was punched in the stomach and shoulder by a supporter of Villalba Mayor Bernardo Negrón Montalvo, who faces charges of extortion. It appears that the mayor was upset with press reports on his situation, in which he faces charges in connection with his position on the board of directors of the municipal tax revenue center. At the scene, supporters of the mayor hurled insults at the press. On May 4, TeleOnce cameraman César Figueroa was run over by a security vehicle escorting Governor Roselló as the newsman covered a protest against the governor held at a school. Knocked to the ground, the newsman lay unconscious with bruises to his body. Figueroa sued the driver of the escort car for negligence in the use of a motor vehicle. A court did not find grounds to prosecute the police officer. The governor’s tension with the media resurfaced in a September 29 news conference in which journalists began to question him about an El Nuevo Día story on the failure of education reform and the alleged mistreatment of students by teachers at a public school. Roselló abruptly left the news conference, but not before accusing the paper of criticizing his government and answering questions on separate topics. On October 26, 1999, El Nuevo Día sought a court-ordered mandamus, or an extraordinary writ, compelling the National Development Bank (BGF) to grant reporter Magdalys Rodríguez access to documents concerning the appraisal and bids for public hospitals and diagnostic and treatment centers sold by the state under its health reform program. The court ruled in favor of El Nuevo Día on September 27. After the BGF failed to have a higher court hear an appeal, the bank began to grant the journalist access to the documents.