There are certain countries where speaking out against the rulers is punishable by jail, fine, or even death. As a world traveler, I don’t comment on these governments. I’m not from that country and I’m not trying to end up, like I once wrote for TPG, Locked Up Abroad. Despite the occasional ignoramus who confuses Puerto Rico with Costa Rica, most know that this commonwealth is part of the United States. Accordingly, Puerto Rican citizens are protected by the U.S. Constitution.
Unlike the federal government, the Puerto Rican government swiftly took proactive steps to limit the spread of coronavirus. We were one of the first in the country to implement a stay-at-home order and one of the first to have a curfew. Now, the balancing act between protecting public health and infringing on individual liberties is becoming increasingly blurry (see Social Distance Yourself from Misinformation). The stay-at-home order is now in effect for all 24 hours of the day. We are only allowed to leave the house every other day based on our license plate number for essential activities like going to the pharmacy or grocery store. This begs the question, how do people who rely on public transportation adhere to this law?
As a paranoid recluse, I have only left the gated community of Rio Mar once in the last six weeks so that measure does not affect me (see What’s a Travel Blog Without Travel?). What is alarming is that residents are being threatened with arrest and fines if they leave their house to exercise even if they are socially distancing themselves. Por ejemplo, I was on Rio Mar’s isolated beach last Sunday. The closest person besides a family with their dogs walking was a helicopter flying overhead. Out of nowhere, a police officer came, flashing his handcuffs, and threatening to arrest me if I didn’t go home immediately. To be clear, this wasn’t an “If TPOL gets Corona, I get Corona situation” with young college co-eds going wild. The Wyndham Resort is closed through April. There are no guests. The entire compound is deserted. The only threat of Covid-19 was from the police officer who was standing too close to me. I went home and checked the stay at home order. Obviously, I need to take more Spanish lessons (see TPOL The Polyglot: How To Learn Multiple Languages) because Google translated that the beaches are indeed off limits.
Fair enough, but that does not explain what happened next. I received a notification from the community manager that leaving the house even for exercise might be illegal. I messaged fellow residents who scoffed at the idea that taking a walk would incur the wrath of the police. I went for a run that night. However, like the time I snuck into Pleasure Island in Disney with a fake ID and being interrogated and subsequently released by Orange County Police, I could not enjoy myself. Too nervous at the thought of going to a Puerto Rican jail, I went home. The next morning I heard that one of my neighbors was stopped by the police while riding his bicycle within the compound. Like my beach experience, he was also threatened with arrest.
I can understand shutting down the beach but there is no state in the country where exercise, so long as social distancing is followed, has been outlawed. Then I read this article from the Miami Herald titled, “Critics blast Puerto Rico ‘dictatorial decree’ as coronavirus claims youngest victim,” and now I’m actually concerned about what happens next. Read the following:
On Monday, Gov. Wanda Vázquez assumed even more sweeping powers, signing an amendment to the Public Security law that makes breaking the curfew — or future curfews — punishable with six months in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. In addition, it makes it illegal for media outlets or social media accounts “to transmit or allow the transmission” of “false information with the intention of creating confusion, panic, or public hysteria, with regards to any proclamation or executive order declaring an emergency, disaster or curfew.” If the false information causes more than $10,000 in damage to public-sector finances or leads to injury or damage of physical property, it will be considered a fourth-degree criminal offense, the governor’s office said.
Luís Davila-Colón, a prominent radio host and author, accused the governor of drifting into authoritarianism. He said, “You cannot govern through dictatorial decrees, scolding, secrets, muzzling, blockades or threatening to imprison your subjects,” he wrote on Twitter.
Consider TPOL muzzled.