Image Courtesy of José L. Fuentes Activist Giovanni Roberto Cáez was arrested yesterday morning during a caravan protest. He is known for his work feeding the hungry with the organization Comedores Sociales.
Image Courtesy of José L. Fuentes

The activist arrest and release amidst increasing discontent with the government response to the COVID-19 crisis is raising flags.

Moments of tension were lived on the eve of May Day, after the arrest of activist Giovanni Roberto Cáez, on Thursday morning, and his subsequent release after Gov. Vazquez announced the easing of the restrictions regardless the warnings on the possible spike in cases.

Here we breakdown the timeline of events.

Thursday Morning: The Caravan and the Arrest

Police clashed with demonstrators in the Bank district of San Juan, during a march demanding better response from the government during the COVID-19 national emergency.

The non-profit organization Comedores Sociales organized a caravan protest called “Caravana por la vida” where they demanded that the reopening of public school cafeterias, a more efficient way to distribute unemployment benefits and a ramping up of the COVID-19 testing efforts.

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Approximately 100 cars participated in the protest, that began near the Labor Department headquarters in Hato Rey and arrived at La Milla de Oro, the Bank district, where police intervened.

The clash was captured on video and published via social media. The police said that protesting was not allowed under the lockdown executive order, which was instated on March 12 and will be in effect until May 3rd.

Thursday Afternoon: Social Organization and Lawyers Point Out to the “Selective Nature” of the Arrest

Lawyers and social organizations claimed the arrest was illegal.

“On the video there’s no evident felony. Their justification (for the police intervention) was that they were obstructing justice. But they were not. Police officers asked the people in charge of the march’s p.a. sound system to leave, threatening to arrest them, in violation of their constitutional rights. Giovanni Roberto just objected to that,” said lawyer Manuel Rodríguez Banch.

Rodriguez Banch also made a reference to the United State’s Attorney General Memorandum about civil rights and freedom of speech that said:

 “Now, I am directing each of our United States Attorneys to also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens.”

Rodriguez Banch also highlighted that after being detained Giovanni Roberto was transported to a Police Station instead of a tribunal, like proceeds. He considers this as a ‘selective’ arrest to intimidate people and stop them from going to May Day protest or express their claims publicly.

“It’s a selective arrest to the extent that there were more than 100 cars there, according to the police’s version, and the only person arrested was Giovanni Roberto, who is known for the Comedores Sociales project. He has been a firm voice denouncing the need to provide food for people.”

Some activist groups called for a protest yesterday afternoon in front of the Manuel A. Perez Police Station, where Giovanni Roberto was being held. But later Giovanni Roberto was transferred to another police station, Hato Rey Oeste. He was captured singing “all I want is food for the poor.”

Thursday evening: The Release and the News Conference

Last night, Telenoticias reported that Judge Raiza Cajigas determined no cause for arrest in the two charges: violation of the executive order and obstruction of justice.

He was released right after a public announcement from Gov. Wanda Vázquez, where she announced she will relax some restrictions and reopen finance, real estate, and professional services like lawyers and accountants, despite the warning of the Secretary of Health regarding a spike of the positive COVID-19 cases nest week.

Friday: May Day

In the past two years the International Workers Day celebrated on May 1st, had ended in riots over clashes between protesters and the police.

Today, Police closed some of the main avenues in San Juan to “preserve and maintain a safe environment, both for protesters and for all citizens who transit or visit the municipality,” according to their news release.

People still went out today to continue with Giovanni Roberto’s demands and asked for an economic incentive for first responders.

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