Puerto Rico ACLU: Woman who confronted Rosselló committed ‘no crime’
SAN JUAN – After analyzing the expressions allegedly shared on social media by the woman who intercepted Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in Ponce, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Puerto Rico, William Ramírez, told Caribbean Business “there was no crime” and her declarations are protected under the right of free speech in the Constitution.
The young woman, identified as Hernaliz Vázquez, supposedly wrote Feb. 12 on her Facebook account that “if [someone] is going to give me something for Valentine’s Day, let it be
Molotov bombs to throw at Ricky [Rosselló] and his business class.” Subsequently, on Feb. 17, she corralled the governor in a public event in Ponce and railed about about the payment of the public debt and the approval of labor reform.
New Progressive Party (NPP) Sen. Nelson Cruz requested during a Senate session last Wednesday for authorities to investigate Vázquez for threatening Puerto Rico’s governor, which he believes should be penalized.
“This isn’t a threat, it’s general commentary. A threat is ‘I will attack you, I will do something in particular to you.’ This is a reaction in anger, discontent, and although it sounds violent, it isn’t aimed at threatening or attacking anybody. It is an expression that might not be the most appropriate, but it isn’t a crime either. It is an expression protected [under freedom of speech],” Ramírez told Caribbean Business.
The civil rights lawyer explained that intercepting the governor or any other official “isn’t a crime or a threat either… I don’t see how they can accuse the young lady of any crime.”
According to the ACLU representative on the island, if a legislator is bothered by people expressing themselves in ways that aren’t agreeable to them, “they can’t be legislators, because they don’t have the necessary tools to listen and work for the people.”
“As soon as they begin regulating these types of things and expressions, then the phalanges have truly taken over the country. One can’t allow people who have a repressive view of expression to transform these anti-expression attitudes into punishable laws,” he added.
Ramírez commented that several years ago, the ACLU presented a complaint against the government because it approved a statute that criminalized intervening face-to-face with an official with the intention of to reproach them. The statute was eliminated with the change in administration, and therefore the ACLU removed the complaint.
He added that in the case of Snyder v. Phelps, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that expressions made in a public space on a public matter couldn’t be considered an offense for emotional distress, even when those declarations could be considered “outrageous.”
A Police spokesperson couldn’t deny or confirm to Caribbean Business if there was an investigation against Vázquez, but explained that the agency has jurisdiction over threats posted on social media concerning public officials. Likewise, an FBI spokesperson also stated that they couldn’t confirm or deny an investigation, but declared that if the comments concern public officials, the Police has jurisdiction.