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Puerto Rico House Speaker: Public access to Capitol limited for ‘security reasons”

By on April 18, 2017

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico House Speaker Carlos “Johnny” Méndez limited public access to the Capitol on Tuesday, arguing it wasn’t safe for legislators or public employees due to the protests taking outside.

Two demonstrations occurred simultaneously in the Capitol’s north and south wings, but the former saw a clash between protesters and the police. People demonstrated in favor of keeping the Puerto Rico Commission for the Comprehensive Audit of the Public Credit when the House was considering approving a bill authored by its speaker to eliminate it.

(Cindy Burgos/CB)

(Cindy Burgos/CB)

The House speaker declared the privilege to enter the chamber dismissed. It was requested by Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Rep. Manuel Natal, who argued that entry to the viewing gallery was a right, not a privilege. Puerto Rico’s Constitution establishes that legislative sessions must be publicly held.

Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Rep. Denis Márquez and the rest of the PDP delegation echoed Natal, who insisted that there weren’t reasons to limit access to the public and members of the press. In the case of journalists, they were allowed to enter whenever a House press spokesperson authorized it, which is the first time during this administration that this type of process is required in the Capitol.

However, Méndez declared at the beginning of the House session that he would like to allow public access, “but the events that took place [Monday] afternoon and eveningHowever, Mendez stated at the start of the Chamber session that he wanted to have the stands open to the public, “but the events that occurred in the afternoon and evening of yesterday do not guarantee that security” to the employees who work in the Legislature.

On Monday evening a group of protesters spent four hours in the south wing requesting access to the Capitol, during which a demonstrator was arrested, but freed hours later for lacking probable cause. Three Capitol doors were damaged.

Puerto Rico Senate approves bill to eliminate debt audit commission

“The expressions that are being made by the people who are there [in the demonstration on the north side] do not provide any kind of security either … We cannot accept that conditions are imposed on us. Now they are assaulting the police. There is a riot at the moment on the north side … Nothing guarantees that [giving] access to these people, who are interested in something other than participating in this discussion…be given access,” the speaker said.

Outside the capitol, members of the Citizen Front for the Audit of the Debt were told they couldn’t enter because the viewing gallery was full, as well as for “security reasons.” However, inside the chamber, there were only about a dozen people watching the session.

While the demonstration took place, the House began to debate H.B. 785, authored by Méndez, to eliminate the Puerto Rico Commission for the Comprehensive Audit of the Public Credit. A similar bill was presented and approved Monday in the Senate’s session.

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