The governor of Puerto Rico frames the demolition of the statue of Ponce de León as “freedom of expression”

The King, with the flags of Spain, Puerto Rico and the United States, upon his arrival at the San Juan International Airport.RICARDO ARDUENGO (REUTERS)

The governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierlusi, has framed this Monday in “freedom of expression” the demolition of the statue of Juan Ponce de León, the conqueror and first governor of the Caribbean island under the Spanish Crown. The attack on the monument occurred a few hours before the arrival of Felipe VI to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the founding of San Juan, the capital and main city of Puerto Rico, and was claimed by the self-styled Libertarian Forces of Borikén, a name with which The Taíno Indians called the island before the Spanish colonization, in protest against the visit of the King of Spain.

The governor and the mayor of San Juan, Miguel Romero, went to the Luis Muñoz Marín international airport to receive the monarch. The mayor, who was the one who invited Felipe VI last November to visit his city, was less sympathetic to the attack on the monument and assured that “freedom of expression is protected; what is not protected is vandalism”.

The municipal services have proceeded to an urgent and provisional repair of the sculpture so that it is back on its pedestal when the king passes through the Plaza de San José, in the historic center of San Juan, on Tuesday. In the United States, a wave of iconoclastic fury was unleashed after the death of the African-American George Floyd, in May 2020, which swept away numerous statues of Confederate soldiers, fathers of the Nation who were slavers and even missionaries such as Friar Junípero Serra or discoverers such as Cristóbal Colón, but until now it had not reached Puerto Rico. It so happens that the monument to the also discoverer of Florida was made with the bronze of the cannons captured from the English who attacked the island in 1797.

Both Perlusi and Romero belong to the New Progressive Party, which advocates the incorporation of Puerto Rico into the United States as the 51st State of the Union, abandoning its current status as a Free Associated State. This was the winning option in the 2017 and 2020 referendums, although it is not binding and depends on the United States Congress agreeing to process accession. The independence option is, on the contrary, marginal and in the 2017 consultation it only obtained 1.5% of the votes. Perlusi stressed, after receiving the King, that in the process of incorporating Puerto Rico into the United States “the Hispanic cultural heritage and the Spanish language are not negotiable.”

The King’s trip to Puerto Rico coincided with the announcement of the “interruption of the marriage relationship” between Cristina de Borbón and Iñaki Urdangarin. The Royal House has not made any comment on the matter. Despite the relationship, the sister of Felipe VI no longer belongs to the institution of the Royal Family, although she does belong to the King’s family, and the Monarch withdrew the title of the Duchy of Palma in 2015.

This is the second visit of Felipe VI to this Free Associated State of the United States since he assumed the head of state in 2014, since in 2016 he presided over the inauguration of the VII Congress of the Spanish Language with Queen Letizia. This time the King is accompanied by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Reyes Maroto, and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Global Affairs, Ángeles Moreno.

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The Washington Government has been represented by the Secretary of the Navy, Carlos del Toro, who has come to San Juan to welcome the King on behalf of President Joe Biden. Del Toro, born in Cuba, is one of the most prominent representatives of the Hispanic community in the Democratic Administration. Spain is especially careful with US sovereignty over Puerto Rico: the ambassador to Washington, Santiago Cabanas, and, as has been mentioned, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (on whom the United States depends and not the Secretary of State) attended the visit. Latin America).

The King’s visit has a clear cultural and economic aspect. After presiding over a reception for representatives of the Spanish community on Monday night, with some 8,000 members, Felipe VI will inaugurate a business forum on Tuesday with the presence of Spanish businessmen (including the president of the CEOE, Antonio Garamendi) and Costa Ricans. The restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debt, of some 70,000 million dollars, recently approved, opens the opportunity for the Puerto Rican Administration to return to the markets to finance itself and opens up new business expectations. In addition, the King will visit two exhibitions on the legacy of Pau Casals and Juan Ramón Jiménez, two of the greatest figures in Spanish cultural exile. Both the cellist and author of the United Nations anthem and the Nobel Prize for Literature died in San Juan.

On Wednesday, after concluding his visit to Puerto Rico, Felipe VI will travel to Honduras to attend the inauguration of the new president, Xiomara Castro, the first woman to assume the presidency of the country. In Tegucigalpa, the King will be accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, and will coincide, among other leaders, with the Vice President of the United States, Kamala Harris.

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The governor of Puerto Rico frames the demolition of the statue of Ponce de León as “freedom of expression”