Puerto Rico’s governor declares state of emergency over gender-based murders


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (NewsNation Now) — Amid a rise in murders and assaults against women, Puerto Rico’s governor has declared a state of emergency for gender violence in the U.S. territory.

The femicide rate on the island is double that of the rest of the U.S., and how many of the victims, some transgender, have been gruesomely killed.

“My daughter and my grandson were killed! Abusers! They will pay for this, and all those who are involved, abusers,” said Kelia Ortiz, the mother of Keishla Rodríguez who was allegedly murdered by her lover, Puerto Rican boxer Félix Verdejo.

In this case, a grand jury indicted Verdejo in the brutal killing of the 27-year-old, who was pregnant with his son, on May 6.

An FBI complaint, based on testimony from an unidentified witness, accused Verdejo of punching Rodríguez in the face, injecting her with a syringe filled with an unidentified substance bought at a public housing complex, binding her arms and feet with wire, tying a block to her and then throwing her off a bridge at 8:30 a.m. on April 21. Authorities said Verdejo then stood on the bridge and shot at her body that authorities found in a lagoon near Puerto Rico’s capital on May 2.

At least 21 femicides have occurred in Puerto Rico so far this year; at least 60 were reported last year —that’s about one woman killed a week. The femicide rate in Puerto Rico is roughly double the per-capita rate in the rest of the U.S.

“It has been like a cloud that has been over for two or three weeks and there are still cases coming up,” said Nereida Valentin, an activist and the program director at Paz Para La Mujer. “Just this morning we saw another woman that has disappeared.”

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Amid growing accusations that Puerto Rico’s government hasn’t done enough to protect women and victims of domestic violence, the island’s justice secretary announced last week that prosecutors will now be required to appear in court for probable cause hearings where a judge rules whether an alleged abuser should be arrested.

Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Public Safety Alexis Torres was recently appointed under a new governor.

“I think there has been a lot of things different in Puerto Rico for decades; one of the things I see that we have to improve is education,” said Sec. Torres, on why he thinks there has been a rise in femicides on the island.

As part of the state of emergency, Torres says they’ve formed a committee to look at what’s causing the domestic violence incidents. They’ll put more emphasis on educating young children about gender equality. Right now, Torres says many men view Puerto Rico as a male-dominated society.

“I think we do, we have that problem for decades.

“The conception that we have of women in our society…the fact that a person can’t even deal with the fact that a woman doesn’t want to be with you, and you think it’s your right to just end her life — it’s something we definitely need to approach and take care of directly,” Valentin said.

Torres says the femicides are increasing, in part, because of the couples spending more time together at home amid the coronavirus pandemic.

This story is developing. Refresh for updates.

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