Photo: U.S. National Guard (Desiree N. Palacios)
U.S. federal authorities have expressed support for newly inaugurated Puerto Rican Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla’s decision to deploy National Guard troops to help fight crime and drug trafficking on the island.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said in a press conference Saturday that federal authorities are prepared to engage in dialogue and prepare a plan to reduce homicides and drug-dealing on the island.
Garcia Padilla, inaugurated Wednesday, said in issuing the executive order the following day that the National Guard will help police monitor seaports and airports with the aim of preventing drugs and illegal weapons from entering the U.S. commonwealth.
The Puerto Rico National Guard was last activated to assist the Puerto Rico Police force in February 2010.
Rodriguez said she met with Luis Sanchez Betances, who has been appointed as Puerto Rico’s justice secretary, to discuss joint efforts to ensure better wellbeing for people on the Caribbean island.
Puerto Rico, which has experienced a spike in violent crime in recent years, suffered 1,122 homicides in 2011 and a slightly lower number last year.
Garcia Padilla speaks of an epidemic of violence, while U.N. researchers found the island has an annual murder rate of 30 homicides per every 100,000 residents.
Authorities blame some of the mayhem on drug traffickers’ increasing use of Puerto Rico as a transit point for shipments to the continental United States.
A portion of those drugs remains in Puerto Rico, where local gangs fight over points of sale for narcotics.