TOA BAJA

TOA BAJA

The general unwelcome experienced by undocumented Dominican migrants in Puerto Rico was illustrated in the extreme at a squatter settlement known as Villas del Sol. This community, in Toa Baja near San Juan, was first founded in the mid-1990s. After a hurricane in 1998 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) encouraged the Puerto Rican government to relocate the residents to a low-income housing project. About sixteen families remained in Villas del Sol, however, because their requests for relocation were denied.

Later, around 2002, impoverished others began settling in Villas del Sol. At that time the land was being used as a garbage dump, but with the knowledge and acquiescence of municipal authorities the residents removed trash and debris, hired tractors to level the land, and constructed homes. The authorities also provided municipal water and electricity services. Eventually over two hundred families settled in Villas del Sol. These were comprised mostly of Dominican women and children but also included Puerto Rican and Haitian families, among others.

In 2007, under the legal authority of the community’s occupation of a FEMA-designated floodplain, the Puerto Rican housing authority ordered the removal of all residents. The order was resisted. Later that year bulldozers arrived without warning and destroyed thirty homes. The authorities’ aggressive measures induced panic and confusion among residents but also solidarity in confrontation of the adversity. The residents persevered in their occupation of Villas del Sol and the bulldozers returned two years later, in 2009, causing similar reactions. On August 3, 2009, police in riot gear stormed the community and residents locked arms in an attempt to block the incursion. The police responded with force—including pepper spray, tasers, and beatings with batons—and subsequently barricaded Villas del Sol and placed it under twenty-four-hour surveillance. Water and electrical services to the community were interrupted.

On April 21, 2010, after many months of litigation (including interventions by the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International), the resident of Villas del Sol consented to an eviction order. This decision was pressured by the denied access to water and electricity but also facilitated by the donation of land nearby for relocation of the community, which occurred in 2011. Municipal authorities agreed to provide water, power, and sewer services at the new location.[1]


[1] See “To the Honorable Members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Organization of American States: Request by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union of Puerto Rico, and the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law for Precautionary Measures Under Article 25(2) of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure Against the United States of America on Behalf of Celina Adon Reyes, et al.,” no date [April, 2010], particularly 3, 6-7, and 9-11. See also American Civil Liberties Union press release, “Rights Groups Ask Inter-American Commission to Intervene in Puerto Rican Human Rights Disaster” (April 28, 2010); and Amnesty International, Public Statement, “USA: Amnesty International Calls for Eviction Notice for Resident of Villas de Sol [sic], Puerto Rico, To Be Extended into 2011” (December 15, 2010).