Violence Against Women Emergency In Puerto Rico

According to a 2019 report led by non-profit advocacy groups Proyecto Matria and Kilometro Cero, one woman is killed in Puerto Rico each week. And now, days after the death of nurse Angie Noemi Gonzalez – and the subsequent confession of her partner – the territory has declared a state of emergency. Activists have long been pushing for protective measures to be introduced and there has finally been a breakthrough. The declaration comes with a set of new proposals: there will be a new committee dedicated to tackling the issue; a new programme for women who have filed restraining orders against their abusers, allowing them to give regular updates; along with a mobile app for victims to report attacks and request help. There is also meant to be support for gay and transgender people.

In a statement, Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi called the problem “an evil that has caused too much damage for too long.”  He added that “victims have suffered the consequences of systematic machismo, inequity, discrimination, lack of education, lack of guidance and above all lack of action.” Lisdel Flores, director of Hogar Ruth, a shelter for women victims of violence, was relieved: “Today is a great day for women, girls and all the people who have believed in the declaration of a state of emergency for gender violence, which we had been requesting for three years.”

It is sad, however, that it took the highly publicised death of 29-year-old nurse Angie Noemi Gonzalez for this declaration to arrive. When her killer, Roberto Félix Rodríguez Díaz, was being escorted to prison, he didn’t have much to say: “Whether I speak or not, I’m still going to be the bad guy. The only thing I want is for my daughters to be well.” He received a hug from an emotional father before being taken away. He is due to be on trial for murder; with three counts for destruction of evidence.

Angie’s limp body was discovered on the PR-555 highway, in the municipality of Caomo, after being hurled off the top of a cliff. Her auntie, Sixta Gonzalez, tried to be optimistic about what had happened, in light of the declaration: “Maybe everything happens for a reason, maybe now women who feel threatened will be readier to look for help, and not wait until the final moment like Angie did. Bad things have to happen, so that good ones can come of them.”

There is still concern over how much of a difference this state of emergency in Puerto Rico, and its new measures, are going to make. And understandably so. In a country where the social and cultural fabric creates such abusive conditions for women, monumental action is needed. But this declaration is a good start.

Zachary Liew