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Puerto Rico: Blogosphere Denounces Proposed Cybergag

[All links lead to Spanish language pages except when otherwise noted]

The Mayor of the city of Mayagüez in the western part of Puerto Rico, José Guillermo Rodríguez, has been given the power through a resolution from the Municipal Legislature to investigate anyone who publishes content on social networks that he takes as sullying “the good name and image of the municipal government of Mayagüez, its managers, officials, and employees”, according to the stipulations of the resolution approved by the Municipal Assembly of Mayagüez.

The news website Noticel reported that the mayor had decided to not enforce the resolution. Nevertheless, Rodríguez released a warning:

En algún momento muy cercano vendrán más regulaciones para atender la utilización inadecuada de las redes sociales, y eso lo provocarán los que no hacen uso correcto de las mismas, acechando, amenazando, utilizando identificaciones falsas para tratar de mancillar la imagen de gente íntegra y decente. Hemos cumplido con nuestro deber de ser de los primeros en alertarlo.

Soon more regulations to deal with the inappropriate usage of social networks will come, and this will be provoked by those who do not use them correctly, menacing, threatening, utilizing fake identifies to try to besmirch the image of upright and decent people. We have done our duty to be the first to forewarn this.

Resolution 102, approved on February 9, authorized the mayor to contract legal and investigatory services to prosecute anyone who users social networks in a “malicious way”. This includes trying to identify users who prefer to utilize a pseudonym instead of their real name.

Mayor Rodríguez, affiliated with the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), attempting to justify this measure said in statements published by the weekly regional newspaper La Estrella that the use of social networks “should be a privilege in democratic countries”, inciting the Puerto Rican blogosphere to rail against him.

Luis J. Villanueva from the Raciocinio said:

Este sujeto no tiene idea de las reglas que determinan lo que él puede y no puede hacer porque este tipo de actividad está prohibida por la Constitución y las Leyes de Puerto Rico y los EEUU. ¡Más preocupante es la visión de que el uso de las redes sociales es un privilegio!”

This fellow has no idea of the rules that determine what he can and can't do because this kind of activity is prohibited by the Constitution and the Laws of Puerto Rico and the United States. Even more worrying is the view that the use of social networks is a privilege!

Other bloggers also could not wait to react. Mario Núñez Molina on his blog DigiZen expressed his take on the matter:

A mi esto me suena a mordaza, censura y un atentado contra la libertad de expresión ya que la evaluación que se haga de lo que se publique en contra de estos funcionarios será una altamente subjetiva y tendrá como fin el que nadie diga nada malo de Guillito [José Guillermo Rodríguez] y sus seguidores.

To me this reeks of a gag order, censorship and an assault against freedom of expression because the evaluation that is done of what is published against these officials will be highly subjective and will result in no one saying anything bad about Guillito [José Guillermo Rodríguez] and his followers.

On the Puerto Rico Law Blog, lawyer Christian M. Frank Fas confirmed that the municipal measure goes against the laws and principles of a democratic society:

La libertad de expresión es un pilar constitucional por una razón. Es uno de los cimientos de toda sociedad democrática y civilizada, y si al municipio le preocupa tanto que mancillen su estelar desempeño, quizás podrían dedicar esos mismos recursos contratando una firma publicitaria, y no utilizar el afilado intelecto legislativo para investigar y “carpetear” a sus constituyentes y, de paso, suprimir un derecho democrático fundamental.

Freedom of expression is a constitutional pillar for a reason. It is one of the foundations of all democratic societies and civilizations, and if the municipality concerns itself so much with the tainting of its stellar performance, perhaps they could dedicate the same resources to contracting an advertising firm, and not use the legislative intellect to investigate and spy on its constituents and, in turn, suppress a fundamental democratic right.

The Overseas Press Club de Puerto Rico issued the following statements also repudiated Resolution 102:

Amparado en una alegada defensa de la imagen del municipio y sus funcionarios, el Alcalde de Mayagüez y su legislatura municipal intentan censurar a quienes critiquen su gestión. Rodríguez debe recordar que precisamente por ser figura pública está expuesto a las críticas y de ninguna manera puede querer controlarlo. Eso sería dar al traste con el derecho a la libre expresión y la libertad de prensa.

Using the protection of the image of the city and its officials as an alleged defense, the Mayor of Mayagüez and his municipal legislature are attempting to censor whoever criticizes his administration. Rodríguez should remember that precisely by being a public figure he is exposed to criticisms and nothing can control that. That would spoil the right to freedom of expression and the freedom of the press.

The antipathy toward Resolution 102 has been so widespread that the president of the Popular Democratic Party and candidate for the government through the same party, Alejandro García Padilla, also came out against the measure on Twitter @agarciapadilla:

Estoy en contra de la Resolución aprobada por el Municipio de Mayagüez. Voy a hablar personalmente con el Alcalde para aclarar este asunto.

I am against the Resolution approved by the Municipality of Mayagüez. I am going to personally talk with the Mayor to clear up the issue.

Among the firestorm of complaints that the measure provoked, the hilarious commentary on the Puerto Rican blog El Ñame could not be missed, highlighting how absurd it would be to implement this measure:

Uno de los blogueros que critican la ley, quien permaneció en el anonimato porque es un cobarde de siete suelas, arguyó: “No entiendo cómo alguien podría determinar la ubicación física del autor de un contenido cibernético ofensivo a los funcionarios municipales. ¿O es que el Alcalde podrá soltarle los perros a cualquier bloguero que hable pestes de él o de su administración, sin importar dónde habite? ¿Quién hubiera podido imaginar que la Sultana del Oeste tuviera tanto poder?”, preguntó sarcásticamente, aunque la respuesta a su pregunta es “nadie, porque la imaginación de nadie podría superar la realidad boricua”.”

One of the bloggers that criticizes the law, who remained anonymous because he is a downright coward, argued: “I don't understand how someone can determine the physical location of an author of online content that is offensive to municipal officials. Or is it that the Mayor will be able to set the dogs on any blogger that speaks ill of him or his administration, no matter where he lives? Who would have been able to imagine that the Sultan of the West had so much power?”, he asked sarcastically, even though the answer to his question is “no one, because no one's imagination could overcome the reality of life in Puerto Rico”.

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