Puerto Rico

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Puerto Rico 2023

The government often used excessive force against protesters. Access to abortion was at risk due to legislative bills introduced during the year. LGBTI people continued to face discrimination and had diminished access to housing. Femicides continued to occur with impunity. Discrimination against Afro-descendants persisted. Higher food and electricity prices put people’s rights at risk.

Freedom of expression and assembly

The government continued to intimidate protesters and to use excessive force during demonstrations. Violence committed by police officers often went unpunished. At least 17 people protesting displacement and environmental destruction were arrested during demonstrations.

On 29 January, police arrested five women and one man during a protest to demand compliance with a court order to demolish an illegal construction in a coastal area in the municipality of Aguadilla. In July, five protesters were charged for “obstructing the actions of a public authority”.

On 4 March, police arrested three environmental activists during protests demanding the demolition and removal of debris, already ordered by a court, from an illegal construction site neighbouring a beach in Rincón municipality. The construction project had been the subject of protests since 2021 because of its infringement on public property.

On 6 July, residents of the Island Municipality of Vieques protested against the auction of public land, claiming that it exacerbated the problem of displacement due to high real estate prices. The community organization Colmena Cimarrona stated that the police had physically assaulted some women demonstrators.

Sexual and reproductive rights

There were several attempts to pass laws to restrict abortion, following the US Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to end constitutional recognition of the right to abortion. In March, House Bill 1644, which was ultimately withdrawn, sought to punish women who have an abortion in Puerto Rico with 25 years’ imprisonment. The Senate continued debating Bill 495, introduced in 2021, which would require prior authorization of at least one parent or legal guardian before a person under 18 years of age could access an abortion.

In May, members of the Legislative Assembly requested government intervention regarding four abortion clinics that had allegedly failed to notify the authorities of procedures performed on persons under 15 years of age. Targeted regulations such as these could be used to discredit clinics and hinder access to abortion.

LGBTI people’s rights

The transgender community continued to face discrimination. In June, the House of Representatives rejected Bill 764, which sought to limit the participation of transgender athletes in the gender category with which they identify.

Also in June, members of the legislature tried to censor a children’s reading activity because of the participation of people in drag and transgender persons. The activity took place after a change of venue. In August, House of Representatives Bill 1821 was introduced to criminalize artistic activities or those aimed at children’s or family entertainment that are performed in drag.

The Senate approved Bill 427, which aimed to establish a public policy to prevent discrimination against older LGBTI people accessing housing and those living in care homes. An investigation by the Centre for Investigative Journalism and news outlet El Nuevo Día highlighted the discrimination against this group in long-term care centres due to a lack of appropriate training and procedures for dignified treatment.

According to the most recent census in 2020, Puerto Rico was the US jurisdiction with the lowest percentage of LGBTI people (0.5%) or same-sex couples (0.2%) who reported owning a home.

Women’s and girls’ rights

According to the Gender Equality Observatory of Puerto Rico NGO, at least 72 femicides and suspected femicides were recorded in 2023. In April, the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics added a section on femicides to its statistical platform and 19 femicides had been recorded by the end of the year.

In June, the House of Representatives approved Bill 1583, which recognized non-lethal strangulation, suffocation, and positional asphyxia of women without lethal intent as forms of gender-based aggravated mistreatment. Such actions were previously criminalized through criminal offences without a gender perspective. At the end of the year, the bill was still pending before the Senate.

In May, the Committee on Women’s Affairs of the House of Representatives concluded an investigation which found that the Police Bureau had failed to properly investigate domestic violence cases involving police officers.

Women and girls continued to be at risk of human trafficking, a crime seldom punished on the island. The government and legislature continued to debate Senate Bill 1237, introduced in June, which proposed the creation of a human trafficking observatory and a strategic plan to combat this crime.


Racial discrimination continued to be a concern, and anti-Black racism continued to manifest routinely and be normalized. A 2021 law that provided for the collection of statistics on racism and mandated an education campaign to promote anti-racist awareness and recognition of African descent in Puerto Rico had not been fully implemented.

Racist violence escalated and the authorities failed to conduct prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigation of possible discriminatory motives. In August, a court found a man not guilty on charges of disturbing the peace in a case of alleged racist violence. The case involved a dispute between neighbours in which one party had allegedly racially discriminated against and harassed the other party since at least 2019.

Economic, social and cultural rights

The economic situation and the cost of living impacted on people’s enjoyment of their rights. Inflation on food items was 5.1% as of October, according to the Puerto Rico Consumer Price Index.

In June, the US Census Bureau released community resilience estimates for Puerto Rico, using 2019 data. This indicated that 46.1% of Puerto Rico’s population had three or more risk factors, such as poverty, disability, employment and age, and would therefore be less resilient to withstand and recover from a disaster.

In February, a new consumer charging model was announced (with a flat rate and a consumption-based tariff) designed to help pay off the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s debt to public and private creditors. The new model caused an increase in the cost of electricity, leading to a number of protests. The island suffered several blackouts during the year.