EFESan Juan

Environmental and community groups in Puerto Rico are ratcheting up protests against hotel giant Marriott, which has been trying to expand its property on Isla Verde beach for more than 10 years.

The Playas P'al Pueblo (Beaches for the People) organization has also kept a camp at the site for more than a decade, but it recently received an eviction order.

"Today, we have shown our support for the camp and we have made it clear that we will support resistance, because the privatization of a beach in that manner cannot be allowed," activist Juan Camacho told EFE.

Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary Carmen Guerrero Perez said last weekend that the 30-year-old certified survey of land and maritime zones would be reviewed to meet the parties' demands.

The property was transferred by the Puerto Rico National Parks Company to the city of Carolina in 2003, but CH Properties, a firm affiliated with Marriott, has a 99-year lease on the site.

Guerrero called on the parties - the city of Carolina, CH Properties and Playas P'al Pueblo - to negotiate after last week's altercations involving protesters and hotel employees.

Protesters oppose leasing the property between the Carolina resort zone and the area where the Courtyard Isla Verde Beach Resort by Marriott is located, arguing that development would destroy a valuable ecosystem and result in the de facto privatization of a public beach.

Large numbers of leatherback sea turtles arrive in the area each year to lay eggs.

Part of the area is now used as a parking lot for the hotel and the other is taken up by the protest camp.

Recently, the hotel reached an agreement with the city of Carolina under which Marriott will start paying property taxes on the land once protesters are evicted and the necessary building permits are issued.

Marriott plans to build a "condo-hotel," which means "an underground parking garage for vehicles, degrading the beach and destroying a high-value ecological system," Camacho said.

"Besides, in Puerto Rico, beaches are public and open, and nobody has the authority to give title to a company," the activist said.