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In Puerto Rico, couple face trial after refusing to comply with Covid protocols

The parents barricaded themselves in their car with their children to avoid arrest after refusing to fill out required documentation at the airport.

A couple in Puerto Rico now faces trial on charges of refusing to comply with executive orders outlining Covid safety protocols, after they locked themselves in a minivan for several hours to avoid being detained.

Zulma Figueroa, 53, and Luis Ángel Colón, 44, arrived in Puerto Rico on a flight from Florida on Jan. 2 with two of their children. The couple refused to fill out a Covid-19 entry form at the airport and provide proof of a negative test for the coronavirus as required by an executive order from Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

Puerto Rican authorities found out about the incident after Figueroa posted a video on social media saying, in Spanish, "You can arrive to Puerto Rico without getting tested, in a domestic flight, and you don't have to give anyone any information."

Prosecutor Iliana Martínez told Telemundo Puerto Rico, also in Spanish: "These people basically declared contempt for public authority and challenged it in a haughty way. They simply did not want to comply with the provisions in both the executive order and the law."

An arrest warrant was issued against the couple on Tuesday afternoon. When authorities showed up at their home in the town of Caguas, the couple barricaded themselves in their car with their children, prompting police to send a negotiator.

The situation escalated when a small group of protesters showed up to support the couple and threatened several journalists covering the mediation process. According to the Association of Journalists of Puerto Rico and the Overseas Press Club, four photojournalists, three reporters and a news producer were assaulted during the incident.

The case has dominated the news on the island and rocked Puerto Rican residents concerned over the couple’s attitude “of not wanting to acknowledge the authority of Health Department officials to request needed information,” Rodney Ríos-Medina, another prosecutor in the case, said — particularly in a jurisdiction that made national headlines last year for successfully enacting strict Covid-19 measures to avoid overwhelming their already fragile health care system and not politicizing the pandemic.

The couple appeared in court virtually on Wednesday after Colón tested positive for Covid-19, according to the newspaper El Nuevo Día. They were later released on $10,000 bail.

The Puerto Rican Department of Justice has filed charges in more than a hundred cases for violations of Covid-19 executive orders, Telemundo Puerto Rico reported. While most were curfew violations at the beginning on the pandemic, interventions similar to the one involving Figueroa and Colón have also been reported.

"The arrest warrant and the bail are the consequences of the actions of a lady who was misguided," another prosecutor involved in the case, Ríos-Medina, told Telemundo Puerto Rico in Spanish. "Those do not agree with the measures put in place have a forum for that in the courts."

Figueroa and Colón are scheduled to appear in court on Feb. 8 as they face charges of resisting and obstructing a public official. No attorneys were listed for the couple yet.

They could face a $5,000 fine or up to six months in prison if convicted.

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