Puerto Rico halts monkey-breeding facility plans

AP News
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Posted: Dec 30, 2009 4:41 PM

A judge has barred construction of a monkey-breeding facility in southern Puerto Rico that has pitted people seeking an economic lifeline for their poor mountain town against other residents and animal activists.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by nine residents of Guayama and the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. They argued Bioculture Ltd., the company planning the facility, failed to hold public hearings or submit a full environmental impact statement. Bioculture denied the allegations.

"We're not resting on our laurels," PETA spokesman Justin Goodman said Wednesday. "If Bioculture attempts to pursue this project any further, we are poised for action."

Bioculture will appeal the ruling by next week, lawyer Jorge Martinez Luciano said. He represents the Mauritius-based company seeking to build a facility that would hold at least 3,000 macaque monkeys and supply them to pharmaceutical companies for research.

Superior Court Judge Juan Frau Escudero ruled that construction permits should not have been awarded because the facility would be built on land reserved for agricultural purposes.

"The monkeys are not being bred for consumption of their meat," the judge wrote in the 16-page ruling, which was issued last week but not made public until Wednesday.

Martinez dismissed the judge's definition of what qualifies as agricultural use, and he dismissed complaints by the townspeople involved in the lawsuit.

"None of them showed ... they would suffer real and palpable damage," he said.

A judge previously suspended construction of the 13,000-square-foot (1,208-sqquare-meter) facility because Bioculture lacked appropriate environmental permits, but it received clearance in June.

The company has said it would employ at least 50 people and buy fruit from local farmers, an appealing promise for an island battling a nearly 16 percent unemployment rate.

Bioculture also has pledged to buy supplies for a local school whose principal collected 300 signatures in favor of the facility earlier this year.

"I support it 100 percent," principal Olga Colon said. "This is going to bring progress to the community, and jobs."

In recent years, Colon said she has seen dozens of unemployed families move from Guayama to the United States for work.

Local people who oppose the project fear the monkeys will escape just as others did from labs near the island's southwest region in the 1960s and '70s. Authorities are trying to get rid of the estimated 1,000 monkeys now living in that area by shooting them and even sent a group of them to a zoo in Iraq earlier this year.

Bioculture has said it hopes to open the breeding facility next summer, but Martinez said the company has not secured permits to import monkeys to Puerto Rico.