"The Caribbean drug trade is both an old and new story," says Bagley, the organized crime expert. "Old routes have come back into play. But we haven't seen this level of criminality and corruption in Puerto Rico before. The island is really suffering."

For now, Pesquera is pleading for help, including at a recent meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who pledged support. "I don't think she was blowing smoke up my ass," he says. Yet when the Coast Guard unveiled a fleet of 12 new cutters, they went to Miami and Key West — where drugs rarely arrive via the ocean these days — instead of Puerto Rico.

Truth is, there's little willpower in D.C. to spend heavily on an island of 3.6 million people whose ballots don't count. Perhaps that's why Puerto Ricans are debating louder than ever their identity as a U.S. commonwealth. When boricuas went to the polls last November, 54 percent rejected the status quo. But the vote was split between those who favored independence, statehood, or remaining a commonwealth. Fortuño — the governor who appointed Pesquera — was dumped out of office.

Hector Pesquera, former head of the FBI's Miami office, now oversees the much-maligned Puerto Rico Police Department.
Michael E. Miller
Hector Pesquera, former head of the FBI's Miami office, now oversees the much-maligned Puerto Rico Police Department.
AK-47 bullet casings at a triple murder scene in Canovanas, east of San Juan.
Michael E. Miller
AK-47 bullet casings at a triple murder scene in Canovanas, east of San Juan.

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The chaos and uncertainty go far beyond the ballot box. The son of a former police chief was recently arrested for using his late father's estate as a drug stash. Pesquera, meanwhile, isn't sure whether he will remain police chief beyond the end of March, when he is scheduled to return to Miami. His department remains in flux: 17,000 cops with frayed uniforms, aging equipment, no computers, and — if the fatal shooting of Saul Medina Figueroa is any indication — more than a few bad apples.

Like the island nation, the families touched by its dizzying array of violence face an uncertain future in which justice is by no means guaranteed. "Death, jail, drugs, killings. That's what the streets are now," Hector Camacho Jr. said after his father's fatal shooting.

Figueroa recently received two years' probation as punishment for witnessing a cop kill her son. Her other son, Adrian — who still has a bullet buried in his collarbone — accepted a deal of three years in prison to avoid a life behind bars.

On February 27, David Bonilla Fernández, wearing a white polo, spiky hair, and an expression free of emotion, walked into San Juan's central courthouse. Cops were waiting for him. Five days earlier, they had distributed photos of Bonilla and three others surrounding Ramos moments before his murder at the SanSe festival. Prosecutors had charged Bonilla in absentia, and the scrawny 24-year-old had arrived to turn himself in.

But there was no relief for Ramos' family. Bonilla hasn't confessed, and the video evidence against him is thin. Unless terrified witnesses can be persuaded to testify, a jury will likely let him off.

In fact, Bonilla could be strolling around free even earlier. Last November 4, Puerto Rican voters rejected an amendment that would have revoked the automatic right of accused criminals to bond out. So if Bonilla can come up with $120,000, he will walk.

If that happens, Sujeylee Ramos — like so many before her — will probably leave Puerto Rico to join her family in the States.

"To tell you the truth, I am worried to be here in Puerto Rico," she says. "If somebody can do something like that to my brother, surrounded by so many people, they can do anything."

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