Telecommunications carrier Claro de Puerto Rico has reported 280 incidents of copper theft at its facilities this year — mostly along the island’s southwestern region — that not only cause service interruptions, but represent a safety risk as well. Last year, the company saw $4 million in losses related to the proliferation of the problem, company executives said.
Of the vandalism incidents on record so far this year, 21 have taken place in Juana Díaz, said Ileana Molina-Bachman, director of communications at Claro.
“As a result of these criminal acts, many essential services are interrupted: 9-1-1, police, fire, hospitals, schools and businesses — risking the lives of many citizens. They also affect Internet and long distance services, interrupting communication inside and outside the island,” she said.
Claro has been battling copper theft for many years, but it is a problem that has escalated as the price for the metal has increased. Vandals strip facilities of copper conduits and other elements, which are then sold at collections centers that have also gotten in trouble for not asking for information on the origin of the metal.
Last year, the carrier reported 744 cases of copper theft that greatly affected the island’s north-central region, where 232 incidents took place. Arecibo was the hardest hit town, with 47 of the cases. The company’s southwestern region reported 119 cases and the western flank, 117, Molina said.
As a result of the increasing number of incidents, over the past two years Claro has had to bump up surveillance and security in places with higher incidence of thefts, Molina said.
“The rapid increase in copper cable theft, in addition to vandalizing property threatens public safety telecommunications. The solution requires a joint effort by the government, the private sector and the public,” she said.
Claro condemns this criminal act classified as a felony under local laws and as sabotage under state and federal laws, therefore making it a terrorist act. As part of the concerted effort to stop copper theft, the company also offers a $10,000 reward to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the sabotage of essential telecom services.
“The continuity of telecommunications services is the main hub for the island’s stability and the recurrence of these criminal acts put services on which thousands of citizens depend in a critical position. Cable theft affects us all,” Molina said.
To confidentially blow the whistle on this type of crime, call 787-792-8484.