International Worker’s Day Protests In Puerto Rico Turned Violent


Puerto Rico has been experiencing a serious fiscal crisis since Hurricane Maria hit last September. The island was already in a financial storm before that after borrowing billions of dollars from its own government to pay numerous debts. But the natural disaster only made things worse. Thousands of Puerto Ricans took to the streets on Tuesday, March 1 in a May Day march to protest the 283 schools that are being closed that could not only impact students but also result in significant pension cuts for teachers and school employees.

“I don’t know what we will leave our young daughter,” Yariela Montes, a 41-year-old protestor told NBC. “This is just such an ugly panorama right now.” Montes is a teacher who doesn’t know if she will even have a job this coming August due to the 283 schools that the Department of Education plans to close this summer in efforts to save $303 million in the next five years.

The decision was made due to the fact that overall enrollment on the island dropped more than 38,700 since last May. Students have fled Puerto Rico migrating to places like Florida, especially after the hurricane. Not only will schools be closed but a recently approved fiscal plan shows that a series of budget cuts and agency consolidations will be made as well. Meanwhile, this is all while still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria’s disastrous effects.

Puerto Ricans are angry and that was evident in yesterday’s protest which eventually took a violent turn. In fact, it got so bad that protestors were seen throwing everything from rocks to any object they could get their hands on towards police. There were even reports of vandalism.

The cops fired back with tear gas and quite a number of folks were injured including 15 police officers. There were at least eight arrests made that day but many are claiming that police officers were demonstrating unnecessary violence against protestors and that their actions were “an injustice.” One journalist claimed that a police officer even struck them with a rubber bullet.

The financial oversight board acts as if they control us,” Vanessa Rivera, a 25-year-old university student who was overcome by tear gas told NPR. “It’s as if they can say what whatever they want and that’s what has to happen.”

Rivera was just one of many Puerto Rican college students who marched at the protest along with teachers, retirees, union workers, some government officials and even San Juan Mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz.

There are retirees here who are going to lose their pensions, there are students, there are employees who are going to see money for their medical plans taken away,” Cruz said at the march.

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Many are worried about the effects of the cuts and the austerity measures that are being imposed by the Fiscal Control Board and the local government. Though the intention behind them is to get Puerto Rico out of debt, many feel that the austerities are not only disproportionate but will do more harm than good to vulnerable communities.

But the government doesn’t see any other way around helping the bankrupt island. “It’s important for everybody to realize that Puerto Rico doesn’t have any credit,” Gov. Ricardo Rossello said at the protests. “We don’t have a printing machine for money. When the money is over, it’s over.”

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