Police show of force dominates protest against fiscal board
SAN JUAN – In what promised to be a “national mobilization” similar to the massive demonstration carried out May 1, hundreds of protesters, watched by hundreds of police officers, gathered in Hato Rey’s Golden Mile banking district in rejection of the austerity measures announced by Puerto Rico’s fiscal control board.
Among the measures opposed by multiple sectors on the island is a two-day furlough, which would affect nearly 130,000 government workers. However, compared with the May Day rally, which amassed thousands, few showed up for Wednesday’s.
Before the arrival of various worker unions to Luis Muñoz Rivera Avenue, a large number of Tactical Operations officers surrounded the Popular Center building, which was vandalized in the May protest, while more than 50 officers stood before the fiscal board’s headquarters.
While the famous song “Verde Luz” could be heard from the stage, the president of the General Workers Union (UGT by its Spanish initials), Gerson Guzmán, told Caribbean Business that “the relevant thing is not how many people came [to the march], what is relevant is the activity we are carrying out.”
“It is a phased plan, where we will step up the tone and the activities we are carrying out,” Guzmán said. “We guarantee that in the next events the [people] will move to the street and will continue to number until reaching the level we want.”
Regarding the deployment of officers in the protest, Guzmán stressed that “we have always called for them to come fight alongside their peers, the workers. We know they are following instructions, but they will be affected by what the government is doing.”
Meanwhile, the president of the Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier by its Spanish acronym), Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo, emphasized in his speech that the island can’t allow a fiscal board “imposed” at the federal level to have the last word on Puerto Rico.
“We Puerto Ricans have the capacity and the commitment to solve [the problems]. As Puerto Ricans, we have the responsibility to act and stop the violation the Promesa law, its fiscal board and the fiscal plan represent,” he stressed.
Several political figures attended the demonstration, held two days before the board-established date to enact the furlough program. Among the crowd stood Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) Rep. Denis Márquez.
“It is yet another concentration of union organizations against the fiscal control board and against the neoliberal policies of this government and that all the adopted legislation has been directed to undermine [workers’] acquired rights,” the legislator said.
Meanwhile, former independent gubernatorial candidate Alexandra Lúgaro stressed that the people’s demonstrations must transcend to have greater turnout, to prove “our inconformity” with the board’s actions with greater strength.
“I believe the time has come for collective indignation, for the people to feel how these measures affect them directly, from their pensions, their university, their schools, their health, how we are being affected by some measures that have a double standard,” she denounced.
Along that line, Popular Democratic Party Rep. Manuel Natal assured that the movement is not only about a few sectors on the island, but “the country in which we want to live in,” adding that it isn’t a partisan movement, and urged the people to join future marches.
The same day a year ago, several groups gathered at the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan and held a fiery demonstration against the fiscal board established by Promesa . Today, history repeated itself, now in rejection of its austerity measures.
Contrary to Aug. 31, 2016, when the protest ended in a collision between protesters and police officers, resulting in several wounded on both sides, as was the case during last May’s strike, on this occasion no incidents were reported in the march that concluded little more than one hour after it began.
Among the unions present were the Broad Front in Defense of Public Education, the Puerto Rican Workers Central, the Non-Teaching Exempt Employees Association (Heend by its Spanish acronym), the Puerto Rican Workers Union and the Union Coordinator.