Protesters Rally While Rosselló Delivers Message
SAN JUAN – While Gov. Ricardo Rosselló delivered his “State of the Commonwealth” message in the House of Representatives, several union and civil society groups gathered outside the Capitol to protest “the wealthy’s agenda.”
Minutes before the governor began his message, nearly 300 people congregated in a picket line at the Capitol’s south wing to question the new administration’s recent actions, including labor reform to reduce employees’ rights and benefits, and the possible closure of nearly 370 public schools.
Before beginning the demonstration, Puerto Rican Workers Central (CPT by its Spanish initials) executive committee member Víctor Villalba told Caribbean Business that he believes the government’s proposed legislation aim to “dismantle the country’s labor laws to benefit the wealthy and business owners.”
“We made some proposals [before he became governor], but his mind is clearly on the fiscal control board and abiding by whatever the board says,” Villalba said, although he assured that the CPT is willing to engage in dialogue with the governor for the island’s well-being.
On another hand, Villalba ruled out the possibility of urging the fiscal entity’s members to present concerns over the government’s actions.
“The fiscal control board doesn’t represent the people of Puerto Rico, they weren’t elected by the people… On the contrary, they come here to pay creditors,” he stressed as he insisted that the federal board has no interest in working to benefit Puerto Rico.
In addition to being against the recently approved labor laws and the closure of public schools, Villalba emphasized that the board’s recommended $300 million budget cut for the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) is “impossible” to carry out.
For his part, Irrigation & Electrical Workers Union (Utier) President Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo didn’t rule out the use of force to deliver his message of protest.
“If there is a group that has to march peacefully, let it march. But if there is a group that has to march militantly, it should march. And if there is another group that has to do whatever it has to do, do it,” Figueroa Jaramillo stressed.
As the picket line persisted and several union leaders delivered their messages, a group of demonstrators gathered opposite the barricade dividing the demonstration from the police force to chant expressions against the fiscal board and Rosselló’s administration.
“We aren’t afraid,” yelled the protesters, most of them in their youth, as a hooded male threatened to cross over the boundary preventing his entry to the Capitol.