Puerto Rico: general strike protests layoffs

A one-day general strike protesting plans to lay off 16,970 of Puerto Rico’s 180,000 public employees in November shut down all state-owned enterprises and the island’s schools and colleges on Oct. 15; most private businesses reportedly remained open remained open, and ports and airports were said to be functioning normally. There were protests throughout Puerto Rico, with tens of thousands of people converging on San Juan’s Plaza Las Américas, the biggest shopping mall in the Caribbean.

Hundreds of trucks drove slowly around the Milla de Oro area honking their horns, while some employees of the companies along the way gathered at doors and windows to show their support for the protest. “I’ve never seen anything like this before,” office worker Yadira de León told the Associated Press. “I support it because the situation is difficult [for the laid-off workers], but I have to work.” De León’s 11-year-old daughter was with her because the schools were closed.

Organizers said more than 100,000 people had participated in the San Juan demonstration, while the police declined to give an estimate. The general strike was backed by all the island’s main labor organizations, including the General Workers Union (UGT) and the All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico Coalition. Economists said the Oct. 15 strike would cost the economy at least $32 million.

If Gov. Luis Fortuño goes ahead with the November layoffs, the total job losses for the year will be above 21,000. The government laid off 7,816 employees in May but had to hire more than 3,000 temporary teachers and assistants when the school year started in August. Fortuño says the job cuts, expected to save $386 million, are necessary because the government faces a $3.2 billion deficit this year due to the world economic crisis, but economists say the cuts will prolong the recession. Union leaders accuse Fortuño of planning to privatize government services. (El Diario-La Prensa, New York, Oct. 15 from AP; Univision, Oct. 15; Latin American Herald Tribune, Oct. 16 from EFE)

In New York, with the largest community of people of Puerto Rican descent outside the island, labor unions and other groups held a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Oct. 15 to support the demands of the strikers. In the late afternoon, as many as 200 activists gathered in a heavy rain outside the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration office in midtown for a lively solidarity rally organized by the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and other grassroots organizations. After the rally, protesters carried out a “huevazo,” hurling eggs at a poster with Gov. Fortuño’s picture. (Terra, Spain, Oct. 15 from EFE; eyewitness report)

Protests continued after Oct. 15. Members of the National Hostosian Independence Movement (MINH) demonstrated against the governor when he appeared at a ceremony at the Julita Ross amphitheater in Toa Baja on Oct. 17. The labor unions said on Oct. 16 that they planned to continue the struggle until they had overturned Law 7, which permits the layoffs. Methodist bishop Juan Vera, a spokesperson for protest organizers, warned that there may be another general strike. “The people are tired of so much abuse,” he told the Cuban news service Prensa Latina. (ED-LP, Oct. 1 from AP; PL, Oct. 16)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 20

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