Puerto Rico: thousands protest layoffs

In one of the largest demonstrations in recent Puerto Rican history, tens of thousands of people marched in front of the Capitol building in San Juan on June 5 to protest plans by Gov. Luis Fortuño of the conservative New Progressive Party (PNP) to lay off about 30,000 government workers and to privatize some public services. Estimates of participation ranged from 50,000 to 100,000. Many public employees attended despite veiled threats of reprisals if they were absent from work on June 5; supervisors had been drawing up lists of people who planned to take the day off.

Fortuño, who was elected by a wide margin last November, faces a growing movement against his economic policies. The Broad Front of Solidarity and Struggle (FASyL), a coalition of 22 unions, brought out an estimated 30,000 workers to protest the government’s policies during this year’s May 1 march for International Workers’ Day. For the June 5 mobilization the FASyL was joined by a broad range of groups, including student and women’s organizations, environmental and religious groups, and the main opposition parties. Participants included HĂ©ctor Ferrer, president of the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD); Juan Dalmau, secretary general of the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP); actors RenĂ© Monclova and Ineabelle ColĂłn; and Denise Quiñones, Miss Universe 2001. The coalition’s spokesperson was Methodist bishop Juan Vera, while the Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a press release in solidarity with laid-off workers.

The organizers called the protest a “National Assembly of the People”; the demonstration became a mass meeting which adopted a declaration including demands from the various constituent groups. The protesters said they would continue the struggle with educational events and Assemblies of the People in each of the island’s 78 municipalities.

Fortuño says Puerto Rico is facing a $3.2 billion deficit this year, largely because of the US economic crisis, and that this can only be reduced through layoffs and cutbacks. The layoffs started with an announcement in late May by Carlos García, president of the Government Development Bank for Puerto Rico (GDB, BGF in Spanish), that 10,400 employees would be let go. (Univision, June 5 from AP; Primera Hora, Puerto Rico, June 5; La Opinión, Los Angeles, June 6 from EFE)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 7

See our last post on Puerto Rico