Thousands of protesters took to streets in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, to protest government's austerity measures, school closures, and slow recovery in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on the International Workers' Day Tuesday and were confronted by brutal police repression.
After Hurricane Maria, Disaster Capitalism in Education Sector Plagues Puerto Rico
Hundreds of protesters were met with the helmeted police officers wearing gas masks in Hato Rey neighborhood, San Juan’s banking center as they formed lines to block the protesters from moving forward. The officers indiscriminately shot rubber bullets and dispersed tear gas on peaceful protesters.
"We’re overwhelmed," Carlos Cofiño, a 20-year-old political science student, told the New York Times as he prepared to march. "We need to express our indignation and let the government know that there are people who are suffering."
Vanessa Rivera, a 25-year-old university student who was overwhelemed by the gas, called the police's actions "an injustice," the NPR reported.
Rivera said that it was outrageous that the Puerto Rican government continues to bow to the demands of the U.S. federal oversight board which has proposed some crippling measures to the island's government such as cuts to pensions, public health programs, and schools.
"The financial oversight board acts as if they control us," she told the NPR. "It's as if they can say whatever they want and that's what has to happen."
The federal control board, which oversees the bankrupt Puerto Rico government's finances, ratified a rise in tuition fee on Monday.
Police detain a man during a May Day protest against austerity measures, in San Juan, Puerto Rico May 1, 2018. | Reuters
Defending the police, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said they were left with no choice. "Freedom of expression cannot come at the expense of people's safety and well being," the governor said, holding up a rock he said had been hurled by protesters. "This kind of violence damages the good name of Puerto Rico."
Adria Bermudez, told the Associated Press, that she was protesting the increase in the undergraduate cost per credit from US$57 to US$115. She called on government officials and legislators to stop implementing more austerity measures and reduce their salaries instead.
"The measures are aimed at the middle class and low middle class," she said. "The rich don’t suffer."
Puerto Rico, which is already under massive debt of US$72 billion because of an economic recession that has lasted 11 years, has seen exploitation at the hands of vulture and hedge fund corporations, who have loaned large sums of money in lieu of high-interest rates, and other such damning financial schemes.
Those loaners are now seeing these large corporations profiting off of the island in the form of disaster capitalism, months after hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean island.
In January, Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Roselló Nevares, introduced neoliberal policies Senate Project 825 and Congressional Project 1441 in the U.S. colony, which call for a structural overhaul of the education system.