Puerto Ricans Fighting Austerity Cuts Hit With Tear Gas, Pepper Spray

During a May Day demonstration when thousands came out to protest in San Juan, Puerto Rico, police used pepper spray and tear gas to quell marchers.

Police fired pepper spray and tear gas against protesters during a May Day demonstration in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Marchers had converged on the building that houses the federal oversight board to protest austerity measures that would hurt many workers in the already-beleaguered island territory.

In mid-April, Puerto Rico was hit with an island-wide power outage that received little notice (least of all from President Donald Trump). Many families are still without potable water more than six months after being hit by Category 4 Hurricane Maria.

Many obstacles remain to be tackled in Puerto Rico. Despite the continued efforts to get the island back on track, workers rights and compensatory cuts are being threatened, making life even more difficult for much of the territory’s citizenry.

Thousands marched on May Day, a traditionally pro-worker holiday recognized around the globe, to protest the cuts, which include shortened holiday pay, reduction of pension benefits, and a proposal that would allow businesses to fire employees without requiring just cause. As they approached the federal building, police shot off tear gas and pepper spray against the marchers.

One of those present, Raina Ramirez, described the situation to Democracy Now!

“The police surrounded us,” Ramirez said. “They blocked us from each side, and they didn't let us through. They began throwing tear gas at us, and I couldn't get out.”

It is absolutely unconscionable that citizens in Puerto Rico were subjected to such treatment. It’s understandable why they’re upset: Just over half a year after a devastating storm ravaged their island, many are still struggling. Couple that with the financial difficulties that had already existed in Puerto Rico, and it’s no wonder why some wanted to protest the austerity cuts.

It was wrong of police to act in the manner they did. The right to assemble and speak freely is protected for all Americans — including Puerto Ricans — and there was no need for law enforcement to respond the way they did.

 Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Alvin Baez/Reuters

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