Thursday, October 15, 2009

Students and strikers close down "expreso Las Américas" highway in Puerto Rico

[See end of article for the latest updates]

In a breaking news story, as part of a general strike in Puerto Rico, students and strikers have completely shut down a major artery in the San Juan area.

Currently there is a confrontation between the police and the protestors. There is a negotiation going on, and the students have demanded that the Police withdraw first and then they will peacefully leave.

There is live coverage on Radio Isla 1320 in Spanish here.

There is an article in Spanish from Notiuno here.
Estudiantes y trabajadores de la Universidad de Puerto Rico ocuparon en horas del mediodía todos los carriles del expreso Las Américas como parte de su manifestación en contra de los despidos y acciones de la presente administración.
Translation (thanks to Google translate)
Students and employees of the University of Puerto Rico at noon occupied all of the lanes of the "expreso las Americas" highway as part of their protest rally against layoffs and actions of this administration.
Police apparently have withdrawn and are now waiting for the students to withdraw so that traffic can flow once again along this major thoroughfare in the San Juan metropolitan area. The situation is tense and the police are threatening to use force if the students do not withdraw soon.

The protests are part of a general strike to protest massive government layoffs.


UPDATE 4:10 PM (Puerto Rico time):
Rafael Cancel Miranda has joined the students who are now withdrawing from the highway. He is encouraging the students to leave peacefully. Miranda was one of the Nationalists that was imprisoned for fighting against American imperialism in Puerto Rico.

UPDATE 4:15 PM (Puerto Rico time):
Some lanes of traffic have begun to flow as the students are leaving peacefully.

UPDATE 4:25 PM (Puerto Rico time):
The crowds are estimated at over 200,000 for the General Strike.

UPDATE 4:29 PM (Puerto Rico time):
Organizers lament that there is no procedure for impeaching the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis G. Fortuno.

UPDATE 4:33 PM (Puerto Rico time):
Governor warns that if the layoffs do not take place, that the whole government will have to shutdown with dire consequences.

UPDATE 5:23 PM (Puerto Rico time):
Excerpt from Reuters article, "Puerto Rico strikers shut down center of San Juan"
... around 50,000 protesters packed Roosevelt Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the central Hato Rey financial district in San Juan, witnesses said.

Most government offices and schools, and many businesses remained closed on Thursday during the strike protest, which was also backed by religious and student organizations.

"The street will be our battleground. There will only be peace when those that govern respect the will of the people," said Methodist Minister Juan Vera, who addressed the protesters along with labor leaders and other personalities.
This report blatantly fails to mention the closing of a major highway. By all accounts the quote of 50,000 protestors is low. In addition this does not reflect that there were various protests throughout the San Juan area and the rest of the island. The march had the effect of shutting down Plaza Las Americas, the Caribbean's largest mall.

It is significant that the protest was declared by organized labor, but also received support form student and religious groups.

The protests were carried out without any significant violence. The Police have received compliments for their restraint and for not confronting the protestors, which certainly kept violence from breaking out.
The government is hoping to avoid a downgrade of Puerto Rico's bond rating to junk, or non-investment, grade.

Bond rating agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's rate Puerto Rico a notch above junk level and Fortuno [the Governor] says any downgrade would lead to even more job cuts.
The role of the bond rating agencies in blackmailing the government cannot be ignored. While the US government rushed in to bailout the Wall Street Banks, when it is the states and local governments that face bankruptcy then there is utter silence in Washington D.C.


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