Labor Day march called to demand fiscal board’s exit
Coalition plans mass protest in defense of Dignified Retirement Law, against austerity measures
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
As the Financial Oversight and Management Board works with Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia, Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago and House Speaker Rafael Hernández Montañez to negotiate the island’s debt adjustment plan, the coalition All Puerto Rico Against the Board, which consists of more than 40 community organizations, announced on Tuesday a Labor Day demonstration to repudiate the fiscal board and its executive director Natalie Jaresko.
On Sept. 6, protesters are set to march from Plaza Las Américas’ main entrance on Carlos E. Chardón Avenue in Hato Rey to the oversight board’s headquarters on Luis Muñoz Rivera Avenue to denounce austerity measures, public budget cuts, and privatization pushed by the board since its establishment in 2016.
UNETE President Emilio Nieves Torres said such measures implemented against the island’s education, public health, safety, water access, electric power, transportation, and pension systems “represent, to both workers and the people, an agenda of greater poverty and emigration for 30 years.”
Meanwhile, Sonia Palacios, spokesperson for Construyamos Otro Acuerdo, called for residents to take to the streets to push for the board and government entities to not repeal the Dignified Retirement Act, signed by Pierluisi last June, which she said is “the only shield the Puerto Rico government has to protect current and future [public] pensions.”
“We did not build this shield just for us, just because we are old and need support, we did it because we wanted to thank our people who allowed us to be who we are today, that the Puerto Rico we have at this moment was because of their labor,” Palacios said. “We also did it for our offspring and the youth who are here so they can thrive, take their country further, and not move out as many others have had to.”
“We have to demand that the U.S. Congress remove the board, not because they are ugly, evil and we can’t get along, it is because we need to audit the debt,” she added. “In whose head is it that a country goes bankrupt and is going to pay those who have no right to collect? The Bankruptcy (Title III) Court is supposed to cancel the illegal debts of the citizens. How come it cannot cancel the debts of the state?”
Palacios added that the oversight board failed in implementing an economic development plan, and in fulfilling a fair agreement to adjust or cancel the island’s fiscal debt.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Mayors Association President and Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández decided to join the march. He claimed the oversight board “has overstepped its functions as delineated by the PROMESA Law,” referring to the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, which was created by Congress and enacted in 2016.
“This law awarded them the power to readjust the debt, establish four balanced budgets, send the country back to the bond market, and go away,” he said. “Our view is that they have done everything except for that, as they have gotten involved in public policy affairs, which, as most of the people here have said, is business for the leaders the people voted for.”
“They have been nefarious [in their actions] against retirees, against the University of Puerto Rico, and extremely nefarious against municipalities,” the mayor added. “As we speak, the government has not paid a cent from the debt, but municipalities must be responsible and have our budgets ready, our lenders paid and our finances up-to-date up to a year, and what we end up saving goes to addressing our public services in the midst of a hurricane, earthquake and, now, a pandemic.”
“It’s time to leave our ideologies aside and go out as one voice,” Hernández said.