‘Puerto Rico’s worst pandemic is the Financial Oversight and Management Board’
Over 40 labor organizations call on Congress to push for fiscal board’s exit
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
As the Financial Oversight and Management Board continues with the voting process to confirm Puerto Rico’s debt adjustment plan (DAP), more than 40 island workers’ organizations gathered for a Labor Day march to the financial board’s headquarters on Monday, demanding that the U.S. Congress repeal the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) and that the local government defend the Dignified Retirement Act, which seeks to ban public pension cuts.
Around 11 a.m., hundreds of protesters, along with top union officials, community leaders and lawmakers, marched along Carlos Chardón Street in Hato Rey, San Juan to the intersection of Juan Ponce de León Avenue and the island’s financial district to demand a better debt adjustment process that promotes a sustainable economic development plan.
“The board has not accomplished the protection of our essential services, nor have they accomplished a true economic development plan,” EDUCAMOS President Migdalia Santiago read from a declaration addressed to federal lawmakers in the U.S. Capitol. “Their agenda has consisted of austerity, budget cuts, privatization, which leads to more poverty and emigration.”
“The worst hurricane has been the Financial Oversight and Management Board, the worst earthquake has been the Financial Oversight and Management Board, and the worst pandemic has been the Financial Oversight and Management Board,” Santiago said while repudiating the entity’s push to shut down schools and to impose austerity measures against the University of Puerto Rico, price hikes in public services and budget cuts on municipalities.
Pensions Defense Front spokesperson Armando Montero said the march was part of a series of events coordinated to educate both public workers and retirees to vote against the DAP.
“Saying no to the board transcends the public pension issue, saying no to the board means rejecting the personnel reduction in Puerto Rico’s essential services,” he said. “Saying no to the board is advocating for dignity; we must recognize that, as a country, we have had seven people imposed on us who we did not elect and who make choices for us.”
According to the Citizens’ Front for the Debt Audit, the DAP’s approval could represent an immediate 8.5% cut on $1,500 or more monthly pensions, which could affect up to 50,000 retirees.
“Forty-six percent [of the pensioners] represent the teaching sector, where, along with their families, [a cut] could impact the lives of 140,000 people,” the front said in a statement.
Moreover, the front said, the DAP’s approval could bring a 19.3% pension cut against active public servants, push the island to pay a $35 billion debt, impose annual payments on unsustainable bonds and allow hedge funds with debt holdings to obtain 250% in revenue.
“We voted for a government where Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, although with his hand shaking, signed a bill that received unanimous support from the Puerto Rico House and Senate, a bill that has enough teeth to build a path toward three things: to declare the debt illegal and not pay it, to protect essential services, and to avoid cuts in different services, including Puerto Rico’s pensions,” Montero said.
During the protest, meanwhile, Puerto Rico Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández called on demonstrators to continue joining forces and demanding accountability from governmental entities.
“We want to prove here that the problems the island has are not because we lack resources, but rather are due to a lack of priorities,” he said. “For all this time, the government, the Legislature, the municipalities, and the working class have said the fiscal plan is a mistake and must be corrected.”
“That lady [referring to Natalie Jaresko, executive director of the oversight board] has to listen to the people’s claims,” the Villalba mayor added. “It’s difficult to speak with someone who tells us we have to withstand austerity measures when they don’t apply them to themselves.”
Emilio Nieves, president of the teachers union UNETE, said the next demonstration against the oversight board will continue on Wednesday at 4 p.m., in front of the Department of Labor and Human Resources in San Juan.