The streets of Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan were filled with protesters this weekend, after Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced cutbacks that include slashing the University of Puerto Rico's budget by $166 million.
Hundreds of students marched to the governor’s Mansion on Saturday, some carrying books and with their mouths covered with masking tape. “Ignorance,” they read.
Lo pongo por aquí por aquello de que somos “violentos”. El primer macanazo del día está como al minuto 1:15.El video está público ahora ya que muchos lo están compartiendo pero quiero también aclarar que mi intención con publicarlo no es condenar a la Policía de Puerto Rico. El Nuevo Día ayer dejó entender que los estudiantes fueron los primeros en ejercer violencia física y la intención del video es que quede en récord que los estudiantes hicieron un llamado a la paz en todo momento. Aprovecho también para dejar claro que la mayoría del cuerpo de oficiales allí presente se comportó con respeto hacia los manifestantes, salvo por aquel que primero soltó el macanazo y el otro que usó pepper spray. Ellos están allí haciendo su trabajo y posiblemente algunos simpatizan con nosotros. Como me dijo uno de los oficiales: "No es personal".Posted by Jorge L Falcón Garrido on Wednesday, May 13, 2015
The protests focused on the massive closures of the island’s grade schools. Driven by a combination of budget cuts and declining enrollment, the government warned just days ago that by early 2016 it may run out of money to pay its bills – and over the next five years it may have to close nearly 600 of Puerto Rico’ 1,460 public schools.
This, officials claim, will save the government $249 million a year.
Puerto Rico has seen school enrollment drop 42 percent in the past three decades, and an additional 22 percent drop is expected over the next five years, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, which signed a multimillion-dollar deal with the government to help restructure the island's education system.
Much of the enrollment drop is the result of parents moving to the mainland U.S. in search of better opportunities, including many teachers being recruited from the island for their bilingual skills.
Last weekend’s unrest follows a week of rallies across the island protesting the cuts as well as a tax hike for the deeply indebted U.S. territory.
After his initial plan for a value-added tax was shot down by the legislature, Gov. Garcia Padilla said late Thursday that a majority of members of his party had agreed to back a bill that would increase taxes from 7 percent to 11.5 percent.
Garcia Padilla said the measure also would include a new 4 percent tax on professional services. It is still unclear what type of services will be taxed, although officials said health and education services would be exempt.
If approved, the new measure is expected to generate $1.2 billion.
With reporting by The Associated Press.