Major Social Upheaval Takes Place in Puerto Rico

"El Tipo Comun" (The Common Guy, Roberto Garcia), from, sept 30, 2009

The unsuspecting governor, smack in the middle of an important press conference, missed being hit by a projectile by mere inches. The projectile? Not a bullet, but an egg. We’re unsure if it was a nationally produced Puerto Rican egg or an imported American egg. Nonetheless, an outraged citizen calling himself The Common Guy interrupted the press conference by screaming in outrage at governor Luis Fortuno and throwing a slider that landed on a sign highlighting a new development project the governor was announcing. As officers locked the man in a bear hug and carted him off and as the press swarmed this Common Guy, many things became suddenly clear. For starters, the Common Guy has poor aim. But in addition, his public display of resistance is not only transcendental for its raw expression of pain and anger, but is also symbolic and representative of everyone’s frustration and open outrage at the turn of events on the island.

Puerto Rico is witnessing the kind of social, economic, and political upheaval not witnessed in decades. This week, the government- the largest employer on the island - laid off close to 17,000 workers, in its 2nd phase of downsizing that was initiated in May of this year, with the release of around 5,000 workers. Over 20,000 government employees have lost their jobs in a matter of months. Considering the fact that Puerto Rico ’s unemployment rate is around 16%, it is obvious that the island continues to confront a serious economic crisis. Government officials contend that they inherited a bankrupt government from previous administrations along with a huge debt load. They are scrambling to prevent their credit ratings to be classified in the lowest of categories: the junk rating. In order to do so, they passed a law declaring a fiscal emergency, and part of the fiscal restructuring taking place is the downsizing of the government work force.

This, however, also takes place against a backdrop of other sorts. Incidents of police abuse are being denounced at an increasing rate across the island, with a recent incident involving university students targeted and attacked with batons and indiscriminate use of tear gas by the police. Squatter communities (also known as developers of rescued lands) have recently been targeted by the conservative administration; these interventions have also been characterized by the use of force against women and children. Part of the fiscal emergency response has been to declare the end of gains won by collective bargaining agreements, drawing a sharp outcry from the union sector. Opposition political parties called for a larger burden to be held by the rich and by large corporations, only to be rebuked by the administration that has gone ahead with cost of life increases in basic services and with layoffs which mostly affect the ever-shrinking middle class. The conservative administration also censured several books by renowned authors in the island’s schools, a deed met with fierce opposition. The main political parties continue to squabble publicly about future political roles and future candidates for office, and opposition parties either have no presence or struggle against marginalization by news media. Independence advocates in September commemorated their most holiest of anniversaries in remembrance of a historical insurrection in 1868 and of the 2005 FBI murder of revolutionary leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios, with calls of unity, revolution, and struggle with those affected. And to top it off, the governor signed an executive order authorizing the use of the National Guard to quell public disturbances and deal with national emergencies.

Even the outlawed anti-colonial guerrillas Los Macheteros re-appeared and issued a statement on September 23 calling for struggle and for solidarity with the affected working class.

The union movement has now taken center stage and has declared a national strike for October 15, 2009. Union leaders are publicly expressing that if some of the more painful measures – like layoffs - are not rolled back, they will move ahead with a general strike, bringing the country to a complete halt in order to force the government to change course.

The general public, alarmed by the turn of events, finds comic relief in the egg-sistence of amusing public displays of anger expressed towards the person blamed for several social crises: the governor. The administration, however, is deeply worried. Aside from losing the next election, they know that the seeds of a general insurrection are being sowed: unemployment, discontent, desperation, and fear. In light of the disturbing developments on the island, including the ever climbing crime & suicide rates, the general public, or the Common Guy, has reached a level of tension that is culminating in direct action.

Simply put, the common person in Puerto Rico is tired of being abused by their government. It is no eggs-aggeration to conclude that something is amiss in Puerto Rico and to wonder where this social upheaval will lead to. In the interim, the Common Guy will continue to look for simple ways to fight back.

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