Thousands of protesters took to the streets of San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico, to demonstrate against massive layoffs demanded by Republican Governor Luis Fortuño.
Fortuño proposed laying off 17,000 teachers, social workers and health care workers, in addition to the more than 5,000 public employees that were already fired just a few months earlier. Fortuño, currently serving his first term, was elected on the promise of jump starting Puerto Rico's economy and has thus far badly failed. The island has continued to struggle while the unemployment rate is at 15 percent, expected to rise to 17 percent by the end of the month, the highest of any US state or territory. Suffering from a $3.2 billion deficit, a statement issued by the governor's office on Thursday highlighted the fact that the island's economic woes began three years before the recession hit the U.S. but the protesters did not want to hear it.
Juan Vera, a strike leader and one of the organizers told the gathered protesters, “Today we are declaring the state of peaceful insurrection of the Puerto Rican people. Today we go from protest to resistance and from resistance to civil disobedience.”
The one day strike mobilized more than 100 thousand Puerto Ricans and shut down all state-owned business as well as schools and colleges. In addition to the layoffs Fortuño's plan calls for a temporary hike in income taxes on corporations and affluent individuals, increased sales taxes on wine, beer and cigarettes and outsourcing of many government functions. "They will have to pass over the bodies of thousands and thousands of Puerto Ricans before turning the government over to private businesses," Victor Villalba, president of the Puerto Rican Federation of Workers, told the crowd.