An investigation has been launched into police conduct during protests in Puerto Rico earlier in the week. On Friday (May 4), U.S. District Judge Gustavo Gelpi ordered an “independent evaluation and assessment” of police conduct after thousands took to the streets to protest government austerity measures touted to help the territory climb out of billions in public debt, Mother Jones reports.
The act of civil disobedience turned violent with authorities using pepper spray, teargas and rubber bullets on demonstrators, in addition to making arrests. Some demonstrators were also accused of targeting police.
Clashes between authorities and civilians comes amid Puerto Rico’s ongoing efforts to rebuild, eight months after Hurricane Maria virtually destroyed it’s already fledgling economy, dilapidated infrastructures, and ripped through neighborhoods, leaving thousands homeless.
The May 1 protests attracted teachers, government employees, students, and parents, and was fueled by a newly-approved fiscal plan, which is billed as an attempt to close Puerto Rico’s “decade-old economic crisis,” by implementing cuts to pensions, hikes in college tuitions, and shortened sick and paid vacation days, reports NBC News reports.
As mentioned in the fiscal report, Puerto Rico has the highest poverty rate in the U.S. with nearly half of its residents living in poverty, the unemployment rate is 10.9 percent, which is almost three times the national rate, and the U.S. territory expects continued dips in its populations after 600,000 people left following Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
“Fiscal reforms such as implementing the New Government Model and improving tax collections will achieve cost efficiencies and enhance revenues,” the fiscal plan states. “A comprehensive package of fiscal reforms, such as energy, welfare, workforce and tax reform, will be implemented to achieve sustainable economic growth and employment opportunities and create an attractive business climate through competitive and reliable energy and solid infrastructure.”
The 202-page report outlines changes to healthcare, the department of public safety and transformation, along with tax and structural reforms to “attract private capital investments and achieve strong, sustainable and balanced economic growth.”
Earlier in the week, Carlos Capacete, a former UBS employee noted that Wall Street bankers shared in the responsibility in creating Puerto Rico’s $74 billion debt.
Puerto Rico also suffered another island-wide blackout last month. As the territory continues to rebuild from two catastrophic storms, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced that FEMA approved a final request extending Transitional Shelter Assistance through June 30.
See below for photos of the recent protest.