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  • Puerto Ricans protest the controversial PROMESA bill and the Federal Control Board it creates.

    Puerto Ricans protest the controversial PROMESA bill and the Federal Control Board it creates. | Photo: Facebook / Campamento Contra La Junta

Published 12 July 2016

The action against the U.S. response to Puerto Rico's debt crisis is supported by labor unions, environmental activists, and the LGBTQ community.

Protests in Puerto Rico against the controversial U.S. Federal Control Board ostensibly aimed at helping the island tackle its crippling US$73 billion debt crisis are still going strong with an occupy movement against the "junta” in the Hato Rey district of San Juan and other actions over a week after President Barack Obama signed off on the disputed PROMESA bill.

5 Progressives Speak out Against 'Colonial' Puerto Rico Debt Bill

Opponents of PROMESA, known in full as Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, held a march in San Juan on Monday evening rejecting the bill. Meanwhile, the protest camp outside the U.S. Federal Court in Hato Rey, launched on June 29, has grown in recent days with more tents popping up to protest the bill, local media reported.

Under the banner “federal control board, colonial dictatorship,” the movement slams the debt relief plan approved by Congress on June 30 as a colonial policy that will undermine Puerto Rico’s democracy by handing over control of the island’s economy to a U.S. president-appointed, Republican-dominated control board. Critics say the board will have power to slash the minimum wage to US$4.25 per hour for minors, implement mass layoffs, and cut basic services with no protections for pensions and worker rights.

The camp is demanding that the approval of PROMESA be immediately overturned, with activists refusing to recognize Puerto Rico's public debt as legitimate and advocate a process of democratic self-determination for the island.

The anti-PROMESA effort has gained support from various groups including labor unions, artists, the movement against aerial fumigation on the island, and the LGBTQ community, which held an event on Sunday under the banner Pride Against the Junta in solidarity with the occupy camp.

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Leaders of the encampment plan to continue the protest, with events such as workshops and film screenings, as well as daily assemblies at 7:00 p.m. local time. One of the challenges in the first two weeks has been the weather, which has soaked the camp with several downpours, according to local media. Unions and other groups have offered support through donating food and other supplies.

Government attempts to disperse the camp have included the use of constant high-intensity lighting. The American Civil Liberties Union has called on authorities to protect the right to protest and stop the practice, saying in a statement that the tactic’s “sole purpose is to harass and impose onerous conditions on the right to peaceful demonstration.”

Amid the ongoing protests, unions organizing workers in the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the island’s publicly-owned electricity company, have warned against the privatization of electrical services and broadband networks, also provided to the company through the subsidiary Prepa Networks.

Meanwhile, the island-wide collective Todos Somos Pueblo, launched two years ago with some 60 member organizations, have started a process of studying the potential impacts of PROMESA to help develop next steps for the movement against the bill. Community leaders also called for analyzing how Puerto Rico’s “colonial condition” has led to PROMESA and the new challenges it brings, local media reported.

Colonial Capitalism and Puerto Rico’s Odious Debt

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is barred from declaring bankruptcy, an option only available to municipalities in U.S. state under the bankruptcy code. The island’s legal status with the United States — which many critics deem a colonial relationship — has crippled its ability to effectively tackle its debt crisis by making it virtually impossible to restructure its US$73 billion debt.

Under the PROMESA bill, widely heralded as an urgent bipartisan move to “rescue” Puerto Rico in conjunction with its July 1 debt default, the seven-member Federal Control Board will have the power to restructure the debt, as well as to impose sweeping austerity measures on the cash-strapped island.

The bill also has many critics in the United States: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders called it a “horrific bill,” while House Democrat Luis Gutierrez called PROMESA a “wholly undemocratic” move to “impose a junta,” drawing comparisons to the junta under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile.

San Juan Mayor Carmin Yulin Cruz is also against the bill and has called PROMESA “ a broken promise to the people of Puerto Rico.”

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