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Puerto Rico's teachers take to the streets protesting continuing austerity.
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For Anne and me it is a week’s holiday from the freezing temperatures and snow in Chicago.
Looking over the beautiful bay in Fajardo on the eastern tip of Puerto Rico it is hard to imagine the difficulties facing the residents of this colonial possession of the United States.
We came here seeking a winter break and this beautiful island seemed perfect. Puerto Rico has one of the highest Covid vaccination rates and low positivity rates compared to almost anywhere in the world, and particularly compared to the fifty states.
But just one day before our arrival, the island’s teachers walked off the job and marched through the streets of cities across Puerto Rico, chanting and banging pots and pans to bring attention to their dire situation.
Puerto Ricans are not only dealing with Covid. They must also deal with austerity.
It seems Puerto Rico’s teachers are fed up with years of austerity.
The root cause is Puerto Rico’s colonial status.
Puerto Rican’s have had to manage their lives dealing with federal and island government corruption and an inept response to recent hurricane and earthquake disasters.
The Puerto Rican colonial government declared its debt "unpayable" in 2015 following decades of corruption.
The declaration prompted Congress to create the 2016 Promesa law.
During the Obama administration Congress installed a financial oversight board which removed any pretense of economic self-determination.
Last week a federal judge approved a restructuring plan that reduces a portion of Puerto Rico’s $70 billion public debt.
As part of the plan, Puerto Rico’s teachers were offered a raise.
But not nearly good enough.
Fridays protest was the biggest one so far.
As part of the debt reduction plan approved by the Promesa board and the judge, teachers would see an average increase of 27% compared with what they made in fiscal year 2019.
But 27% more of nothing is still nothing.
Teachers would receive half the raise on July 1, with the other half tied to teachers taking on additional non-instructional work.
Puerto Rico’s Association of Teachers rejected the move, saying it only increases base salaries to $2,220 a month instead of the $3,500 it is requesting.
On Friday, officials said more than 70% of teachers were absent.
The Promesa board says the debt has been reduced.
The teachers only see continued austerity.