I don’t pay much attention to Puerto Rico unless I’m planning a vacation. I can point it out on a map because I enjoy getting geography questions right on Trivial Pursuit and I occasionally watch the Weather Channel track hurricanes. I don’t know a lot about how Puerto Rico has been holding up during the recession. I kind of figured it was like a warmer, more socialist version of Arkansas, only with beaches and better looking women.
I guess I was wrong. The AP reports:
Labor unions are calling for an island-wide strike and a march near the capital on Thursday to protest government layoffs in Puerto Rico, where more than 20,000 public employees have been dismissed as the island struggles to pull out of a three-year recession.
At least 100,000 protesters are expected to converge on Plaza las Americas, the Caribbean’s largest shopping center, in the biggest of several demonstrations across the U.S. territory, according to organizers.
“A huge mass of people will paralyze the country,” said Juan Vera, a spokesman for the coalition All of Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico.
via The Associated Press.
Thursday? Like, right now? 100,000 people? I am shocked, shocked I say, that I have not seen this story covered extensively by television news.
Getting 100,000 protesters to show up at a Puerto Rican mall would be like getting 200,000 New Yorkers to show up at Madison Square Garden calling for the head of James Dolan. It’s certainly doable, but only under extreme circumstances.
Are the protests going to get ugly? Let’s explore after the jump.
I might not know much about Puerto Rico specifically, but I know that it is never a good thing to have 100,000 broke-ass citizens in one place. That is a lesson straight out of Controlling Your Caribbean Nation for Dummies. Wednesday, I had the opportunity to email with a couple of Puerto Rican law students. Some of them are on the ground in San Juan. They told me that the government is doing precisely what you would expect the government to do. They say that all agencies, schools — even the mall where the protest is supposed to be held — have been closed by the government.
They’ve even closed the University of Puerto Rico for a week. Again, that sounds like standard operating procedure. When you are confronting civil unrest, it is usually fueled by some group of students whose idealism hasn’t yet been gnarled down by the harsh realities of children, baldness, and the need for a second angioplasty.
Government officials could be making a big mistake by closing down the school. On Above the Law, I mentioned that as part of the school closing, students have been kicked out of the dorms. A force of homeless students who haven’t had a good night’s sleep for a week is inherently more dangerous than a bunch of college kids who planned to go to the protest but forgot to set their alarm.
But perhaps the government has sinister motives for getting the kids off campus? One student source points out:
P.S. Because of several incidents in the 1960s and 1970s the police CANNOT enter the grounds of the University of Puerto Rico.
Does the government want kids off of UofPR grounds to make it easier for the police to round them up? Ugh.
This could turn into a very bad situation. But of course, it doesn’t have to. One student sent me a Facebook IM yesterday:
I have solidarity with the workers, but I’m not going to go crazy. Don’t worry, this isn’t Vieques.
Well that’s cool, I guess … yay?
I hope everybody stays safe down there today