The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 81/No. 13      April 3, 2017

(front page)

US ‘oversight’ board orders cuts for Puerto Rico workers to pay off bonds

Washington’s Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico is stepping up instructions to the island’s elected officials to implement crippling budget cuts and other attacks that will batter working people to keep paying the U.S. colony’s $70 billion debt to wealthy bondholders.

The bipartisan board — “La Junta” in Spanish — was appointed by President Barack Obama with dictatorial power to overturn any economic or financial decision made by the Puerto Rican government. As a result, even opponents of independence for Puerto Rico, including those who want the island to become the 51st state, have to admit their island is a U.S. colony.

Unionists and students, opponents of Washington’s colonial rule and working-class activists in the U.S., including Osborne Hart, Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of New York, have been speaking out and protesting against the attacks.

The Feb. 28 plan presented by Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló freezes wages of government employees until 2020, cuts more than $300 million a year from the University of Puerto Rico, increases property taxes and taxes on tobacco, scraps infrastructure projects, increases motor vehicle fees by 10 percent, and will cut pensions by at least 10 percent by 2020.

These cuts come on top of cuts imposed over the last decade: layoffs of nearly 25 percent of government workers, the closing of more than 150 schools, sales tax increases and pension cuts. The moves have hammered the working class. More than 1,600 people abandon their homeland for the United States every week.

The Junta demanded Rosselló add further cuts to his original plan. They demanded the “immediate implementation of a furlough program” —cutting between two to four days a month from the work schedule, to reduce government payrolls by at least $420 million a year, as well as steeper pensions cuts and the elimination of the annual Christmas bonus for public workers.

Under the plan, teachers would face a two-day furlough each month. Juan Hernández told Primera Hora that he currently makes $1,800 a month teaching. If he loses two days pay “What am I going to have left?” he said. Others, including school cafeteria workers, would lose four days pay.

Worried about the response from working people, Rosselló balked, so the board gave him a short-term reprieve. If the colonial regime can come up with $200 million in additional cuts or income by June 1 and present a plan of “right-sizing personnel measures” by April 30, the furloughs and bonus cut might be put on hold.

At the current rate public workers pension funds will be bone dry by 2022. The fiscal board’s fix? Slash pension costs by 10 percent by 2020 and replace public workers defined-benefit pension plans. Instead, they would have defined-contribution accounts, where workers put their own money into a retirement fund, which is invested in stocks and bonds.

“The money for pensions was used to pay the debt,” Pedro Irene Maymí, president of the CPT union federation, told the Militant March 20. “The board’s measures will just make the economic crisis worse.” Maymí calls for a moratorium on debt payment.

“The furlough is ridiculous, that would be living below the poverty line,” Aida Díaz, president of the Association of Teachers of Puerto Rico, said by phone March 17.

Between the possible furlough and pensions cuts, “teachers are telling me, I’m going to go live with my adult children in the United States. At least I’ll have a roof over my head,” Díaz said, just a few hours before she led a march of teachers and school workers in San Juan, against the cuts.

“Workers in the U.S. join their sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico demanding an end to the colonial arrogance of Washington and the disaster it is imposing there,” the SWP’s mayoral candidate, Hart, told the Militant March 19. “As I talk to workers on their doorsteps across the city, I urge them to join protests against the Junta, which holds most of its meetings here on Wall Street, and to back Puerto Ricans fighting to throw off the boot of U.S. colonial rule.

“The debt is unpayable,” Hart said. “I demand it be canceled.”

If carried out, the Junta says, Roselló’s plan would make $800 million a year available to pay on the debt, far less than the $1.2 billion a year bondholders expect.  
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