Questions arise surrounding government’s, bank’s reaction to general strike events

by | May 12, 2017 | Puerto Rico | Comments

After the events of the general strike unfolded, the government and police have come under scrutiny for their handling of the events that took place at the end of the general strike, when a group began to vandalize the Popular Center and surrounding area in Milla de Oro.

Just as the vandalism was occurring, Banco Popular had filed for lawsuit against the 47 organizations and individuals present in the protest. As the lawsuit spread across social media, many pointed out the inconsistencies found in the lawsuit towards the description of the events that were taking place. Banco Popular admitted their mistake and amended their lawsuit the following day admitting that they had prepared the lawsuit beforehand in expectation that violent actions would occur during the march. There is also criticism aimed at Richard Carrión, CEO of Banco Popular which has issued part of the public debt and helped propose an increase in sales tax. He is the related to Oversight Board president Jose Carrión III.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s responded to the events by condemning the acts of vandalism and violence and visiting the Milla de Oro the following day to help clean up. This incited criticisms on social media as he would be using public funding to clean up a private building. This was done the same day that  bondholders could sue the government of Puerto Rico over payment of the public debt, after the lawsuit moratorium included in PROMESA expired.

The police are under the most scrutiny for their handling of events. Videos surfaced of police officers not arresting or intervening with the group that initiated the vandalism aimed at Popular Center. Safety violations were pointed out by the ACLU towards the improper use of tear gas, pepper spray without first warning the crowd to disperse. Reporters, through social media, signaled how the policed were indiscriminately pointing the rubber bullet guns towards them and not allowing them to leave areas bombed with tear gas. There were many non-violent protesters who were attempting to leave the area that were bombed with tear gas, a notable location being inside the Roosevelt train station.

In arresting several marchers, who were escaping the clouds of tear gas and rubber bullets, there were reports of use of excessive force. Arrested protesters were also seemingly denied their rights to an attorney and to see their family. Days before, it was reported that undercover agents would be used to infiltrate protests. Though Col. Michelle Hernandez, the superintendent of police, initially denied the presence of these agents at the march, she later then said that agents of the drug division were there but on a separate investigation. Among them was Agent Ivan Bahr who has been accused of denying civil rights and the use of excessive force in arresting protesting students.

Public opinion towards the general strike has not only focused on condemning the acts of violence but also towards the bad strategizing of the government and police over their reactionary stance towards protesting.