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PUERTO RICO – Hundreds protest to decry austerity measures

From Caribbean News Service

Hundreds of Puerto Ricans took to the streets of the island’s capital on Wednesday to protest austerity measures as anger builds over an unrelenting economic crisis that has hit the working class especially hard.

Protesters clutched posters decrying austerity measures including new taxes, increases in utility bills and looming furloughs and cuts to a public pension system facing nearly $50 billion in liabilities.

“The measures that are being approved affect everyone in Puerto Rico,” said Luis Pedraza, leader of a union that represents some 20,000 workers in the public and private sector.

He warned that if people don’t protest, they will be hit with additional measures to generate more money for bondholders demanding payment amid multimillion-dollar defaults as Puerto Rico tries to restructure a portion of its $74 billion public debt

Joining the protest were dozens of workers from the island’s public power company who launched a 24-hour strike that forced the agency to temporarily close its offices.

Protesters shielded themselves from a blazing sun as meteorologists warned of a heat index that could reach 110 degrees. The crowd was expected to converge at the offices of a federal control board charged with overseeing Puerto Rico’s finances. The board earlier this week sued the island’s governor for refusing to implement measures including furloughs that are supposed to go into effect on Sept. 1.

The island of 3.4 million people is struggling with a 10 percent unemployment rate and a decade-long recession that has sparked an exodus of nearly 450,000 people to the U.S. mainland.

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