[News] 'Stop Vulture Funds': Puerto Rico Students Protest Austerity

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 5 12:30:36 EDT 2017


  'Stop Vulture Funds': Puerto Rico Students Protest Austerity

May 5, 2016

Students from the University of Puerto Rico are organizing a national 
demonstration on Friday to protest widespread austerity measures and an 
increase in police violence against those who oppose such measures.

Student organizers describe the demonstration as being against the 
persecution and criminalization of student struggles for affordable 
education. However, a much broader debate will be held about widespread 
austerity measures aimed at alleviating the Caribbean island's debt crisis.

While Puerto Rico's revenues declined over the years, the U.S. 
protectorate borrowed money by issuing municipal bonds to keep the 
government running. In 2015, Puerto Rico's governor, Alejandro Javier 
García Padilla, announced that the island's nearly US$73 billion debt 
was “unpayable.”

On Wednesday, Puerto Rico announced that it would restructure its public 
debt. The island's bankruptcy claim could reach a historic US$3.8 
trillion in the municipal bond market. It wasn't clear just how much of 
the nation's US$70 billion debt would be included in the bankruptcy filing.

The move comes a day after several U.S. creditors, as well as hedge 
funds dubbed “vulture funds," sued Puerto Rico for defaulting on bonds.

Protesters have taken aim at the island's Fiscal Control Board, which 
was established by the U.S. Congress' PROMESA bill to oversee government 
expenditures. The unelected board, having assumed power in January, is 
pushing for grave austerity measures. One of the measures include a 
US$512 million cut in university funding by 2025.

According to reports by the Debt Audit Commission and Saqib Bhatti and 
Carrie Sloan of the ReFund America Project, roughly US$36.9 billion of 
Puerto Rico's debt was deemed illegal. The amount owed to creditors 
either involved “extra-constitutional” debt saddled with predatory 
interest rates or “toxic” interest-rate swaps.

Bernard Tort, a University of Puerto Rico professor who was attacked 
with pepper spray by riot police during a recent protest, said that he 
lost his sight for 40 minutes. Along with a majority of students and 
professors, Tort supports an independent audit of the debt.

“The audit would reveal 1) how much of the debt is illegal, 2) who is 
responsible for putting together the illegal bonds that were sold, and 
3) who was involved in the underwriting,” he said.

The national demonstration is scheduled for 1:00 pm in front of the 
University of Puerto Rico gates at Utuado.

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