SAN JUAN – Tuesday’s May Day march to Puerto Rico’s legislature to protest economic austerity policies started out peacefully but degenerated into violence among the demonstrators and against police later in the day.
Fifteen police officers were injured and eight demonstrators were arrested, according to a preliminary tally given by Puerto Rico Public Safety Department Secretary Hector Pesquera, who added that the injured officers were hurt to varying degrees in the violence at the hands of out-of-control rioters hurling stones and acid at law enforcement.
The clashes occurred in the financial heart of San Juan and involved just a few hundred demonstrators, who confronted police, who – given the 2017 May Day riots – maintained a heavy presence during this year’s march as participants head for the Financial Oversight and Management Board offices in the capital’s financial district.
The confrontations appear to be over for Tuesday, according to a preliminary assessment after police arrested a handful of marchers and several people sustained light injuries.
The incident occurred in the early afternoon along downtown Ponce de Leon Avenue, where some 400 marchers, many carrying wooden shields and with their faces covered, began throwing objects at police, who responded by charging the protesters and dispersing them in the direction of the University of Puerto Rico campus.
The demonstrators, most of them belonging to the “Se Acabaron Las Promesas” (The Promises Have Run Out) group, wanted to move past the police barrier, but when the officers refused to allow that the situation quickly deteriorated.
Puerto Rico’s interim police commissioner, Henry Escalera, said that he ordered the police charge because the demonstrators had smashed store windows in the financial district and were continuing to hurl objects at officers.
The demonstration was organized by the Puerto Rican Workers Central, although several other labor and grassroots organizations also joined the march.
The focus of the protest were the measures that the Washington-appointed Oversight Board intends to impose on the US commonwealth, including cuts to public employee pensions and the elimination of the traditional Christmas bonus, among others.
Demonstrators also rejected Gov. Ricardo Rossello’s decision to close some 300 public schools.