May 1 Protests Wage on in Puerto Rico, With a Cautious Twist

Demonstrators walk down and line the Las Americas Expressway, the biggest highway in Puerto Rico, as part of a massive march on July 22, 2019 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Angel Valentin/Getty Images

International Workers’ Day is historically a time for global protest. Naturally, it’s quite changed this year because the context is unprecedented. Mass gatherings and protests typically organized around the world on May 1 are inevitably hampered by necessary social distancing regulations intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.

In Puerto Rico, however, several sociopolitical groups plan to support ideas outlined by Jornada: Se Acabaron Las Promesas—a collective that for years has been on the frontlines of resistance against government corruption and colonialism on the archipelago. Organizations from the diaspora—A Call to Action Puerto Rico and a slew of others—have also signed off on the group’s official May 1 press release, which includes calls for financial help for families and free, widespread COVID-19 testing.

A protest caravan disembarked from Mayaguez, on the west coast, early Friday morning. In the east, another caravan left around 9:30 a.m. from Caguas, with a planned route through Gurabo, Juncos and Las Piedras, before finally landing at Humacao.

You can participate in the tuitazo (mass tweet effort) using the hashtag #GloriaALasManos. Cacerolazos (banging of pots and pans, a staple of Puerto Rican protest) are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday May 1, both in Puerto Rico and the diaspora.

The primary maxim of the day: “Con mascarilla pero sin mordaza,” or with masks but without muzzles.

People in Puerto Rico have yet to receive the federally mandated stimulus checks. Additionally, many have complained of issues receiving unemployment and other financial aid promises made in mid-April. Folks were told that money will be delivered “soon” but the government has yet to follow through, and retroactive payments are piling up.

Yesterday, though, Puerto Rican police sent a strong message to protestors: No manifestations will be permitted “on foot or by caravan of cars,” according to San Juan area commander José Juan García. Roads around go-to sites of protest (like the financial district) have been closed since Thursday evening.

When Governor Wanda Vázquez delivered a public address last night, she did not mention any regulations against May 1 protests or otherwise. The information given generally had to do with relaxing some quarantine measures and reopening some sectors of business.

The authorities seemed to set an example by arresting Giovanni Roberto, founder of Comedores Sociales, a nonprofit that feeds people in need, around San Juan’s financial district. The arrest occurred as a demonstration dubbed Caravan for Life was taking place.

He was released on Thursday night, nine hours after his initial detainment, with no charges.

NO CAUSA en ambos cargos. Liberan a Giovanni después de 9 horas de detención ilegal.

Posted by Colectiva Feminista en Construcción on Thursday, April 30, 2020

Multiple caravan protests have taken place in the past weeks. None of them resulted in arrests.

Clashes with police during protests in Puerto Rico are expected at this point, based on past demonstrations, including last summer’s monumental (and successful) movement to oust then-governor Ricardo Rosselló. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and batons have regularly been used to stifle protestors, and arrests are not uncommon, either.

The Departamento de Salud de Puerto Rico reports 1,575 positive COVID-19 cases and 94 related deaths at the time of publication. The number of total tests realized is not available on the informational page.

With controversial obscuring of the death toll, and post-Hurricanes Irma and Maria communications in 2017 in mind, many Puerto Ricans question the accuracy of the official numbers.

The ACLU of Puerto Rico has publicly decried the attempted suppression of today’s protests, stating that “no state of emergency can suspend our constitutional rights.”

Vázquez and crew laughed after the Governor’s address last night. The group was possibly showing relief after delivering a stressful speech but offended Puerto Ricans feel otherwise. It reminded many of Rosselló’s chat scandal last summer, during which he infamously wrote, “Cogemos de pendejo hasta los nuestros.”

To stay updated on today’s protests in Puerto Rico, we recommend following San Juan lawyer Mariana Nogales Molinelli, Jornada: Se Acabaron Las Promesas, Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, Puerto Rico based legal defense group Brigada Legal Solidaria and New York-based, Puerto Rican activist David Galarza Santa.