Police fire rubber bullets, tear gas at peaceful May Day protesters in Puerto Rico

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest austerity measures, school closings, and a botched hurricane recovery effort.

Puerto Rico Police officers guard the Capitol during a one-day strike against the government's privatization drive in public education, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 19, 2018. CREDIT: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images
Puerto Rico Police officers guard the Capitol during a one-day strike against the government's privatization drive in public education, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 19, 2018. CREDIT: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP/Getty Images

Puerto Ricans clashed with police in the streets of San Juan after protests against austerity measures took a violent turn Tuesday. The demonstration was in protest of proposed cuts to retirement benefits and looser labor laws, as well as school closures and slow hurricane recovery efforts.

One woman, Adria Bermudez, told The Associated Press that she was marching to protest the increase of the undergraduate cost per credit from $57 to $115, then to an eventual $157 over five years. She also called for government officials and legislators to reduce their salaries instead of implementing more austerity measures.

“The measures are aimed at the middle class and low middle class,” she said. “The rich don’t suffer.”

The protests reportedly became violent after hundreds of young protesters tried to enter the Hato Rey neighborhood, San Juan’s banking center. There, according to Bloomberg, helmeted police officers wearing gas masks formed lines to block them from advancing.

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When the protesters tried to push their way through the police line, the officers reportedly responded by indiscriminately firing rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protesters.

In another video, police arrest two protesters on private property onto which the protesters were reportedly invited.

One woman reported on Twitter that police had arrested an activist who has been working to provide solar and water to his community in the wake of Hurricane Maria and that police beat him after he had been handcuffed.

Police also reportedly entered the home of another activist, beat her, and arrested her.

The protests come as Puerto Rico is still trying to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, which hit the island last fall.

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More than seven months later, about 30,000 people on the island still don’t have power, and a recent Politico report confirmed that the Trump administration favored Texas recovery efforts over those in Puerto Rico. The botched recovery effort has had a devastating effect on the mental health of those living in Puerto Rico, too: Reports of suicide attempts on the island more than tripled between November 2017 and January 2018.

Now, Puerto Rico is trying to overcome a recession that has lasted more than a decade as well as restructure a portion of its $72 billion public debt. According to the AP, economists have warned that the poverty rate on the island could rise from 45 percent to as high as 60. The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins again in one month.