Thousands of Puerto Rican students, teachers, and their supporters took the streets this week to protest cutbacks proposed by Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, including a plan to slash the University of Puerto Rico's budget by $166 million.
Marching through the streets of the capital San Juan to La Fortaleza, the governor's mansion, the demonstrators were met by a line of police who used pepper spray and truncheons to stop them from reaching the building's main gate. Video posted on Facebook appeared to show one officer swinging his baton at protesters trying to push their way past a row of officers blocking their path.
A small explosion Wednesday near the governor's mansion was reportedly caused by an improvised "chemical bomb" fashioned from a plastic Pepsi bottle filled with flammable liquid and a fuse, according to newspaper El Nuevo Día. No injuries were reported, and it's unclear whether the blast was linked to the protests.
"We don't have much information concerning the 'explosive' and it comes directly from the police, which makes us doubtful of its accuracy," student leader Chris Torres Lugo told the Huffington Post.
Faced with shortfalls and mounting debt, Padilla is seeking to trim government spending by a whopping $1.5 billion overall. Puerto Rican legislators tentatively agreed Thursday to raise the island's sales tax from 7 percent to 11.5 percent, which combined with other proposed tax increases would reportedly boost revenue by $1.2 billion. A vote on the plan — which still includes $500 million in spending cuts — is scheduled for Monday.
Though the protests largely dissipated by Friday, many students remain upset with the governor's proposed austerity measures. Students at the University of Puerto Rico campus in Rio Piedras called a 48-hour student strike that started on Thursday, with the Mayagüez campus following suit on Friday.
Students, teachers, and employees of the University of Puerto Rico system rallied in front of the Capitol. The governor's Popular Democratic Party says significant cutbacks are necessary to help the island start working its way out of a massive deficit caused by eight years of recession.
Students from the drama department at the University of Puerto Rico's Rio Piedras campus prepared to march to the governor's house.
Students rallied one block away from the governor's house in Old San Juan on May 13.
Students and teachers raised their arms in the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture popularized by recent anti-police brutality protests on the US mainland.
Police officers used pepper spray on some students that demanded to be allowed to walk all the way to the main gate of the governor's mansion.
The Rio Piedras campus was empty on May 15, the second day of the student strike.
Students took control of the university's gates during the strike.
A sign hanging on the gate read, "No classes, no work, there's a strike."
Drama students performed in front of the closed main gates of the Rio Piedras campus.
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