SAN JUAN – The government of Puerto Rico handed out pink slips Friday to more than 2,000 public employees, bringing to nearly 20,000 the number of government workers laid off since last June as part of a plan to reduce a $3.2 billion budget deficit.
The layoffs coincide with double-digit unemployment on the Caribbean island, where the recession began two years earlier than on the U.S. mainland.
Some of the latest victims of the austerity plan protested Friday in front of the Department of Labor and Human Resources along with members of the SPU union, which represents many public-sector workers.
Among the demonstrators was Diana Colon Diaz, who lost her job as an administrative secretary in the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
She said only one of the five people in her department survived the cuts, adding that some of those laid off were professionals with advanced degrees.
Colon’s husband, Jose Garcia Martinez, was likewise dismissed from his position in the Puerto Rican administration’s Finance Department.
“We haven’t done any kind of saving,” she said. “It’s very difficult due to the cost of living. My family and work colleagues have aided us, but it’s not sufficient.”
The first round of public sector layoffs began last June, when the president of the state-owned BGF development bank announced the dismissal of 10,400 public employees.
Another 7,000 government workers were let go in October.
The SPU president, Annette Gonzalez, said Friday that the people of Puerto Rico must “cry out against all the layoffs” ordered by Gov. Luis Fortuño, who says that as many as 30,000 public sector jobs could be eliminated.
“Here the government has done as it pleases. Puerto Rico needs to unite more,” Gonzalez said, adding that besides hurting the workers and their families, the layoffs will cause a deterioration in public services.
The spokesman for the All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico coalition, Federico Torres Montalvo, said Friday that his group is trying to foment a general strike.
A crowd estimated by organizers at around 200,000 took part last October in an anti-layoff protest outside San Juan’s Plaza las Americas shopping mall.
Fortuño says that if he had not resorted to layoffs, the government of the U.S. commonwealth would have run out of money by Christmas. EFE