puerto rico flag students
A man waves a national flag as others stand nearby during a protest in San Juan May 13, 2015. University students and employees took to the streets to protest against government plans to implement cuts to public university budgets, according to local media. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Thousands of Puerto Rican students and school employees flooded the streets of San Juan on Wednesday rejecting austerity measures that would cut funding for the University of Puerto Rico. Police prevented university supporters from reaching La Fortaleza. The proposed cuts are part of the government’s plan to start getting reducing its $79 billion dollar debt, a balance sheet that some warn could force the government into bankruptcy in a matter of months. Supporters of the University of Puerto Rico argue that tertiary education is the last thing that should be cut from the budget.

“The country has an obligation to cut its debt, but there's an obligation to provide services to Puerto Ricans," said Johanna De la Cruz, a professor and Executive Committee Member of the APPU.

Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla had hoped to avoid those kinds of criticisms when he unveiled a $9.64 billion budget earlier this spring that would pay down $775 million dollars in debt and draw no new loans. It also included a $200 million dollar cut to education.

"We are beginning to pay for today's expenses with today's earnings. This balanced budget complies with my commitment to prepare a budget without deficit financing [or] refinancing of debt," the governor told reporters in April, according to Reuters, adding that his government’s plan "accomplished this without firing anyone, respecting the daily bread of public workers.”

It’s not just professors and pupils with their backs against the wall but consumers of all government services including customers of the national power company, PREPA. They’re being slapped with arbitrary fees to fill gaps created by decades of mismanagement including, subsidizing businesses and unused power plants. While there are many factors responsible for Puerto Rico’s debt crisis, including out migration and a weak economy, PREPA’s problems are one example of a poor allocation of resources, not a lack of them. Students say that the University is an idea factory where the island’s problems will be solved, not a place to scale back on.

"The tools to push Puerto Rico forward is the University. That's where the professionals are, that's where the solutions to solve [problems] are," said Gilberto Vega, a medical student and protest leader.

Student groups have submitted an alternative education budget plan to Gov. Padilla.

As Latino Rebels pointed out on Thursday, no major U.S. outlets covered the protests despite the thousands who turned out and the serious issues raised by the spectre of Puerto Rico’s debt. That’s in stark contrast to a spate of recent political process pieces. For example, presidential hopeful Jeb Bush received a showering of coverage when he visited the island recently. He hasn't even announced his run, and there are a dozen others in the field. Also, Alexandra Lúgaro has received plenty of coverage on her recent social-media fueled bid for Gov. Padilla’s job.

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