Written by Gregg Brekke
Thousands of protestors flooded the streets of San Juan in the largest public gathering in Puerto Rican history. The October 15 strike was in response to governor Luis Fortuño's decision to lay off 16,720 public workers.
The UCC's Executive Council issued a letter of solidarity October 17 in support of the coalition protesting massive government layoffs in Puerto Rico.
"We join with the Council of Churches of Puerto Rico and all its member churches to demand the reinstatement of thousands of governmental workers who have lost their livelihood," the letter said. It is addressed to Executive Secretary the Rev. Angel Luis Rivera at the Council of Churches of Puerto Rico . The letter was affirmed by the entire Executive Council and includes Chairman Pierson Kemp and General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black as signatories.
A letter received earlier in the week from former Global Ministries missionary, Carmen Alicia (Ali) Nebot, alerted the Executive Council to growing dissatisfaction in Puerto Rico and the likelihood of a protest. She noted that the government had threatened to declare the coalition a terrorist organization and apply Patriot Act policies to the group.
"It is my conviction that as a Christian and believer in justice my place is here accompanying the people," Nebot's letter stated. "... to be a witness on behalf of the UCC [to] the people's suffering and their courage in this struggle."
The New York Times reports that the public sector of Puerto Rico's economy employs roughly 25 percent of all workers. The 22,000 layoffs - 5,000 earlier this year and nearly 17,000 proposed for November - are expected to raise the island-wide unemployment rate from 15 to 17 percent. Gov. Luis G. Fortuño says the layoffs are the only way to avert a government shutdown being brought on by the territory's $3.2 billion deficit.
"We will continue to hold you all in prayer in the days and weeks ahead that will become even more difficult as the promised harsh social and economic policies are put into place," the Executive Council's letter said. "May the gracious love of God made real in Christ Jesus bring you strength, peace, and hope."