Violence Ravages Puerto Rico

Protesters planted bombs, smashed bank machines and severed and burned phone cables on Jun. 25, reacting with fury to the privatization of Puerto Rico’s phone company. One bomb exploded in a policeman’s hands. The bomb, concealed in a flashlight, was planted at a branch of Banco Popular, part of a consortium buying the Puerto Rico Telephone Co. It tore a finger off the officer’s right hand and wounded his left hand and leg.

Two large unions began a financial offensive against Banco Popular. The General Workers’ Council withdrew $40 million from accounts on Jun. 25, and the Teachers Association of Puerto Rico said it transferred $100 million out of the bank. The rash of sabotage started shortly after Gov. Pedro Rossello signed a law on Jun. 24 completing the $1.9 billion sale of the phone company, known as Telefonica, to a consortium led by GTE Corp.
Being told by union bosses they will lose their jobs, Telefonica’s 6,400 workers went on strike Jun. 18 and began cutting telephone cables. By Jun. 24, telephone service had been cut to 345,000 of the 1.3 million customers and half the island’s 750 automatic bank machines. Dozens more fiber optic cables were cut all over the island. In one town, arsonists set ablaze a phone switching box. Violent clashes with riot police have encouraged other unions to joined the strike.
Unions in Puerto Rico have a history of violent strikes marked by sabotage. In one case, Teamsters set fire to the DuPont Plaza Hotel on New Year’s Eve 1986, killing 97 people and injuring 140. [A.P. 06/25/98]