luma Protestors gathered in San Juan on Wednesday to demand that the government cancel its contract with LUMA Energy.
Mivette Vega

Since LUMA took over transmission and distribution of electricity on the island one year ago, there have been constant power outages and seven price increases.

Union leaders and citizens fed up with high electricity bills and unreliable service made their voice heard at the “Todo Puerto Rico Contra LUMA” protest on Wednesday in San Juan. 

The march, which started at El Capitolio and continued to La Fortaleza (the governor’s mansion), was organized by the Power Authority Workers Union (UTIER by its Spanish initials) to demand that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi cancel the contract with LUMA Energy.

A year after the US company took over the transmission and distribution of electricity on the island, protests are becoming more frequent. As a result of the constant blackouts and seven consecutive electricity bill increases, thousands of Puerto Ricans dissatisfied with LUMA.

Protestors are also demanding that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi sign House Bill 1383, which would create the “PREPA Debt Restructuring Law” to restructure the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and cut its $9 billion debt by 75%. Local lawmakers and advocates say that the measure would represent a reduction in people’s electricity bills.

But just hours before the protest, on Tuesday afternoon, Pierluisi vetoed the bill, saying that it contradicts the Fiscal Plan certified by the Fiscal Oversight Board (La Junta), which is in charge of the island’s finances and debt.

“PC 1383 would do justice to the country by putting a stop to the constant increases in the electricity bill […]We regret that the governor, once again, prefers to serve as the lawyer for LUMA, the bondholders, and the Board, above the interests of the people,” said Puerto Rico House Speaker Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, after Pierluisi’s decision.

Earlier on Tuesday, the governor reiterated the country’s commitment to the LUMA contract.

“It is not a question of endorsing (LUMA). It is a contract that binds the government of Puerto Rico, it was duly granted, and in Puerto Rico contracts are respected. The Constitution requires that contractual relationships not be impaired. The government has given its word, and right now LUMA has a role to play,” Pierluisi said.

But Ángel Jaramillo, president of Power Authority Workers Union (UTIER), told Floricua at the protest on Wednesday that serving the people should be the governor’s first priority.

“Constitutional law [has something] that precedes any contract and any contractor that is hired to [serve it], which is to respond for the benefit and the right of a people. And that goes above any contract,” he said.

Jaramillo added that the government has canceled contracts before. “The governor himself, being a resident commissioner under the administration of Luis Fortunio, canceled the contract of the southern pipeline, later the government canceled the northern pipeline contract, and previously they have had well known cancellations. The contract with the water utility company was canceled. Without counting the numbers of contracts that are canceled daily in the country. Therefore, I believe that the governor’s defense, instead of being for the people of Puerto Rico, has demonstrated, or continues to demonstrate, that it is a defense of the LUMA contract.”

Among the unions in attendance at the the protest are Asociación Empleados de Socios en Acción Inc.  (AESA); Junta de Asociaciones con Pensionados y Jubilados de Puerto Rico; Frente Ciudadano por la Auditoría; Colegio de Profesionales de Trabajo Social; and the national collective Todos Somos Pueblo.