Puerto Rico: Student Strike Catalyzes National Action

Puerto Rico:  Second National Strike in Less than a Year
by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle

The student movement and the strike it has sustained for almost a month at the main campus of the state-run University of Puerto Rico (UPR), which has spread to 10 of the 11 UPR campuses, catalyzed a massive social movement convening a national strike today, May 18, 2010.

As recent as October 15, 2009, a national strike paralyzed the island after Governor Luis Fortuño laid off about 17,000 government employees.

Workers and members of trade unions, women, students, environmentalists, and professors have joined in support of the national strike today, convened by the coalition Todo Puerto Rico por Puerto Rico.  The goal is to paralyze all 78 municipalities of the island.

In the past days, tension has risen in the Río Piedras (main) campus of the UPR.  A special police unit has surrounded the campus.  Parents have been legally denied the possibility of delivering water, food, and other basic supplies to their kids: students who are participating in the strike.  There have been violent police encounters with parents, students, and other people who have supported the strike.

Activists, members of trade unions, politicians, artists, professors, the LGBT community, and students from all over the island, with different ideologies, have supported the students by disseminating their message and joining them in their protest at the Río Piedras campus.  Students have paralyzed the academic operations in order to protest against a $100 million budget cut and the proposed elimination of certain registration and fee waivers.

Bloggers have also reacted to the student strike and the difficult economic, social, and political moment Puerto Rico is confronting.  Marta Aponte Alsina’s blog Angélica furiosa published a post written by the novelist Juan Carlos Quiñones (UPR alumnus, #801-90-5414) titled “The University Has No Outside.”

Yo digo que cada pulgada del territorio, de éste, sea la universidad.  Es difícil acordonar el país entero.  No imposible, pero difícil.  Que la universidad sea todo Puerto Rico, y su matrícula sea la población entera.  Así, le regalamos la torre a quien quiera que sea interino, para que disfrute o sufra con el eco que produzcan sus alaridos.  Así, en la parada de la guagua, en la barbería, en Plaza las Américas, yo estoy en la Universidad.  Que se haga una Universidad permanente, constante, como la escuela invisible de los rosacruces, que nadie, repito nadie, le pueda quitar a nadie, porque no dependería de nadie dependiendo de todos.  Digo, todos a los que les interese.  En último caso, que la universidad sea, como en la novela de Orwell, un lugar en la mente de cada uno de nosotros. Así, imposible aniquilarla.  Imposible.  O que lo intenten.

What I want is for all the land, this island, to be the University.  It is difficult to cordon off a whole country.  Not impossible, but difficult.  What I want is for Puerto Rico to be the University and for its entire population to be the student body.  Then, give away the bell tower to whoever wants to be the interim chancellor, so he or she can enjoy or suffer the echoes of its screams.  Then, at the bus stop, at the barbershop, at the mall, I am at the University.  What I want is to make a permanent University, constant, like the invisible school of the Rosicrucians, which no one, and I mean no one, can take away from anyone because it would not depend on anyone, depending on all.  I mean, on all who are interested in the University.  Ultimately, what I want is for the University to be, like in Orwell’s novel, a place in each of our minds.  And then, impossible to kill it.  Impossible.  Or let them try.

In Erendiro, Alejandro Carpio locates the island’s situation in a global context:

Es importante recordar que la lucha civil y social es el impulsor de los cambios políticos y, a fin de cuentas, los procesos históricos.  Los estudiantes, profesores, padres, y ciudadanos responsables que se han unido en una protesta en contra de los abusos de nuestra reinante administración deben entender que aunque sus esfuerzos tienen metas delimitadas en el espacio y el tiempo, también conforman un movimiento que abarca el mundo entero y que sacude oligarquías, ya sea la tailandesa, la ecuatoriana, la estadounidense o la puertorriqueña.

It’s important to remember that civil and social struggle is the motor of political changes, and, in the end, of historical processes.  The responsible students, professors, parents, and citizens who have joined this protest against the abuse of the current administration have to understand that, even though their efforts have goals limited in space and time, they are part of a global movement that is also shaking oligarchies in Thailand, Ecuador, the United States, and Puerto Rico.

Poet and blogger Mara Pastor remembers her beloved years as a student at the Río Piedras campus of the UPR:

La universidad en la que me formé, crecí como ser humano y animal político, leí todo lo que me hizo amar, llorar, discrepar, valorar, entender, filosofar, escribir, está en huelga.  Sus motivos, los más legítimos.  Los de todos.  Denunciar la injusticia.  Sus formas, configuraciones nuevas, barricadas, payasos, interupciones, radios y rizomas.  Estamos frente a un acontecimiento.  Toda mi solidaridad, mi orgullo, mi apoyo a los estudiantes.

The university in which I was formed, grew as a human being and political animal, read everything that made me love, cry, dissent, evaluate, understand, philosophize, write, is on strike.  The motives of the strike — the most legitimate of all.  They are the motives of all of us: to denounce injustice.  The forms of the strike are new configurations: barricades, clowns, interruptions, radios, and rhizomes.  We are witnessing an event.  All of my solidarity, my pride, my support to the students.

Online citizen media have been a vital source of information during the student strike.  Professor and blogger Mario Nuñez Molina (@digizen) has prepared a list of citizen media in Puerto Rico covering the student strike.  Some of them are: the Río Piedras students blog Desde adentro and live radio and streaming of students reporting from Río Piedras through Radio Huelga.  UPR es un país is aggregating the digital citizen and alternative media resources.  Blogger and graduate student Miguel Ríos created another excellent list of resources that includes Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr.

The hashtags #paroUPR#huelgaUPR, and #radiohuelga are being used to discuss and follow the student protests on Twitter.  Students of the Mayagüez campus (on the west coast of the island) are using @luchasrum and the blog Luchas en el RUM to inform people about their events.  UPR Río Piedras Law professor Erika Fontánez is blogging about the situation.  The members of the Association of Professors also have their blog: Cátedra en acción.  Anonymous bloggers have been writing critical posts about the students, the UPR authorities, and the government in Agenda de la nación puertorriqueña.  The UPR’s monthly newspaper Diálogo is also covering the strike.  The alternative weekly Claridad is live-streaming the strike (you have to register first in order to have access).  Mainstream media, such as Primera Hora and El Nuevo Día, are publishing minute-by-minute accounts of the events.


Firuzeh Shokooh Valle is a Puerto Rican journalist.  Follow her at <twitter.com/firuzehsv>.  This article was first published in Global Voices Online on 18 May 2010 under a Creative Commons license.

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