Students at the University of Puerto Rico, a public university that serves 65,000 mostly working class students, have been organizing and mobilizing to defeat a government plan to increase their tuition fee by $800 in January 2011. To protest this attack on their right to education, students sat down and slowed traffic on a major highway in the capital city of San Juan in November. This Tuesday, students raised barricades t0 blockade the UPR-San Juan campus for two days, beating off attacks by police and security guards. In the spring of 2010, UPR students went out on strike for 62 days, shutting down 10 of 11 UPR campuses and defeating most of the government’s cuts to the university’s budget and changes to the academic program.
A student, wearing a mask, sits on a barricade during a protest at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan early Tuesday Dec. 7, 2010.
Puerto Rican Daily Sun, December 10, 2010
Students at UPR Piedras hold vigil to keep cops off campus
“As long as there is a police presence inside the University, there will be no classes,” said the spokeswoman for the Student Representation Committee, Maria Soledad Davila. “Police have not entered the university for the last 30 years, and when they have, it has been to repress ideas and limit the project of a public university.”
It was not business as usual at the University of Puerto Rico Piedras campus Thursday as students, teachers, labor groups and political organizations presented a united fund to boycott classes.
While students gathered outside the gates, refusing to go to class, their professors met off- campus and voted not to teach as long as police remained on campus. They also postponed the strike vote they had approved last week in exchange for the administration receiving the students for a dialogue. Several organizations demanded that the police be removed.
“There is no doubt that the government is frightened by the university’s power, and the love the people have for it as an institution,” said Maria Gisela Rosado, president of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors, in reference to the presence of police on campus. “We want this fee to be canceled, or at the least put on hold, until the institution can get on an even keel, and all of us can look for ways to resolve this,” she said. The group also urged the people to join the march from the Capitol to La Fortaleza scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Student spokeswoman for the Student Representation Committee, Maria Soledad Davila, said the administration is taking advantage of the academic recess ordered by the chancellor to install cameras. “They are taping, and we don’t know what they are doing in the faculties,” she said. “The people are here aware that the University is not theirs
[the administration’s] but ours.”
“As long as there is a police presence inside the University, there will be no classes,” she said. “Police have not entered the university for the last 30 years, and when they have, it has been to repress ideas and limit the project of a public university.” “The teachers will not bar the way of anyone”, she said, but the majority of students, professors and employees are expected to repudiate the police presence on campus.
This protest was not anticipated when they met to give a strike vote for an event which is scheduled for Tuesday.
Another group condemning the presence of the police is the University Pro Independence Federation, known as FUPI.
“This is a serious act of provocation on the part of Luis Fortuno’s government towards the university community and the island as a whole,” said FUPI spokesman Kevin Luciano, adding that it was also “a historic step backwards for the university.” [Fortuno is the Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico-ed]
“Police have not been brought on campus [in recent years] precisely because it has brought dramatic consequences including the death of Antonia Martinez Lagares, two police and an ROTC cadet at the beginning of the 1970s,”
Also commenting on the police presence was the Movement to Socialism, which called on the student body to “act decidedly and united, before the new institutional aggression on the part of the government against university
autonomy, the non-confrontation policy and accessibility to an excellent public education.”
“We denounce the occupation by police of the UPR campuses aimed at intimidating and creating a belligerent climate. When the police were removed [from UPR] 30 years ago, it was because of the vicious killings, attacks and
arrests, the climate of confrontation, building of dossiers, and harassment, the result of which was a failure of democracy and crass violations of civil rights,” said the organization’s spokesman Alvin R. Couto de Jesus.
“Police on campus represents an act of confrontation that undermines the university autonomy project and eliminates the non-confrontation policy because it destroys the possibility of resolving conflicts from a university point of view built on dialogue and mediation,” he said.
Another point of view came from the Association of Pro-Statehood Students which announced Thursday that it will create a united front with the leaders of the organization on other campuses to prevent incidents like those which occurred in Rio Piedras. The organization’s president in Mayaguez, Edwin Jusino, said there is no conflict between the statehood cause and the protection of UPR. “If it is true that we have the right to protest, it is also true that we must not violate the law. Our struggle must not be a violent one; we must develop dialogue and lobby to force the government and the legislature to resolve the UPR crisis,” said Jusino.
The Trade Union Coordinating Group said that it had also agreed to express solidarity with the many organizations of professors and non-teaching workers. They also voted to support the students of the 11 campuses who are rejecting the new tuition fee. They also will participate in activities to promote their position.
They also repudiated the remarks of Chief of Staff Marcos Rodriguez Ema, who said they would (literally) “kick out” the demonstrating students. The director of the group, Luis Pedraza Leduc, said “[Rodriguez Ema’s] words are the fundamentals to create a climate of uncertainty, fear and violence at the University.”
Pedraza Leduc said Rodriguez Ema did the same thing in 1996 when he provoked a strike at the Government Development Bank, which lasted for two months. Pedraza Leduc criticized La Fortaleza for instructing government agencies to mobilize employees of confidence to the UPR campus participate in marches which support the university administration.
After the 48-hour strike ended, Fortuno announced that he would soon name a committee to amend the regulations of UPR. On another subject, Fortuno justified the mobilization of the police to the campuses and said that after
noon classes would begin, allowing workers to clean up the barricades and trash which the students placed in certain areas.
The president of the Popular Democratic Party, Hector Ferrer, called on the governor to remove the police, and urged alumni to support the students. He said the governor should assume the responsibility and face the situation.
“We have seen conflict and unpleasant encounters, which have resulted in violence, we have seen student and police lives in danger, but the governor has been absent. It looks as if solving this conflict is not one of his priorities,” said Ferrer.
In reaching out to former students, he said: “This struggle is not just about the students, it affects the whole country, and it is time for the alumni to take a step to join this cause, which is, without a doubt, a fair one.”
Ferrer invited the governor to put aside political differences and to use “viable means” presented by the PDP delegation to solve the conflict. Among their suggestions are a bill proposed by the Law School students to amend the Scholarship Fund law and bills that propose to amend the Fiscal Emergency Law 7 to restore the income formulas of the UPR General Fund.