UPR supporters swell the ranks of fee protest
December 24, 2010
by Juan A. Hernandez
University of Puerto Rico students once again received the support of thousands of people in their struggle to avert the imposition next semester of the $800 Special Fiscal Stabilization Fee.
A crowd of several thousand people demonstrated Thursday along with UPR students in a picket line that extended from the main gate of the Río Piedras campus to the intersection of Ponce de León and Gándara avenues.
“We are here with our sons and daughters to defend their education and our university,” said an unidentified woman marching among the students. “We are not troublemakers; we are parents.”
During a press conference Wednesday, labor and community leaders had called for the demonstration in support of the student struggle against the $800 special fee and the presence of police detachments on campus. Community leaders from Villa Sin Miedo (San Juan), Villas del Sol (Toa Baja), Sonadora (Aguas Buenas) and others came to express their support. At the same time, labor leaders from General Workers Union, the Puerto Rico Workers Syndicate, the Puerto Rico Workers Federation, the Electric and Irrigation Industry Workers Union, known as UTIER, and the Puerto Rico Teachers Association and Federation, among many others, also turned out to express their support.
Public Communications student Alicia Petru Gerena thanked the people for their support and reiterated the students’ disposition to continue their struggle.
“As in 1981, we now stand at this moment in history with our people to tell the government that we have taken to the streets willing to fight for our future,” said Petru Gerena, referring to the 1981 UPR student strike.
Teachers Association President Aida Díaz concurred with the student in that the people had come “to defend their university.”
“Many of us studied here and we want our children to receive from it what we received before,” Díaz said.
The veteran teacher urged Gov. Fortuño to reconsider his position because “things can still be negotiated.”
Dr. Iván Rodríguez Cancel, who was appointed last year as Health Department Secretary by Fortuño, also expressed his support for the university.
“As a Puerto Rican, I consider the people must express their solidarity with the University of Puerto Rico,” said Rodríguez Cancel, who withdrew his nomination to the Health post.
“This is an unfortunate situation for the university, the institution that prepared us for the challenges of the past and the one that will prepare us for those of the future,” Rodríguez Cancel, a UPR alumnus, added.
Support for the student cause also came from the Dominican Human Rights Committee.
“We want to change the perception that we ‘dominicanos’ don’t integrate with the people who have received us, that we don’t take part in the issues affecting Puerto Rico,” spokesman José Rodríguez said.
“We are against the abuse the police have committed against the students and particularly against our community,” Rodríguez said.
According to the human rights activist, police first “test” their abusive techniques on the dominicanos to later act against Puerto Ricans. “I have two teenage boys and they will be coming here soon [to the UPR] to study. I won’t be able to pay for the education of both of them if the fee is imposed, “ Rodríguez said.
Rodríguez estimated there are 3,000 to 4,000 Dominicans enrolled in universities, both public and private, across the island. UPR students have been on strike for the last nine days after the administration refused to repeal Certification 146, imposing a special $800 Fiscal Stabilization Fee to solve the worst economic crisis in university history. Even though students have been presenting their proposals to university officials during the semester, it wasn’t until the day before the strike that university President José Ramón De la Torre agreed to meet with them.
Confrontations between the students and the police contingents now stationed at the campus erupted this week, with 17 students arrested, and several others injured.
Regarding the clashes between students and the police, UTIER president Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo warned the police about future confrontations.
“We will not promote violence, but we will not be hit and pushed either. We have the right to free speech and we will defend ourselves,” Figueroa Jaramillo said.
After the protest, a Christmas concert (asalto navideño) was offered to the demonstrators preceded by the University Chorus, which sang the alma mater.
Renowned artist Pablo Marcano García took the occasion to unveil his painting “Fuego Coral,” in homage to chorus director Prof. Carmen Acevedo and the chorus.
“Professor Acevedo and the University Chorus represent the best of our spirit … as long as they endure, we will all be better,” Marcano García said.