Puerto Rico: University students in standoff with riot police as their strike continues

http://www.prdailysun.com/news/Students-joined-by-professors-as-strike-continues

December 16, 2010

A standoff between University of Puerto Rico students and members of the police Tactical Operations Division (riot squad) marked the second day of the strike that has practically paralyzed all academic and administrative activities in the Río Piedras campus.

The standoff, which lasted over four hours and covered the streets of Río Piedras, came around 1 p.m. after a group of some 250 students stormed onto the Natural Sciences building clapping and chanting slogans along its hallways.

“We don’t want to study in a military camp … We’re on strike, there are no classes,” chanted the students as they gathered at the building’s central plaza in an effort to interrupt the few classes in session.

Several non-teaching university employees watched the student protest from a distance, without joining in, but expressing their support for the students’ plight. “We all support the students but the administration has threatened us with dismissal,” said an unidentified university employee about their presence on campus. “Otherwise we would be marching with them [the students].” Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Student strike intensifies, public education and civil rights at stake

Scene from UPR student strike in spring 2010

by Maritza Stanchich, Ph.D, Associate Professor of English, University of Puerto Rico

Coincident with massive, at times explosive, student protests in Rome and London, University of Puerto Rico has again become a flashpoint with a student strike beginning Tuesday that turned the main campus into a militarized zone of police, riot squads, and SWAT teams, complete with low-flying helicopters and snipers. What began as a conflict over a steep student fee hike is now seen as a larger struggle to preserve public education against privatization.

Resistance to the imposed $800 student fee has triggered repressive state measures: police have occupied the main campus for the first time in 31 years and Monday the local Supreme Court, recently stacked by the pro-Statehood political party in power, outlawed student strikes and campus protests. More than 500 students defied the ruling by demonstrating on campus Tuesday, brandishing the slogan “They fear us because we don’t fear them” (“Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo”).

This current strike revisits accords to negotiate the $800 fee, which in June ended a two-month shut down of 10 of 11 UPR campuses, as UPR faces a $240 million budget shortfall precipitated by the state not honoring its own debt to the institution.

Civil rights groups have declared a state of high alert in the wake of disturbances last week and statements by leading public officials seen as creating a hostile climate that inhibits free speech rights. In response, about 15,000 UPR supporters marched on Sunday from San Juan’s Capitol building to La Fortaleza governor’s mansion, under a balmy bright blue tropical sky in this U.S. Territory of about four million U.S citizens, though little known to most Americans beyond being a tourist destination. Continue reading

Students, teachers at University of Puerto Rico-Piedras boycott classes as long as police remain on campus

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. Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Police suppressing dissent at University of Puerto Rico

William Ramirez Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union Puerto Rico National Chapter   12-10-10

SUMMARY OF CURRENT STATE OF 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHTS IN PUERTO RICO
AND ROLE SECURITY FORCES PLAY IN SUPPRESSING SPEECH

The Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, has taken down University of Puerto Rico gates and has ordered armed police officers onto the UPR’s Rio Piedras campus (main campus) to assure that from now on there will no longer be any “leftist political activism” on campus and to stop any attempts to call for a student walk out. UPR students called a two day walk out, which ended Wednesday, December 8, 2010, to protest an arbitrary hike in student fees and other related administrative matters. The walk out was a continuation of an earlier UPR general strike. Last week, Marcos Rodriguez Ema, Secretary of the Governorship (Governors Mansion), in a live television interview said he would forcefully remove anyone who dared protest at UPR; that he would “kick their asses (los sacaría a patadas)” off campus.

Just days before, Puerto Rico’s police commissioner announced that he will be dismantling the controversial riot squad of the Tactical Police Unit, in response to US DOJ concerns that may be leading to a patterns and practice case by the United States. The ACLU has been filing complaints with the US DOJ for the past three years and has met with the DOJ in Puerto Rico and DC regarding the ongoing police violence and profiling.

This past Tuesday, December 7, 2010, the first day of the two day walk out, University officials brought on to campus a private security force “Capital Security” comprised of unlicensed and untrained young men recruited off the streets to control student protestors. Immediately, a violent situation emerged; many of these so called “security employees” came in with 2×4’s, wielding open knives and blackjacks, acting more like a goon squad. When interviewed by the press, some “security guards” admitted that they have no experience or training, that their only experience was kicking ass “free of charge” in the streets of their communities and that “here I will get paid for it”. This private security force was to replace the controversial tactical police unit, but has proven to be just as violent. http://www.elnuevodia.com/videos– megustadarcantazos-191847.html Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Students clash with police and security guards over proposed tuition hike

A student, wearing a mask, sits on a barricade during a protest at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico, early Tuesday Dec. 7, 2010. Students raised barricades around the university for a two-day blockade, and clashed with police and security guards in protests of a proposed $800 annual fee. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

December 7, 2010

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Dozens of students at the University of Puerto Rico have clashed with police and security guards during protests over a proposed $800 annual fee.

The students raised barricades around the school early Tuesday for what they say is a two-day blockade.

One female student was charged with assaulting a police officer and several others broke car windows with sticks and pipes.

Earlier this year, students launched a two-month strike to protest budget cuts and changes to the academic program.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press

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Puerto Rican Political Prisoners: 30 Years in US Prisons

National Lawyers Guild International Committee, October 25, 2010

Jan Susler of the People’s Law Office in Chicago delivered the following speech to the National Lawyers Guild Convention in New Orleans, LA on September 23-26, 2010. Her talk addresses the continuing struggle of the Puerto Rican prisoners for justice and liberation, both from prison and from colonialism.

In April of this year, activists in Puerto Rico and several U.S. cities marked the 30th anniversary of the arrest of 11 Puerto Rican men and women accused and convicted of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to serve the equivalent of life in U.S. prisons. They called attention to the fact that one of them— Carlos Alberto Torres— had been in prison for 30 years, another— Oscar Lopez Rivera— , for 29 years; and another— Avelino Gonzalez Claudio— , for 2. Of the 2,000 some Puerto Rican political prisoners since the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, Carlos Alberto is the longest held.

What could motivate a Carlos Alberto, an Oscar, or an Avelino, to take action leading to such consequences? What is it about the situation of the Puerto Rican nation that could lead to people being accused of conspiracies related to winning independence, including seditious conspiracy— conspiring to use force against the “lawful” authority of the U.S. over Puerto Rico?

You may know that in 1898, the U.S. invaded and militarily occupied Puerto Rico… an occupation which, over the years, has changed and morphed in some of its details, but which has essentially continued unabated to this day; an occupation which led the George W. Bush (hijo)’s Presidential Task Force on Puerto Rico to state that Puerto Rico is a mere possession of the United States, which the U.S. could give away to another country, if it so desired. It is more than a little ironic that the U.S. would possess Puerto Rico as a colony, given that the U.S. was born of an anti-colonial struggle— an armed, sometimes clandestine, struggle against British control.

Nevertheless, the U.S. expanded its colonial empire to include Puerto Rico, controlling its borders and its economy; imposing unwanted U.S. citizenship and consequent eligibility for inscription into the U.S. military; attempting to destroy Puerto Rico’s language, rich culture and heritage. The Puerto Rican people resisted U.S. control, just as they had Spanish control, risking prison and even death to seek to control their own destiny.

Carlos Alberto Torres
Carlos Alberto Torres welcomed home Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Students protest big tuition hikes

Puerto Rican riot police stand behind students sitting in the road in front of University of Puerto Rico during 2009 strike to stop tuition hikes

Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 16, 2010

 

Students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) slowed traffic in and out of San Juan on Nov. 9 when they demonstrated in a major highway to protest plans for raising tuition by $800 in January.

The previous night the Puerto Rican Senate had created a special fund that would provide about $30 million in scholarships to low-income students, but the protesters rejected the measure as inadequate. Students also met in assemblies at the UPR’s Río Piedras, Humacao, Cayey and Arecibo campuses on Nov. 9 to discuss the tuition hike and other issues.

These were the first student assemblies since a 62-day strike last spring that shut down 10 of the UPR’s 11 campuses and defeated most of the government’s austerity plan for the public university, which serves some 65,000 students. The UPR Board of Trustees’ proposal for a special three-year tuition surcharge—originally set at $1,100 a year—was the main issue left unresolved by the strike, but the trustees postponed the increase until January .

The administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño is apparently preparing for renewed student strikes. The Chamber of Representatives voted 35-15 on Nov. 11 to ban any student demonstration that would interrupt the activities of the university; the measure would also require any student demonstration to have the support of the majority of students, as expressed by an electronic vote. The bill was sent on to the Senate, which hadn’t acted on it when the senators abruptly ended their session the evening of Nov. 11.

“This measure is an attack on our constitutional right to free expression and is a total violation of the autonomy of the university,” Mariela Pérez, a spokesperson for the Action Committee of Arecibo University Students (CAUA), told reporters on Nov. 13.