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