Quebec’s ‘truncheon law’ rebounds as student strike spreads

A draconian law to quell demonstrations has only galvanised public support for young Quebecois protesting tuition fee hikes

, guardian.co.uk, Thursday 24 May 2012

Thousands of demonstrators march to mark the 100th day of a student strike against tuition hikes in Montreal, Quebec, 22 May 2012. Photograph: Olivier Jean/Reuters

At a tiny church tucked away in a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal’s east end, Quebec’s new outlaws gathered on Sunday for a day of deliberations. Aged mostly between 18 and 22, their membership in a progressive student union has made them a target of government scorn and scrutiny. And they have been branded a menace to society because of their weapons: ideas of social justice and equal opportunity in education, alongside the ability to persuade hundreds of thousands to join them in the streets.

Under a draconian law passed by the Quebec government on Friday, their very meeting could be considered a criminal act. Law 78 – unprecedented in recent Canadian history – is the latest, most desperate manoeuvre of a provincial government that is afraid it has lost control over a conflict that began as a student strike against tuition hikes but has since spread into a protest movement with wide-ranging social and environmental demands.

Labelled a “truncheon law” by its critics, it imposes severe restrictions on the right to protest. Any group of 50 or more protesters must submit plans to police eight hours ahead of time; they can be denied the right to proceed. Picket lines at universities and colleges are forbidden, and illegal protests are punishable by fines from $5,000 to $125,000 for individuals and unions – as well as by the seizure of union dues and the dissolution of their associations.

In other words, the government has decided to smash the student movement by force.

The government quickly launched a public relations offensive to defend itself. Full-page ads in local newspapers ran with the headline: “For the sake of democracy and citizenship.” Quebec’s minister of public security, Robert Dutil, prattled about the many countries that have passed similar laws:

“Other societies with rights and freedoms to protect have found it reasonable to impose certain constraints – first of all to protect protesters, and also to protect the public.”

Such language is designed to make violence sound benevolent and infamy honourable. But it did nothing to mask reality for those who have flooded the streets since the weekend and encountered police emboldened by the new legislation. Riot squads beat and tear-gassed people indiscriminately, targeted journalists, pepper-sprayed bystanders in restaurants, and mass-arrested hundreds, including more than 500 Wednesday night – bringing the tally from the last three months of protest to a record Canadian high of more than 2,500. The endless night-time drone of helicopters has become the serenade song of a police state. Continue reading

Puerto Rico: 15,000 March to End Police Occupation of University of Puerto Rico

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

February 14, 2011
Student protests at University of Puerto Rico have broadly mobilized the public against the police occupation of the campus with about 15,000 marching along the main thoroughfares around the urban campus Saturday shouting “¡Fuera Policía, Fuera!” (Get Out Police, Get Out!), in response to police brutality during last week’s volatile start of the semester.

A campus melee Wednesday of apparently indiscriminate police brutality led to more than 25 student arrests, including some who were not protesting, and with serious injuries reported. The day culminated with leaders of the professors organization APPU (Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios) calling a 24-hour work stoppage, which was then supported by the staff union HEEND (Hermandad de Empleados Exentos No Docentes), to the chants of a crowd of about 1,000 students occupying the iconic clock tower housing Chancellor Ana R. Guadalupe’s office. All the students arrested that day were later released without charges. Thursday afternoon, the Hermandad extended the walkout another 24 hours, leaving the campus desolate for a second consecutive day on Friday. Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Violence Against Student Strike Escalates With Police Brutality and Rubber Bullets

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

Huffington Post, February 2, 2011

More than 150 students practicing civil disobedience have been arrested in Puerto Rico and riot police on Thursday escalated violent repression of a university strike with brutal arrests and rubber bullets during a sit-in demonstration at the Capitol. As President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for governmental prudence during a historic revolt in Egypt, the most basic free speech rights are under attack with apparent impunity in this U.S. territory of about four million U.S. citizens still grappling with a century-old colonial relationship with the United States.

Meanwhile, the Reaganite Republican and pro Statehood Governor, Luis Fortuño, was again traveling on Friday, with a trip to California sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, though he denied attending a controversial event nearby with the billionaire Koch brothers behind the Tea Party movement. Fortuño’s bold austerity measures and ruthlessness have made him a Republican Party darling, as strategists scramble for Latino leaders they can promote while rejecting immigration reform and with Tea Party followers spewing hate speech against Latino immigrants. 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

Puerto Rico: The Invisible and Recurring Social Struggles in the Oldest Colony in the World

Puerto Rico, a Spanish colony from 1493-1898, has been a colony of the US ever since

by Victor M. Rodriguez Domínguez / June 21st, 2010

Then, all the men of the land surrounded him;
the sad corpse saw them, excited; stood up slowly,
embraced the first man; and walked…

– César Vallejo (1937)

For more than fifty-six days, students at the University of Puerto Rico system, have peacefully occupied ten of the 11 universities in support of a series of measures that could challenge efforts to privatize this public university. Student struggles in Puerto Rico historically have repercussions in the broader society and are woven with the major economic, political and social issues in this United States’ colonial possession. While some social analysts saw this millennial generation as somewhat less militant and political, these events have surpassed any previous social struggles in creativity, strategy and in its use of participatory democratic processes since the founding of the university 107 years ago. Given Puerto Rico’s peculiar colonial status, in a world where colonies are almost extinct, every social struggle becomes, an anti-colonial process. But in this case, this process also becomes a struggle against the neo-liberal policies which have again resurfaced in the policies of the current colonial government to address the extreme economic precariousness of the United States’ colonial project in Puerto Rico. This student struggle exists within the historical context of an anti-colonial struggle in Puerto Rico. When people thought social movements were dead, they somehow stood up and walked. Continue reading

Students’ Victory in University of Puerto Rico Confict

June 17, 2010

After more than four hours of discussion, student leaders from the National Bargaining Committee and the University of Puerto Rico administration signed and certified the final agreement which could soon bring an end to  the 55-day strike at the UPR. The NBC leadership achieved the four fundamental claims the students had continuously insisted on.  The students at all 11 campuses must still ratify the agreements.  The issue of penalties for the striking had been the stalemate that impeded the agreement.

Wednesday, after a heated debate among  members of the Board of Trustees, a consensus on language was finally reached.

INS learned that the intervention of trustee and UPR ex President Norman Maldonado, was key in convincing Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees Ygrí Rivera, to drop her consistent hard line regarding the application of penalties to the strikers. Maldonado had not previously intervened because he was off the island. Continue reading