On Feb. 18 Puerto Rican education secretary Jesús Rivera Sánchez fired 11 members of the Executive Committee of the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR) from their jobs in the public school system and cancelled their teaching certificates, depriving of them of the ability to teach in either public or private schools. In the letter terminating the teachers, Rivera Sánchez accused them of “abandonment of service,” citing a one-day strike led by the FMPR and other education workers’ unions last August to protest the system’s failure to hire enough teachers. FMPR president Rafael Feliciano called Rivera Sánchez’s action repressive and unprecedented. He said the fired teachers would continue to lead the union without pay. The FMPR, Puerto Rico’s largest union, has a long history of militancy.
Guillermo de La Paz, a spokesperson for the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico, noted that the firings came “days after a US federal judge put the president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association (CAPR) in prison and while repression continues against the student movement,” which has been protesting an $800 tuition surcharge at the University of Puerto Rico. This act “confirms once again the plans of the government [of conservative governor Luis Fortuño] to dismantle all the organizations that represent a danger to its plans to turn over all the public institutions to big capital and its cronies.” While opposing the firing of the unionists, De La Paz noted that his group had “differences” with the FMPR leadership. (Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Feb. 22; Prensa Latina, Feb. 23)
Meanwhile, police returned to the UPR’s Río Piedras campus on Feb. 24, a little more than a week after Gov. Fortuño withdrew them following widespread complaints of police brutality in dealing with student protests. The return of the police was apparently in reaction to a one-day student strike on Feb. 23. However, an open-ended strike some protesters backed had already been suspended by a student assembly on the campus the day before. The assembly voted 1,050 to 714 to discontinue the strike but to fight the tuition surcharge with occasional “days of struggle,” starting with the one-day action on Feb. 23. (La Raza, Chicago, Feb. 22, from INS; Primera Hora, Feb. 25)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has declared the civil and human rights situation in Puerto Rico a “high priority for the organization,” William Ramírez, director of the legal defense group’s Puerto Rican chapter, said during a visit to New York City the week of Feb. 21. The situation at the UPR was just one among many issues the organization was concerned about, according to Ramírez, who also mentioned the closing off of the Capitol building during the Legislature’s vote on unpopular budget cuts last June and police attacks on people who tried to exercise their right to attend the session. “This is in contrast to what’s happening in Wisconsin, where hundreds of people entered to protest without the police intervening,” he noted, referring to an occupation of the state capitol in Madison starting the week of Feb. 14 in response to an anti-union measure proposed by the governor.
Ramírez said that the ACLU would decide in March whether to respond to the situation in Puerto Rico with a full-scale investigation. This would be the first time the ACLU has carried out such an inquiry on the island since the group’s investigation of the 1937 Ponce Massacre, in which police killed 17 unarmed civilians and wounded some 235 others. (La Opinión, Los Angeles, Feb. 26, from El Diario-La Prensa, New York)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 27.
See our last post on Puerto Rico.