Puerto Rico: cops attack students at Capitol

Dozens of demonstrators were injured at Puerto Rico’s Capitol building June 30 when riot police used batons and tear gas to keep hundreds of students and their supporters from entering a session of the Legislature that was to vote on unpopular budget cuts and a measure to end student assemblies. Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz had apparently closed the public galleries before the vote, and the next day a police agent reportedly testified that the police violence had been planned in advance.

After the protesters were cleared out, the Legislature passed a law which would eliminate student assemblies and replace them with a remote electronic voting system. Opponents say this violates the US Bill of Rights, which covers Puerto Rico, and a provision in the 1952 Puerto Rican Constitution: “No law shall be made abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The move follows a two-month strike by students at the public University of Puerto Rico (UPR) this spring that defeated efforts by the conservative government of Gov. Luis Fortuño to cut back the university budget and raise tuition fees. (Argenpress, Argentina, July 1 from correspondent, English translation at Dissident Voice, July 3; Prensa Latina, July 1)

After repeated questions in an interview with the Guaynabo daily Primera Hora on July 2, Gov. Fortuño finally said he condemned “the excessive violence that there may have been on the part of the police” in the June 30 incident. (Primera Hora, July 3) In Washington, DC, a US Congress member of Puerto Rican origin, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), called on July 2 for an investigation of the violence, while Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), also of Puerto Rican origin, called the police action “a abuse that is intolerable in a democracy.” The “person immediately responsible” was Police Superintendant José Figueroa Sancha, Gutiérrez said. (El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico, July 2)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 4.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.