Puerto Rico: cops beat student strikers at Sheraton

On May 18 union leaders in the All Puerto Rico for Puerto Rico Coalition claimed success for a 24-hour general strike they held that day to support students striking against a proposed $100 million cut in the budget of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). The unionists said their members had shut down nine of the country’s 10 government centers, along with port operations in San Juan. Marcos Rodríguez-Ema, secretary for Gov. Luis Fortuño, denied the unionists’ claims, saying government offices were operating normally. The Cuban wire service Prensa Latina reported that traffic in the capital was greatly reduced, while the Spanish wire service EFE called the situation normal.

It seemed clear that the May 18 general strike was much less effective than an unprecedented one-day shutdown last Oct. 15, in which 100,000 to 200,000 people protested Gov. Fortuño’s plans to lay off 16,970 of Puerto Rico’s 180,000 public employees. But the May 18 action demonstrated growing public support for the students. Thousands of protesters gathered later in the day outside the gates of the university’s Río Piedras campus in San Juan, where the strike started on April 21; 10 of the UPR’s 11 campuses are now participating in the action. Arturo Ríos, a member of the students’ negotiating committee, thanked the country’s working class for its support and criticized people who had initially called the students idealists and dreamers. “We’re not doing this capriciously,” he said, “but because we understand that it’s the most just [course of action], and no one’s going to stop us.” (Prensa Latina, May 18; EFE, May 18 via Univision TV)

The students have also won support from abroad. On May 19 Cuba’s National Assembly announced “the most complete solidarity with Puerto Rican youth and with the people [of Puerto Rico],” while some of the unions backing the May 18 general strike are affiliated with the two main US labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win. (La Jornada, Mexico, May 20 from AFP)

The most violent incident so far in the UPR strike came on May 20 when about 100 students entered the Sheraton Hotel in San Juan’s Miramar Convention District to protest Gov. Fortuño’s presence at a fundraising dinner for the conservative New Progressive Party (PNP). The protesters sang and displayed banners in the entrance and then tried to go to the second floor, where the dinner was taking place. The riot police responded by beating protesters and spraying tear gas. Several people were injured, including union leaders Luisa Acevedo and José “Lole” Rodríguez Báez, and the daughter of actor Eugenio Monclova. The police grabbed a woman sitting near the entrance, apparently a tourist, and roughed her up. Hotel security reportedly asked the police to let the students go and to stop beating them in the hotel. There were five arrests. (El Reportero Las Vegas, Nevada, May 20 from unidentified wire services; Argenpress.info, Argentina, May 24 from correspondent)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 23.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.