Puerto Rico: cops try to isolate student strikers

Police agents took control of the entrances to the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in San Juan on the morning of May 14 in an effort to cut off student protesters on the campus from their supporters outside. The action came one day after an assembly of some 2,000 students voted to continue an open-ended strike that started on April 21 at Río Piedras, the largest of the UPR’s 11 campuses, to protest plans for a $100 million cut to the annual budget of the public university, which has a student body of about 65,000.

The protesters accused the police of violating an unspoken agreement to avoid confrontations with the dozens of students who had been occupying the campus. Incidents broke out when supporters tried to get food past the police to the strikers inside the university gates; one parent, Luis A. Torres Mulle, was beaten and handcuffed by the police as he tried to bring food to his son. This was “an act of brutality by the same government that wants to finish off the students’ just struggle, a just, legal and democratic struggle by means of a legal and legitimate assembly,” Torres Mulle told the Guaynabo-based daily Primera Hora.

The May 13 student assembly, called by the Students General Council, voted to continue the strike until the university administration agreed to demands for limiting tuition increases to 4% and for keeping the university out of Public-Private Alliances (APP), a partial privatization program favored by Gov. Luis Fortuño, a leader of the conservative New Progressive Party (PNP). UPR president José Ramón de la Torre had hoped that the assembly would agree to let classes resume while negotiations continued.

University workers’ unions are backing the students; the budget cuts would end tuition exemptions for some groups of employees. There has also been strong support from Puerto Rico’s artistic community, including such popular musicians as Ricky Martin and Calle 13’s Residente. On May 13 playwright Roberto Ramos-Perea announced his support for the strikers, calling Fortuño’s government “dictatorial.” Artists and others demonstrated in front of the Río Piedras campus on May 16 to show support for the protesters, and one group of parents managed to throw bags with drinking water, roast chicken and other food into the campus. Also on May 16, Amnesty International called on the UPR administration to withdraw the police and allow the protesters access to food and water. (EFE, May 13 via terra.com; EFE, May 14 via Telemundo Atlanta; Primera Hora, May 16)

Labor and grassroots organizations opposed to Fortuño’s austerity policies are calling for a 24-hour general strike on May 18 to show support for the students. (Primera Hora, May 15)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 16.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.