Puerto Rico: student protesters face “Egyptian” repression?

Students protesting an $800 tuition surcharge imposed this year at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) marked the beginning of the spring semester on Feb. 7 with a two-hour march and rally at the school’s RĂ­o Piedras campus in San Juan. Adriana Mulero, a spokesperson for the protesters’ Student Representative Committee (CRE), called the demonstration a success, since “they didn’t use brute force,” referring to the large police presence at the campus.

The CRE had made it clear on Feb. 4 that at this point they were simply calling for an interruption of classes, not a strike like the one that shut down the UPR last spring. The UPR administration has been trying to maintain a ban on all demonstrations at the system’s 11 campuses. (El Nuevo DĂ­a, Guaynabo, Feb. 7; Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Feb. 4, from Inter News Service)

Civil disobedience actions by the students during the school’s registration period over the previous two weeks were met with harsh police tactics, which were forcefully denounced by UPR professors and the local media. On Feb. 5 four women legislators presented a resolution in the Chamber of Representatives calling for an investigation into “offensive and undue” acts by police while arresting protesters at the Capitol on Jan. 27. Rep. Brenda LĂłpez de Arrará said a young woman “was touched inappropriately by an agent” while she was handcuffed inside a police vehicle. (END, Feb. 3 from INS) Wanda Vázquez Garced, conservative governor Luis Fortuño’s nominee to head the Office of the Women’s Advocate, has also condemned the groping of women protesters by police agents. (La OpiniĂłn, Los Angeles, Feb. 6, from INS)

Some commentators drew parallels with the repression of protesters in Egypt, where massive demonstrations started shaking the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak the week of Jan. 24.

“As I watch the news from the States and I see [US secretary of state Hillary Clinton] exhort the Egyptian police and military to use ‘restraint’ and demand that leaders in the Middle East open up to reforms,” Puerto Rico-based constitutional law professor Judith Berkan told US senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) in a Feb. 2 open letter, “I ask myself—why the silence about Puerto Rico, the largest remaining direct colony of the United States?” (Puerto Rico Daily Sun, Feb. 2) Elba Carrasquillo, a Puerto Rican living in Egypt, praised the UPR protesters and warned that “if Puerto Ricans don’t wake up about what has been going on in my island…the road to becoming a country like the Egypt of the past 30 years will get shorter and shorter.” (NotiCel, MayagĂĽez, Feb. 3, from INS)

Meanwhile, UPR students were trying a new tactic in fighting police repression. On Feb. 4 the Student Communication Center (CCE) released a short video, “No, Sir: 7 Arrested Students Talk to the Police.” Noting that police agents too are exploited, the students explain that the struggle against the tuition surcharge “isn’t just for those of us who are here, because we want a university that’s accessible to all, because we want for you too to be able to aspire to it.” “[Y]ou too can disobey,” the students said. “You don’t have to carry out an unjust order that goes against your principles—orders that seek to go on fomenting injustice and to go on committing abuses and violations of civil rights.” (Primera Hora, Feb. 4, from INS)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 6.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.

  1. Puerto Rico is not Egypt
    this is a disgrace this strike doesnt even come close with struggles in egypt. You need to verify the information since this movement is driven by the existing struggles of the political disparity of the island. the majority of the students want to continue their education. the few so called leaders of the strike are agents of discordia and chaos and they dont provided any type of solution to the problem. they dont want to be touched by the police but they insult them, break the law and keep vandalizing the university infrastucture. In other word you should not compare this movements because one is a total joke
    before you compare try to search more info of what truly is happening in puerto rico


    1. Yes they have
      The students have indeed presented proposals but the government will not negotiate in good faith. The UPR administration has millions of dollars in legal contracts, many of which are not necessary and could be tailored or canceled to provide some of the funds for the tuition hike. This is a political issue – it is in the best interest of the government to extend this caos,to let the police provoke the student protesters into aggressive behavior, while the UPR administration further drives the institution into financial distress. This way they can justify selling the UPR campus by campus, like other institutions already sold by the government to private interests groups affiliated with the governing party.

      The Truth

    2. Puerto Rico, Egypt and “touching” cops
      Actually, we didn’t compare Puerto Rico to Egypt; we simply quoted two people who did. One is a law professor who has worked in Puerto Rico for decades; the other is a Puerto Rican living in Egypt. If the comparison upsets you, you should take it up with them. And you should note that our information about events in Puerto Rico comes mostly from the Puerto Rican media. We cite our sources.

      As for the remark that the protesters “dont want to be touched by the police but they insult them”: that’s how you describe documented cases of sexual groping by police agents?

      News about the student protests is almost non-existent in the English-language media here in the US, and we’re trying to make up for this deficiency. We seem to be getting a lot of negative comments because of this. Maybe some people would prefer to maintain the blackout on this news.

      David Wilson
      Weekly News Update on the Americas

    3. About as neutral as it gets?
      So, Mac is supposed to be the face of a neutral student? really?

      His claims don’t even make sense!

      The information is presented with the utmost transparency, it almost sounds like WW4Report spends more time on the credibility of an article than your average news outlet.

      Your comments also denote your political tendency. You are a conservative for saying that the university leaders are agents of discordia. That is so FAR from true. But way to generalize! Some people who cover their faces have vandalized the school, but covered faces do not represent the students. Also, I should note some people have been forced to hide their faces with shirts because the university has made it illegal to make demonstrations (marches, expression of opposition) within school grounds, therefore if you are targeted their is legal framework which can get you kicked out easily. Waiting for the Supreme Court to rule the unconstitutionality of this resolution (Freedom of Expression has taken months, accomplished just a few days ago, and today some local court appealed the decision. So, more waiting.

      And you are justifying the disgusting treatment of students of a university because police are insulted? What is wrong with you? What kind of country (territory) do you think you live in? One with no human rights? Plus I should mention that every single time riots break out they arrest people who have nothing to do with what is going on, and while on the ground they are beaten up. This creates fear in the public, it scares them into thinking that participating will only put them in danger.


      1. Thank you, David
        We should point out that World War 4 Report‘s coverage of the UPR strike has been provided by our comrades at Weekly News Update on the Americas. But we share the same standards. We make no pretense of “neutrality,” but we strive to be rigorously factual and comprehensive. Glad to know someone appreciates us.