Puerto Rico: student strike resumes

Students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) renewed militant protests around economic issues as the school reopened on Jan. 11 following winter holidays. The actions had started in December in opposition to an $800 tuition surcharge for 2011; protest leaders said the increase would keep as many as 10,000 of the system’s 65,000 students from attending the public university. The students called a 48-hour strike on Dec. 7-8, and an indefinite strike starting on Dec. 14, but the actions were only observed at six of the UPR’s 11 campuses, in contrast to the 10 campuses shut down last spring, when students beat back major budget cutbacks with a two-month strike. (People’s World, Jan. 10)

The students’ first action when school reopened was a march on Jan. 11, but acts of vandalism by masked youths during the march put the student movement on the defensive. On Jan. 12 police agents arrested nine students at the Río Piedras campus in San Juan as they distributed fliers; they were released later in the day for lack of evidence to support charges. An assembly of student strikers that evening condemned the arrests as a demonstration that “the university administration and the executive [of the Puerto Rican government] continue to restrict, without right or reason, freedom of expression, reflecting in the process the totalitarian character of [Gov.] Luis Fortuño’s government.” The assembly also condemned vandalism and the “irresponsible use” of masks for “acts…which go against the spirit of struggle of this student movement,” but the students defended the “use of masks as a way to protect the compañeros and compañeras from being arrested or penalized for participating in demonstrations and public activities.” (Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Jan. 13)

On Jan. 13 some 75 strikers attempted to disrupt the first day of registration with a sit-in at the Río Piedras campus’ administrative buildings. The protesters occupied a stairway and hung a giant banner reading: “No fees” in various languages and quoting the German philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Only through education can man be a man; man is no more than what education makes of him.” Police agents eventually used pepper spray and their shields to push the protesters outside, where a larger number of students continued to demonstrate. Seven arrests were reported. (Primera Hora, Jan. 13; Puerto Rico Indymedia, Jan. 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 16.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.