Chanting slogans from a student strike at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), on Jan. 21 a group of students and activists interrupted a talk that conservative Puerto Rican governor Luis Fortuño Bruset was giving at Valladolid University Law School in Valladolid, Spain. The activists said they were Puerto Ricans living in Spain who wanted the international community to know about Gov. Fortuño’s “destruction” of the UPR, and “the repression, the criminalization and abuse of power against the student demonstrators.” A group of students has been on strike at several of the university’s campuses since December to protest an $800 surcharge on tuition at the large public university.
Fortuño was visiting Spain as part of a trade mission that the protesters denounced as “a subterfuge by this colonial administration so as not to confront the social and political situation that the country is undergoing.” (Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Jan. 22)
Earlier in the week, UPR students and their supporters began a series of mass civil disobedience actions, blocking entrances to the Río Piedras campus in San Juan to escalate their protest against the surcharge. A total of 49 protesters were arrested on Jan. 19, including Sister Elizabeth Concepción, from a Catholic community in the El Volcán neighborhood of Bayamón; solidarity activist Mary Ann Grady; and Rafael Feliciano, president of the Teachers’ Federation of Puerto Rico (FMPR). There were 44 arrests on Jan. 20; among the detainees was the well-known environmental activist Alberto de Jesús Mercado (“Tito Kayak”). (Primera Hora, Jan. 20; El Nuevo Día, Guaynabo, Jan. 20, Jan. 21)
The UPR administration claimed that 90% of the students had registered for the semester and had paid the surcharge by Jan. 21. At a Jan. 22 press conference Xiomara Caro, a spokesperson for the Student Representative Committee (CRE), said that the actual number given by UPR president José Ramón de la Torre was 35,407 registrations from a student body of 61,565, nowhere near 90%. She noted that the strikers hadn’t asked students not to register; instead, strike supporters could stay in school by paying the first installment of the fee, but they were urged to mark their checks “Payment Under Protest.”
Caro said another round of civil disobedience was planned for the next week. (El Nuevo Día, Guaynabo, Jan. 23; Huffington Post, Jan. 18)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 23.
See our last post on Puerto Rico.