Puerto Rico: teachers, media condemn police actions

Student strikers at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) continued using mass civil disobedience the week of Jan. 24 to push their demand that the university drop an $800 tuition surcharge the administration is imposing this year. Some 200 protesters occupied parts of the RĂ­o Piedras campus in San Juan at various times on Jan. 25, with a total of 32 arrests. “We’re going to emphasize civil disobedience as a strategy to bring the message that there are students ready to commit themselves totally because they believe there are alternatives to the fee,” said Xiomara Caro, a spokesperson for the Student Representative Committee (CRE). (El Nuevo DĂ­a, Guaynabo, Jan. 25)

On Jan. 27 the strikers took their protest to the Capitol building in San Juan, where they demonstrated in support of a measure that Rep. Luis Vega Ramos of the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD) had introduced in the House of Representatives to allocate to the UPR what he said was a $50 million surplus in the government’s Fiscal Stabilization Fund. Students blocked avenues around the Capitol, and about 30 were arrested, including Xiomara Caro. Vega Ramos’ legislative measure–which would make the tuition surcharge unnecessary–was defeated by representatives from Gov. Luis Fortuño’s conservative New Progressive Party (PNP), which holds a majority in the House. (END, Jan. 27)

Meanwhile, police tactics during the protests have become a separate issue. Reporters and photographers have been complaining ever since the civil disobedience actions began on Jan. 19 that police agents were keeping them from covering the arrests. On Jan. 21 Puerto Rican Journalists Association (ASPPRO) president Rafael LenĂ­n LĂłpez and Puerto Rican Photojournalists Association president Luis RolĂłn issued a statement saying the police seemed to be “trying to prevent the people from seeing how they are arresting civil disobedients.” They charged that agents kicked cameras and wouldn’t allow members of the press to enter the RĂ­o Piedras campus. “The police cannot determine how the press should cover the news,” the statement said.

On Jan. 26 the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP) issued its own statement on the actions of the Puerto Rican police, expressing solidarity with ASPPRO and condemning the arrest on Jan. 25 of Ricardo Olivera Lora Ricardo, the director of Radio Huelga, the UPR strikers’ radio station. (Puerto Rico Daily Sun, Jan. 21; New California Media, Jan. 25, via Vos el Soberano, Honduras; FRELAP statement, Jan. 26, posted on ASPPRO website; Adital, Brazil,Jan. 28)

At a Jan. 29 press conference MarĂ­a Gisela Rosado, director of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU), said “acts of torture” during the arrests “have been obvious in the visuals shown on television, on internet networks, in the written press.” She said police agents were “following the governor’s directives” as they “apply pressure points, block the detainees’ breathing and the flow of blood to their heads…touch women’s bodies and pursue university students with tear gas and pepper spray.” (Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Jan. 29) Police colonel Leovigildo Vázquez, who heads the operations, has told reporters that the agents are acting “professionally,” since they’ve been trained in using “pressure points to weaken the body” though “pain.” (Adital, Jan. 26, from NCM)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 30.

See our last post on Puerto Rico.

  1. PAY the dam surcharge
    Just think..the cost of living goes up..prices go up on food…my CRIM taxes go up..Gas prices go up..What the hell..are you going to fight something every time there is an increase in prices..The students are stupid…When the gas prices when up, did you pay? YES, why you needed to get where you are going.. When your CRIM tax when up, Did you pay? Yes….. You(WE) pay every other tax increase in Puerto Rico and these taxes go up every year, and we continue to PAY..SO WHY NOT PAY THE SCHOOL TAX– THEY HAVENT GONE UP IN 100 YEARS.. ..The people that demonstrate do NOT demonstrate peacefully, like this article says…They are like a gang and they incite riots. And these people should be locked up and you know what their fine should be…YUP.. $800.00, that would be ironical…

    1. Again: why should Puerto Rican students have to pay?
      This comment basically duplicates a comment on the UPR item the week before. You can read our response there. Please note that the tuition surcharge at UPR isn’t just inflation–it’s a qualitative shift from free public education to education for a fee, just as happened with the formerly free CUNY system here in New York.

      Again: why should the superrich get bailed out while the rest of us have to pay?