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 Río 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 Día, 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 Lenín López and Puerto Rican Photojournalists Association president Luis Rolón 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 Río 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 María 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.