UPR strike flares as Police move in

Authors Note: The current intensifying crisis at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) has received almost no coverage in the US media, despite the fact that this is a major 11-campus institution of higher education with close to 65,000 students, making it the largest university in the Caribbean. The students are on strike, the university closed, 250 riot police have been called in and the issues involve severe budget cuts and the fear of the government's plans to privatize this 107-year old public university system.

Stateside, a number of Puerto Rican organizations, such as the Puerto Rican Studies Association (PRSA), have publicly supported the students. On Tuesday, May 18th at 5:30 pm, a demonstration in support of the students is being held outside of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), 135 West 50th Street, Manhattan, organized by the Red de Apoyo a los Trabajadores de Puerto Rico. For further information, write apoyotrabajadorespr@gmail.com.
---Angelo Falcón

Vatic Short Note:   It appears that Greece, Iceland, Puerto Rico, and Khyrgyzstan can teach us here a few lessons in resistance. 

UPR strike flares as Police move in

by Juan A. Hernandez

Puerto Rico Daily Sun (May 15, 2010)

The student strike at the University of Puerto Rico went into its 24th day with renewed energy after the ratification of the indefinite strike vote by a student assembly and an attempt from the Riot Police to enter the Río Piedras campus early Friday morning.

Students guarding the gate in front of the School of Fine Arts on Gándara Avenue were startled when a little after 4 a.m. Friday a contingent of Riot Police agents cut through the locked slip bolt of the gate and tried to get inside the campus.

"I'm calling to tell you we [the student group] are at the gate at Education [Department]. They woke us up to tell us the Riot Police tried to cut the locks and chains on the gates at Fine Arts and Education. They tried to get in but left after cutting through the Fine Arts gate. I'll keep you posted," said a voicemail left at 5 a.m. by a Daily Sun campus source.

While the police squad was still working to cut through the gate's slip bolt, a group of students ran to block their entrance. The group reminded the agents "these are campus grounds, you cannot come in."

After a couple of minutes of some "light pushing and shoving" the police officers desisted and surrendered control of the gates.

"Riot Police daunts students on the gates. It's real. Pass it on!" read a text message the students circulated at 5:41 a.m. to other students outside the gates and members of the press.

Later in the morning, the Río Piedras campus was almost completely surrounded by the Police, riot squads and police cadets standing some 20 feet apart along the campus fence that extends from Ponce de León Avenue to Gándara and Barbosa Avenues. They blocked the entrance to the few pedestrian gates still open and prohibited pedestrians from going near the fence.

Luis Torres, the father of one of the demonstrating students, was manhandled by a police cadet, identified only as Rodríguez, while he was trying to pass a breakfast bag to his son through the fence. During the incident, Torres received a cut on his left eyebrow.

Police Cmdr. Miguel Mejías, from the San Juan police division, later explained the agents there had received orders to protect the university perimeter.

"We are not going to allow anything or anyone to come in," Mejías said.

Questioned about what kind of threat pedestrians or demonstrators outside the gates posed for the university, Mejías reiterated, "those are our orders."

UPR Board of Trustees Chairwoman Ygrí Rivera announced Friday the campus was closing down until July 31, but assured negotiations with the students will continue. Nevertheless, Rivera did not specify when the Board of Trustees will meet again with the Student Negotiating Committee.

In the meantime, students living in Resi-Campus (the on campus coed student residence) were given until 3 p.m. to vacate their apartments by the Office of the Dean of Students.

Many students informed they had been threatened with forceful eviction by University Police if they did not comply with the order. They were also ordered to leave their apartment keys at the lobby desk.

Despite the alleged threats, several students who declined to identify themselves assured they were not going to move out of the student residence.

Auxiliary Dean of Students José A. Nieves denied the possibility of a forceful eviction of the students who decide to stay, but did admit "we will work that out on another level."

"We will notify the [university] administration and they will take the necessary steps," said Nieves.
"There is a 30-day recess during which we cannot guarantee their safety here," he added.

More than 350 students live at Resi-Campus, of which some 30 still had not checked out as of 3 p.m. Friday. Those leaving their apartments had to carry their belongings to Gándara Avenue to where their cars, or their relatives' waited because no vehicle was allowed to enter the campus.

At mid-morning Friday, rumors started to spread about the University administration having ordered the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to shut off the water and electric services to the campus.  PRASA and PREPA spokespersons denied later having received such requests.

Students react

For Student Trustee-elect René Vargas the possibility of continuing negotiations are rapidly waning.

"This is about over [negotiations]. The strategy now seems to be starving [the students] to death," Vargas said.

"Nevertheless, they [university administrators] will have to change their strategy because the students have proved they are very resourceful. We will find a way to get them the food and water they need," Vargas added.

General Student Council president Gabriel Laborde said on his part that the sheer number of police officers surrounding the campus is evidence of the administration's "desperation" to end "a situation they themselves created."

"I urge Chancellor Ana Rosa Guadalupe to step into the shoes of a mother whose son or daughter studies here and someone is blocking them access to food and water. Or into the shoes of a mother whose child is being evicted from his or her home," said Laborde.

"How would she feel? She must ponder this very seriously before taking any action," Laborde added.
The student leader also urged First Lady Lucé Vela to step "into those same shoes."

"Step into those same shoes, think about and talk to Luis [Fortuño] about ending this situation. Allow us to take food and water to our fellow students ... don't let them be evicted from their homes," Laborde said.

Late on Friday, the San Juan Superior Court issued an injunction ordering the delivery of food and water be allowed on campus.

In the afternoon, demonstrations in front of the gates at the Ponce de León and Barbosa Avenues grew stronger with support from students' families and friends, labor unions, performing artists and media personalities and the general public.

As of press time neither UPR president José Ramón De la Torre nor Guadalupe had reacted to the demonstrations.

The article is reproduced in accordance with Section 107 of title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States relating to fair-use and is for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

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