Democracy in Eygpt, Repression in Puerto Rico

(En Español)

Luisa (a pseudonym) has been receiving Rosenberg Fund for Children (RFC) support since she was 15 years old. She’s now a student at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the largest university in the Caribbean and the premier Spanish-speaking institution of higher learning under the control of the United States.

Recently she’s been in touch with our staff and a Board Member because the computer we purchased for her when she entered college three years ago required repair. When our Board Member called her last week to get details, he heard screaming in the background when Luisa answered. Luisa said she couldn’t talk because she was running from pepper spray and police with night sticks. (She got away….)

Since December hundreds of UPR students have been passively occupying their campus to protest massive tuition increases that have made it impossible for almost one third of the undergraduates (5000 out of 16,000) to re-enroll in classes this semester. UPR sit-in courtesty of PR IndymediaThe students have not been destructive, even organizing brigades to keep the campus clean. But the government decided to attack them. The parent of another RFC beneficiary wrote on January 27th: “Levels of violence used against Puerto Rican non-violent striking students have risen exponentially. I Arrests at UPR courtesy of PR Indymediastrongly urge you to open the photos and videos of yesterday’s actions, brought to you by the incredible press people of Puerto Rico, who were also subject to direct police threats … [and] were physically attacked, just as the students were.”

Police attacks on the students and journalists echo those that took place in Cairo, except none of the national television networks in the United States chose to broadcast the photos and videos of Puerto Rico that were readily available to them. Repression in Cairo was headline news, but similar attacks on non-violent students in our Puerto Rican colony were swept under the rug. Videos from UPR show police firing rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray, as well as applying pressure point holds to the non-resisting students’ necks to cause intense pain. Women’s groups joined the protests after videos were released of police groping a female student’s breasts.

Meanwhile, the conservative Republican Governor Luis Fortuño of Puerto Rico was on a Heritage Foundation-sponsored trip to California. He became a most-favored Latino leader in the Republican Party after he laid off 20,000 public sector employees and began systematically dismantling UPR, which just happens to be a center of liberal and left-wing activity.

The student strike continued into this month despite the police violence. On February 7th police armed to the teeth with shotguns, rifles, and submachine guns were forced to retreat when the students were reinforced by union members. To protect the students, the workers formed a human chain that even the masked SWAT team could not break.

UPR demonstration courtesty PR IndymediaLast week I learned that the University’s faculty voted to join the strike. This morning I heard that the President of the University resigned a few days ago. This story is far from finished.

Our federal government’s and national media’s willful blindness to what is happening within what is technically United States territory, while focusing its attention on Egypt, is monumental hypocrisy. These students are struggling to save their university. They are risking their bodies, and even their lives, so they can attend school! It is past time for all progressives to speak up in support of these courageous young people.

For independent media coverage of the events at UPR including video, photos and reportage, visit the PR Indymedia website at http://pr.indymedia.org, and also http://huelgaupr.vodspot.tv.  (Thanks to PR Indymedia for photos that accompany this article.)

Search #luchaUPR, #huelgaupr, or follow @luchaupr on Twitter.

To learn more about how the Rosenberg Fund for Children helps youth in the U.S. (including Puerto Rico) who have been targeted because of their progressive activism, and also children whose parents are targeted progressive activists, see the RFC Mission and RFC Guidelines.

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Comments

Thank you for covering this important story. Again, working in coalition, i.e. student/faculty/Labor, proves effective. (Amy B.)

I have contacted Democracy Now through their website. They have a suggested story heading. I posted a brief description of what is occurring and urging Democracy Now to provide coverage in order to bring attention to their strife. I suggest others contact Democracy Now to ask for media coverage of the demonstrations.

Democracy Now! actually has been giving this situation quite a lot of coverage, but it's always good to chime in and let media outlets know what stories you care about and want them to cover (or in this case, keep covering.)  (To find it, visit www.democracynow.org and search for "university of puerto rico strike.)

Robert's comments in his blog about U.S. media referred primarily to major/mainstream media, and the glaring difference in their coverage (or lack thereof) of popular protest abroad vs. at home.

Unfortunately there has been for a long time a group of political leaders that have motivated and organized this kind of situation. Actually they are for independence of P R, even though the majority of thepeople do not want independence for the island. The majority of the people want PR to become a state of the union.
Since this pro independence minuscle group know they don;t have a chance, regularly pick an issue and get the young involved in this type of strike, It ia nothing new, These activities have been going on for years ... the people that vote for independence is miniscule so that they have to register the party after every election.
Police brutality cannot be tolerated. But neither is right to provoke these students in their losing case of getting Independence for the island... so they infiltrate the students and provoke actions that will make the authorities to take action.

The UPR strike has nothing to do with Puerto Rican political status, although some pro-independence groups have been deeply involved in the issue. The strike started with protesting against a $800-quota imposed by a very inefficient Administration; followed by the lack of democracy and transparency, and excess of party politics, in administrative matters; and recently, the immediate claim is to put an end to the Police abuses and presence in the campuses.

By the way,"the majority of the people" are not in favor of statehood, but of "statu quo" -Puerto Rico as a colonial territory of the U.S.-

It is the duty of socialists in oppressor countries like the United States to denounce colonialism. This is a matter of principle, and not even subject to shifts in public opinion in the oppressed colony (shifts that themselves are determined by the condition of colonial domination). Socialists in America must favor self-determination for the peoples in the lands the U.S. imperialists occupy, from Puerto Rico to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sincerely,
Richard Bucci
RizzieroBucci@yahoo.com

For decades UPR has suffered the problem of lack of participation, information and better management. Another FACT is that by decades, pro independence groups, as well as religious groups- have been in the front of the struggle. SO now we are the responsible for the massive abuse and uncontrolled force used by the police and the state? Come on! Wake up and smell the coffee! A good analysis is that because we are the same small group of people that become the moral reserve of the country, who
struggles and provokes public opinion, "los revoltosos", then the state directs the repression to us. The silent majority never will change anything; it is an unconvenient and uncomfortable situation so it is better that a minuscle group takes the pain.

Thank you for commenting on activities in the UPR, even sad ones, as Police clubbing students. We have a "reaganite" local Government, that has fired more than 20,000 public employees; let prices and taxes rise for the working class, but not to the rich people; ammends laws for personal benefits; and wants the UPR to abandon its role as a learning center to become a profitable corporation.

I am an alumni of two of UPR campuses. My parents had not enough income to pay for my expenses, but the University is public -great teachers, a variety of courses, low fees, and more!- so I could get my BA and MA. Our Government wants to transform the UPR in a place where good technicians are trained to serve industry, banking, etc. Some of us want to keep the UPR as a place where good CITIZENS, THINKING PERSONS, HUMAN BEINGS, are trained to serve their country.

Dear Robert,

Thank you very much for your thoughtful remarks on the inspiring student strike in Puerto Rico. I have forwarded your blog to our political study group at CUNY and to the Internationalist Club there, which has been active in the strike. In case you have not seen the article in the Daily News today by Juan Gonzalez, I append below.

Yours sincerely, Richard Bucci <RizzieroBucci@yahoo.com

"Strike at University of Puerto Rico Rocks Island and Sparks Political Crisis

A student strike at the University of Puerto Rico has forced the resignation of its president and sparked the second political crisis in a year for the island's rulers.

José Ramón de la Torre, head of the 60,000-student system, resigned Friday after a series of violent clashes between students and riot police.

Some 200 people have been arrested and scores of students injured, prompting professors and university workers to walk out for two days last week in sympathy with the students.

On Monday, conservative Gov. Luis Fortuño finally relented and pulled back the hundreds of riot police that had been occupying the system's 11 campuses for weeks.

It was the first police occupation of the university in more than 30 years.

Students began boycotting classes in early December to protest a special $800 annual fee Fortuño imposed this semester to reduce a huge government deficit.

That fee - equal to more than 50% of annual tuition - stunned the university community, given that more than 60% of UPR students have family incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

Student leaders persuaded the trustees to reject similar tuition hikes Fortuño proposed last spring. They did so by conducting massive sit-ins and barricading themselves in buildings on all the campuses for two months, and by running a sophisticated Internet and media campaign that garnered much public support.

Fortuño's pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which controls both houses of the Puerto Rico legislature, responded by packing the board of trustees with new appointees, guaranteeing him complete control this time around.

Local courts cooperated by banning student protests on university grounds.

Most experts expected the students would be too exhausted from last spring to challenge the governor again.

Those experts were wrong.

Inspired by the youth revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, the students refused to simply go home.

They presented more than 200 pages of proposals to university officials on ways to trim budget costs without huge tuition increases.

Under Puerto Rico law, the commonwealth government must spend 9.6% of its budget on the university's operation.

The Fortuño administration, which recently pushed through the biggest corporate and individual tax cuts in Puerto Rico's history, has laid off thousands of government workers and wants even greater privatization of public services.

To underscore his message, Fortuño was a featured speaker this weekend at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

The striking students at UPR know this is not simply a conflict with their trustees. They are up against the forces of the entire Fortuño administration. The way they see it, the future of a great public university, one that has educated generations of low-income citizens in Puerto Rico, is at stake.

jgonzalez@nydailynews.com"

Well what's new? This has been a similar occurance in the UK. And there are protests going on in California concerning Tuition Hikes. What gets me, is the people who run these institutions and the government who graduated from such elite schools, have wrecked the economy, lied about war, and even conspired to doing 911 an inside job.

http://djermano.newsvine.com/_news/2010/10/27/5359486-the-fraud-of-ameri...

I think if it is democracy, then students have the right to vote on what their tuition costs should be, and have the right to full grants and closing down the Student Loan Fraudsters.

Dom Jermano

I was indeed shocked to hear this news. I have never heard of such dedicated students. To actually protect the students, the workers intentionally formed a human chain that also the efficient and masked SWAT team could not break. Thanks a lot for the news share.

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