Puerto Rico: Student strike faces attack

By May 18, students at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) had entered their fourth week of a strike and occupation at the Rio Pedras campus in San Juan. The students are appealing for solidarity after university administrators and the government escalated repression.

The strike and occupation began in mid-April and escalated after UPR President Jose Ramon de la Torre, Rio Piedras’ campus rector Ana Guadalupe Quinones and the UPR Board of Trustees refused to meet with representatives of the students.

The action spread in the following weeks — by mid-May, 10 out of 11 UPR campuses were on strike.

The protests are against a series of measures planned by university administrators which are supposed to close a $100 million budget gap — at the expense of students, faculty and staff. Students have the support of faculty and campus worker unions.

Puerto Rican journalist Firuzeh Shokooh Valle wrote in the May 18 Global Voices Online that the student strike had sparked a massive social movement that culminated in a national strike that day.

“Workers and members of trade unions, women, students, environmentalists, and professors have joined in support of the national strike today, convened by the coalition Todo Puerto Rico por Puerto Rico.

“The goal is to paralyze all 78 municipalities of the island.”

This follows a national strike in October in opposition to the sacking of 17,000 government workers that paralysed the island.

However, the UPR students are facing growing attacks. On May 14, riot police surrounded the main UPR campus, blocking all access.

The father of a striking student, who was bringing food and water, was beaten and then arrested. Joss Perez, a disabled graduate student was badly beaten and arrested for “aggression”. Professors and fellow students who tried to come to his aid were attacked with pepper spray.

The Student Organising Committee has set up a PayPal account where donations can be made to help the occupiers. Email for more details.

On May 14, the Humanities Action Committee on the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus issued the following call for support for the strike.

* * *

On May 13, the students of the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico ratified the 22-day strike, with a clear majority of votes in favor, at a general assembly that was proposed and organised by the institution’s own administration.

On May 14, that same administration, backed with full government support, intensified its repressive schemes against the student movement, stepping over our constitutional right to protest.

We condemn Rector Ana Guadalupe's decision to activate the police forces against us, and we reiterate yesterday's vote demanding her resignation, as well as of President Jose Ramon De la Torre.

Since 4am this morning, there has been a heavy police presence around the campus; different police units have been brought to guard all entrances and restrict the access of students and those in solidarity with us.

We wish to alert the national and international media police have prohibited not only the entrance of civilians, but also the entry of food donations and supplies needed by the hundreds of students occupying the campus.

Students residing on campus are being forced to move out and are being threatened with the non-renewal of housing contracts. We expect water and electricity on campus to be cut off by 1pm.

We exhort all students, professors, workers and civilians — every member of every community — to surround the university gates. We need everyone's solidarity and support if we are to endure this struggle.

We want to let the administration know that their attempts to intimidate have been exaggerated and unnecessary. We will not allow the democracy that the university administration claims to practice to be arbitrary and partial.

Those who participated in the general student assembly yesterday experienced a real democratic process in action. The assembly is sovereign, and in the assembly, we voted to continue the strike.

We are here to defend the right of all Puerto Rican students to a public education, and here we will remain until the administration decides to cooperate and negotiate.

Ten out of the 11 campuses that make up the UPR system have declared themselves on strike. All are participating in the same struggle — the same struggle being fought all over the world.

United we stand, divided we fall.

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