Leandro Maceo Leyva
The University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus has been occupied by police and is under curfew. The first semester ended marked by fresh strikes and student demonstrations against the increase in tuition fees, and the beginning of the second semester indicates that this situation is not going to change.
Protesting students at UPR are being treated like criminals by the police. (Photo: Claridad)
In the face of a spirit of struggle and university fervor, San Juan’s streets have witnessed repression and abuse. The students have raised their banners in protest at neoliberal maneuvers against university autonomy by the Luis Fortuño government, but this brave demonstration was met by shock troops with brutal force.
Without giving any explanation, agents are indiscriminately arresting students, who are being treated like criminals, when their only crime is the defense of their right to further education.
The protests are being organized by the Student Representation Committee (CRE), a coalition which is maintaining firm resistance against the increase in tuition fees to $800 at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). Preliminary estimates indicate that approximately 10,000 students would have to abandon their educational aspirations on account of the announced increase.
But, according to some, the university students’ conflict has turned into a battle to determine the educational future of Puerto Rico.
UPR Professor Raúl Cotto has called on sectors opposing the government to take action in the face of these abuses, because that is their responsibility. People cannot remain indifferent to outrages committed against the students and their protests, he stated.
Meanwhile, a number of social organizations have condemned acts of torture and sexual aggression on the part of the police and the shock force unit.
“It is unacceptable that an administration which presumes to defend law and order, should allow the torture of young people with their arms handcuffed behind their backs, and the humiliation of detained students in front of everybody, and flaunting their impunity,” a release from these movements stated.
Other organizations have described these acts of repression as “crass violation of civil and human rights,” and have demanded an immediate response to the situation from Fortuño and José Figueroa Sancha, chief of police, as well as an investigation in order to bring charges against the perpetrators.
Although Ana R. Guadalupe, UPR rector, has banned student demonstrations or gatherings on campus, young Puerto Ricans are determined to exercise their right to protest the tuition increases, while condemning the presence of the security forces who evicted them by force. But the conflict does not appear to be close to a resolution.
The university authorities are feigning a disposition to dialogue, but in real terms they are trying to wear down, divide and de-legitimize the student mobilizations, and proceed with plans to increase the cost of university tuition in the face of virtually unanimous opposition from students and professors.
The conflict taking place on at the university campus is not confined to high tuition fees. The budget outrage unleashed by the Fortuño-PNP administration against the UPR is intended to inflict damage on the University by countering its prospects for growth and social inclusion, either through its privatization or its gradual dissolution.
The current administration of the U.S. colony is violently opposed to the spirit of participation, diversity and social commitment in the country, and which is flourishing as genuine autonomy.