Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rightest Puerto Rico Governor Tries to Reverse UPR Student Victory

Rightist Puerto Rico governor tries to reverse UPR student victory

By Berta Joubert-Ceci
Published Jul 9, 2010 11:03 PM

There are no vacations yet for the students who won a two-month strike at the University of Puerto Rico. Instead, they have continued organizing and demanding that the administration fulfills the agreement.

These were the agreement’s terms: no Certification 98, which would have eliminated tuition exemptions for students who receive a U.S. federal Pell scholarship for academic excellence; no privatization of the campuses under Gov. Luis Fortuño’s neoliberal decree on Public-Private Alliances, an attempt by the current pro-statehood government to privatize Puerto Rico’s heritage; no charges against the students, faculty and workers who, exercising their freedom of speech and assembly, participated in many demonstrations during the strike; and no imposition of a special quota in August that would have doubled the tuition, which is on average $2,000 a year.

Fortuño’s pro-statehood, neoliberal, right-wing administration immediately tried to overturn the agreement. In a fast-track imposition, Fortuño increased the number of members of the UPR’s Board of Trustees from 13 to 17, appointing four people close to his administration in an effort to have more leverage in the near future to overturn the agreement reached in June.

Anti-people budget passed

June 30 was the last day of the national budget session in the Puerto Rican legislature. Knowing full well the unpopularity of the proposed budget, the right-wing, pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) leadership closed the proceedings to the press and the public in an attempt to pass several anti-people measures.

With heavy police presence, including riot police on the perimeter, and the absence of legislators from the Popular Democratic Party — who left in protest after casting their votes opposing all the proposed legislations — the PNP majority approved the new national budget.

These budget measures include a crucial amendment of the UPR bylaws, effectively terminating the right of the students to discuss and make decisions in a public assembly. Instead the new law imposes the secret ballot through e-mail.

Students’ and people’s response

Both mainstream and alternative press, students and other individuals and organizations converged on the Capitol that day to oppose the proposed budget and have a voice in the deliberations. Police greeted them with pepper gas and beatings with nightsticks.

Workers World spoke with Rosalinda Soto, the mother of Waldemiro Vélez, one of the leaders of the UPR strike. Soto is an organizer of the Mothers and Fathers in Support of the Students, an organization formed during the strike. She was at the Capitol that day and told WW “that action [by the police] was capricious and planned. As a mother, I have been present in negotiations with the police during all the strike, so that the riot police would not enter, but that day, before we could start any negotiation, the riot police started pushing and shoving and throwing tear gas. I tell you, in my 38 years in the struggle I have never witnessed something like that.”

She described the events of the rest of the day: The protesters had to run from the police attack, taking refuge in a nearby church. Two students were arrested and several students beaten, including a 17-year-old high school student and her mother, who tried to shield her daughter from the police assault. Several people tried to press charges, but the police refused.

This aggression outraged people on the island. The following day the College of Lawyers organized an assembly of leaders from several groups, which called for a July 18 national demonstration against the Fortuño administration’s violence and civil rights abuses.

The leadership of the UPR students who are in favor of that demonstration called for a broader peoples’ assembly. Giovanni Roberto, a student in the UPR National Negotiating Committee, stated, “The next fronts have to emanate from the people so that a real transformation of the country can occur.” (, July 1)

On July 2, left organizations including the Socialist Front, the newly formed Puerto Rican Communist Party and the National Pro Independence Hostos Movement protested in front of the police headquarters, swelling to more than 1,000 people who effectively closed busy Roosevelt Avenue to traffic. They chanted, “I throw stones, I throw pepper, because I have the right to defend myself” and “FBI and police are the same garbage.” Some placards read, “The UPR will be the tomb of fascism.”

Several more actions are being planned at many levels.

Dangerous dictatorial measures

The PNP regime’s laws and anti-worker measures, along with Fortuño’s earlier addition of four right-wing PNP justices to the Supreme Court to more easily execute the neoliberal laws, have been coupled with an increase in repression not seen since the Ponce Massacre in the 1930s. In Ponce, police killed 17 unarmed people at a Puerto Rican Nationalist Party demonstration.

To top it off, the Fortuño administration announced on July 4 a deal with the New York Police Department to “make the responses of the Puerto Rican Police more professional” during operations in demonstrations. This is the infamous NYPD that has been responsible for many deaths and vicious beatings of many people of color in the last few years. According to the website, “at least 262 people in New York and New Jersey have been killed by law enforcement since September 11, 2001,” including the well-known murders of Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo.

Judith Berkan, a long-time civil rights attorney and a law professor at UPR and InterAmerican University in San Juan, commented that the Fortuño administration “has enacted a staggering number of measures to neutralize and debilitate all those perceived as a threat to a local oligarchy acting in concert with U.S. interests.” (Huffington Post, July 4)

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