SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A 1,000 students from the University of Puerto Rico and others demonstrated in front of the legislative building at the capitol on Wednesday, June 30th, in the midst of a controversy around an $800 tuition increase expected to begin in January. The week before, a 62-day long student strike ended after a student negotiating committee and the university administrators and trustees negotiated an agreement. It now appears that the agreement has been violated with this new round of tuition increases, the appointment of 4 new trustees interested in increased privatization measures, and attempts to punish students involved in the strike. Students are demanding to be heard as they see irreparable damage being caused on the 11 campus university system.
Early in the afternoon, demonstrators and members of independent media attempted to gain entry into the building, but were pushed away by police forces. Protesters were attempting to use peaceful civil disobedience to relay a message to the legislature. However, police were prepared to face down the students on the steps of the building. As some demonstrators sat down and chanted in front of the officers, the police used batons and pepper spray to push them back.
Protesters were continually pushed back as physical confrontations continued; police continued to use pepper spray and hit protesters with batons and some protesters threw police barricades at officers who were pushing them down the stairs. Some managed to gain entry into the lobby, but were beaten back outside.
At least one student was repeatedly beaten with batons and pepper sprayed by police as she sat peacefully in front of police officers (recorded on video). She was unconscious when an ambulance arrived and took her to a hospital. At least 5 other protesters were later admitted to emergency care. One member of the press was also hit in her arm, breaking skin and knocking her down. Police continued to blockade the front entrance of the building, but were drawn out into the street.
Frustrated protesters flanked the sides of the legislative building. Police shot teargas at protesters from the roof and from the ground, and in response some protesters threw eggs at the police and smashed the windows of police cars and cars parked next to the building (owned by members of the legislature).
By late afternoon protesters began to disperse. Those that stayed behind were later chased away by mounted police. The police continued to search the vicinity around the capitol, only accosting youth who could possibly be identified as a student.
In the video below, a family drives their car past some of the police hunting for students. The father curses the police for their excessive brutality that day, and the last officer in the line marching past them smashes the rear window with his baton and strikes the young daughter.
The following is a mainstream news report.
A protest against Police Brutality has been called to take place on Friday, at 5:00pm in front of the police headquarters. Radio Huelga, which formed at the beginning of the strike, has denounced the repression of protest and journalism seen at the capitol in this press release (in Spanish). More information available in Spanish on Indymedia PR.