SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Students at the University of Puerto Rico are on strike again. Last spring, students shut down all but one campus in the UPR system for 2 months to fight the $800 fee increase.
Translator’s background note: Even though the UPR students have organized referendums, occupations, and demos against the $800 fee due January all throughout this fall, the administration is going forward with the fee. So students held an assembly and decided on a 48-hour strike for today. Attempts at repression have been at a high these past few weeks, with the university even taking down the campus’s security gates the day before the strike. This is a communique about today written from within the barricades.
It’s worth noting this was released at 8:00 am and much more has happened since, including an altercation at the gates where a student was detained. Also counter-demos have materialized with support from the PNP, the pro-statehood party. It’s likely a more comprehensive non-mainstream article will be released tomorrow.
Even though the administration insists that today is a normal class and work day at the University, since midnight, various incidents have occurred inside and outside the Rio Piedras campus and the University is under watch from members of the private company Capitol Security and by state police, being observed by a police helicopter that hovers the area.
At dawn, dozens of students and professors formed a picket line at the main entrance of the campus,while others remained within grounds.
At the same time, demonstrators built barricades, specifically at the main entrance at Ponce De Leon Ave. and another one between the Humanities dept. and the Facundo Bueso Annex. Early in the morning, members of Capitol Security, led by the supervisor Benjamin Rodriguez, attempted to dismantle the barricades. In their attempt, they were attacked by masked folks with wood beams and stones. Following the masked folks’ actions, the guards responded similarly and other private guards attempted to run away as fast as they could.
In the morning, an incident went down where close to twenty cops attacked a student with wood beams and that student is currently in the emergency room of a metro hospital. Various students recorded the event and took videos with personal cameras.
In addition, another incident happened where three private guards tried to go into Social Sciences to buy coffee, they claim, since they’ve worked for over 12 hours without a meal. After the students denied them entrance, there was a conversation between a member of the private security and various students. The chief for Capital Security assured them that they didn’t want problems and that police would be coming into the campus at any moment.
Meanwhile, José Colón Ríos, a Law student, noted that at 3:30 in the morning at the Education dept. gate, members of the private security took a student’s bicycle and threw it against the floor, and said something about a “bicycle for Christmas”. Following that, they deflated the tires. It was after that event that the supervisor for the youth at the private security intervened and said “not that”. The state police posted at the same gate observed the incident but didn’t intervene.
Colón Ríos expressed concerns that “it’s in incredible disarray, they have rocks, sticks, they’re super aggressive, making jokes and mocking the students and daring each other to see who wants to fight with the students.”
In an interview with Univision, the President of the Board of Trustees, Ygri Rivera claimed that the private security is part of the overall security plan for the institution.
“The confrontational climate was not created by us, our job is to take all the necessary measures to make sure that the students that want to study can do so”, Rivera insisted.
When questioned about the use of less-lethal weaponry on behalf of the private guards, Rivera pointed out that “it’s not true”. “ If they have used it, it’s because they have to defend themselves then”, she added.
On her part, the Dean sent out a memo last night calling on students to go to the Campus and assist a normal class day. Today in the morning, she sent out another memo where she said she would solicit an investigation over the incident with the student that is currently at Auxilio Mutuo Hospital following a confrontation in the morning. On the same incident, the President of the Board of Trustees said that “At this moment it will be investigated, just as the situation with the police will be, and of the damaged public property and vehicles. When I have a clear view I’ll be in a position to say if it is true or not”. Pictures from Radio Huelga (a student radio station) show a member of Capitol Security with a wooden stick in hand and in the other, what seems to be a knife.
A helicopter from police overflew the campus area for over two hours.
Up until now (8:23 AM), no student or professor has attempted to enter the campus to take classes. This is despite the fact the first courses for th day are offered at 7:00 am in some departments and sport teams practice in the campus area during early hours in the morning. On TV, morning reporters, after reporting the UPR situation, call on the students to stay at home because they consider it risky to come into campus.
Maintenance, beauty, upkeep employees and others came in through the security gate in Barbosa Ave. These have confirmed that they will sign a list as if they came in but they won’t cross the picket line. On their part, the staff association, through its President has expressed solidarity with the student strike.
(Special thanks to Luis O. for the translation!)