Posteado por: tucidides | 13 mayo 2010

Puerto Rico students strike to save public higher education

By Berta Joubert-Ceci

Published May 10, 2010 9:43 PM

Thousands of Puerto Rican students, sons and daughters of the working class and some already workers themselves, anticipated May Day actions by defiantly challenging the University of Puerto Rico’s board of administrators and the island government in mid-April when they called a student strike to defend affordable public higher education on the island.

By May 3 the strike was in its 13th day and had spread to nine of the UPR’s 11 campuses.

Pro-statehood Gov. Luis Fortuño, loyal to big business and its U.S. master, has been imposing neoliberal, anti-people laws aimed at privatizing services and laying off thousands of public workers. His actions included measures supposedly meant to counteract the island’s serious fiscal crisis resulting from the U.S.-driven, worldwide economic crisis. These measures would include an increase of the tuition and several other provisions that would effectively lead to privatizing the University of Puerto Rico, the island’s largest and most prestigious university.

The striking students issued an open letter explaining that their struggle was for the right of all 4 million Puerto Ricans on the island to have an affordable education. The children of the rich mainly attend private universities in Puerto Rico or the United States, but the UPR is the peoples’ university. Students have launched many important progressive struggles there — for example, barring ROTC training on campus — and have joined peoples’ struggles outside the university. So it is no accident that the students now are defending this institution tooth and nail.

Founded in 1903 in Rio Piedras near the northern coast, the UPR has grown to include 11 campuses throughout the island, guaranteeing a low-cost quality education to thousands of students. The UPR offers many subsidies, grants, scholarships and work programs that make it accessible for low-income families. It has 500 academic programs at bachelor, master and doctorate levels; associate degrees; continued education; etc.

UPR houses 95 percent of Puerto Rico’s scientific research, including in cancer, culture, architecture and many other disciplines. The Rio Piedras campus alone has more than 18,000 students.

Student assembly planned strike

A student assembly on the Rio Piedras campus voted on April 13 to hold an occupation and 48-hour stoppage on April 21, followed by an indefinite strike on April 23 if the administration refused to repeal “C98,” the measure imposing higher tuition and affecting students, university employees and professors. They also formed a Negotiating Committee involving the Student Council, the Action Committees and members of the Coalition in Defense of Public Higher Education (CEDEP) and the Committee against Homophobia and Discrimination.

The administration refused to negotiate. The students followed their plan, erecting tents on the campus and staying there, firm and strong despite the administration’s immediate use of riot and other police and its attempts to provoke confrontations.

Soon CEDEP, an alliance of university general employees, students and professors, issued a public statement in solidarity with the students and blamed the governor and legislature for reducing the university budget. Actions soon followed these words of solidarity.

The Coordinating Labor Committee and the Broad Front of Solidarity and Struggle, labor organizations that have been fighting for months against cutbacks and layoffs, joined the demonstrations and picket lines. A union of non-teaching UPR employees (HEED) and the Union of University Professors (APPU) also stood before the UPR gates, as did some students from private universities. Religious and social organizations, progressive political parties and even a special demonstration of girls and boys — organized by their mothers — backed the struggle for public education.

Internationally recognized musicians like Dany Rivera and Andy Montañez gave concerts for the students, and several musicians from the Puerto Rican Symphonic Orchestra played. Ricky Martin sent a special message in Twitter and René Perez of Calle 13, who just returned from Cuba, gathered videotaped solidarity statements from dozens of international musicians.

Students of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico and from Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), a U.S.-based youth group, were among those sending messages of solidarity.

On April 26, while Fortuño gave his address to the Legislature, the labor organizations that usually demonstrate in front of the Capitol decided to instead move the demonstration in front of the UPR in solidarity with the students.

On May Day, students initiated Radio Huelga (Radio Strike) ( to keep the people informed. Even mainstream newspaper El Nuevo Día has a minute-to-minute coverage of the strike.

As of May 3, public support had frustrated the administration’s attempt to restart classes and work. This has forced the administration to go back to negotiations. If the student’s recent actions are any indication, they will settle for nothing less than what they and the people have demanded all along.

¡Que vivan los y las estudiantes! (Long live the students!)

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