Posteado por: tucidides | 24 mayo 2010

Student strike in Puerto Rico underscores widespread discontent

A strike experts say is unprecedented has paralyzed 10 of the University of Puerto Rico’s 11 campuses.


SAN JUAN — University of Puerto Rico drama student Mariana Monclova has a work-study job, a federal financial aid grant and, like all of her school’s artists, musicians, cheerleaders, athletes and honor students, she gets a tuition waiver.

Under a fiercely debated proposal to help chip away at the university’s $200 million deficit, the school’s board would have had her choose: need-based financial aid or the waiver.

“I live with my mother and, even like that, I have just enough to pay for what I need,” Monclova said.

So the 20-year-old student joined ranks with thousands of UPR students in shutting down the university in protest. The strike, which began April 21, has paralyzed the university and mesmerized Puerto Rico as calls of support come in from the likes of Ricky Martin, Juanes and Ricardo Alarcón, the head of Cuba’s National Assembly.

On Saturday, the university reversed the proposal limiting scholarships — but the strike continues until other matters such as tuition hikes are resolved.

Not since Puerto Rico rallied to chase the United States Navy out of Vieques a decade ago have so many different social sectors rallied around a single cause. Experts say a university with a history of often-leftist political struggles that sometimes ended in violence has, for the first time, launched an island-wide walkout that underscores discontent felt throughout Puerto Rico.

As more people here lose their jobs, experts say the UPR strike stands as a symbol of a society fed up with a soured economy and messy politics.

“In many ways, this strike has no precedent,” said Pablo Navarro, a professor at Lesley University in Massachusetts, who wrote a book about the history of UPR student uprisings.

“The strike has so many factors converging that reflect the social crisis Puerto Rico is living at this time: a financial crisis that is very deep, an unemployment rate that is very high, and add to that the proposed changes that would affect the scholarships of athletes, artists, chorus and high honor students.”

With the semester and pending research at stake, students say the strike could last months as the fear of violence escalates and negotiations stall.

Desks and chairs barricade university gates, and dorms were taken over by students. An effigy of the school’s president is propped on the police-guarded front entrance as the student-run radio station — — transmits around the clock.

The strike that began at the main Rio Piedras campus swept to 10 of the university’s 11 campuses, cost one campus rector her job and landed the student negotiating committee in court. On Friday, more than 1,000 faculty voted to continue the strike should university officials end it by using police force against students, and called for the president and board chairwoman’s ousters.

On Thursday, a student protest against Gov. Luis Fortuño ended with injuries, arrests and pepper spray. On Saturday, hundreds of students rallied at Plaza de las Americas, San Juan’s largest shopping mall.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, university President José Ramón de la Torre and Board of Trustees president Ygri Rivera insisted that the strike did not have popular support.

In an apparent reference to labor unions, Rivera said “radical forces” that seek to destabilize the university, are manipulating vulnerable students.



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