Puerto Rico: student protesters face "Egyptian" repression?
Students protesting an $800 tuition surcharge imposed this year at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) marked the beginning of the spring semester on Feb. 7 with a two-hour march and rally at the school's Río Piedras campus in San Juan. Adriana Mulero, a spokesperson for the protesters' Student Representative Committee (CRE), called the demonstration a success, since "they didn't use brute force," referring to the large police presence at the campus.
The CRE had made it clear on Feb. 4 that at this point they were simply calling for an interruption of classes, not a strike like the one that shut down the UPR last spring. The UPR administration has been trying to maintain a ban on all demonstrations at the system's 11 campuses. (El Nuevo Día, Guaynabo, Feb. 7; Primera Hora, Guaynabo, Feb. 4, from Inter News Service)
Civil disobedience actions by the students during the school's registration period over the previous two weeks were met with harsh police tactics, which were forcefully denounced by UPR professors and the local media. On Feb. 5 four women legislators presented a resolution in the Chamber of Representatives calling for an investigation into "offensive and undue" acts by police while arresting protesters at the Capitol on Jan. 27. Rep. Brenda López de Arrará said a young woman "was touched inappropriately by an agent" while she was handcuffed inside a police vehicle. (END, Feb. 3 from INS) Wanda Vázquez Garced, conservative governor Luis Fortuño's nominee to head the Office of the Women's Advocate, has also condemned the groping of women protesters by police agents. (La Opinión, Los Angeles, Feb. 6, from INS)
Some commentators drew parallels with the repression of protesters in Egypt, where massive demonstrations started shaking the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak the week of Jan. 24.
"As I watch the news from the States and I see [US secretary of state Hillary Clinton] exhort the Egyptian police and military to use 'restraint' and demand that leaders in the Middle East open up to reforms," Puerto Rico-based constitutional law professor Judith Berkan told US senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) in a Feb. 2 open letter, "I ask myself—why the silence about Puerto Rico, the largest remaining direct colony of the United States?" (Puerto Rico Daily Sun, Feb. 2) Elba Carrasquillo, a Puerto Rican living in Egypt, praised the UPR protesters and warned that "if Puerto Ricans don't wake up about what has been going on in my island…the road to becoming a country like the Egypt of the past 30 years will get shorter and shorter." (NotiCel, Mayagüez, Feb. 3, from INS)
Meanwhile, UPR students were trying a new tactic in fighting police repression. On Feb. 4 the Student Communication Center (CCE) released a short video, "No, Sir: 7 Arrested Students Talk to the Police." Noting that police agents too are exploited, the students explain that the struggle against the tuition surcharge "isn't just for those of us who are here, because we want a university that's accessible to all, because we want for you too to be able to aspire to it." "[Y]ou too can disobey," the students said. "You don't have to carry out an unjust order that goes against your principles—orders that seek to go on fomenting injustice and to go on committing abuses and violations of civil rights." (Primera Hora, Feb. 4, from INS)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 6.
See our last post on Puerto Rico.