The strike continued today at the University of Puerto Rico. At the Facultad de Ciencias Naturales on the Rio Piedras campus, heavily armed police clashed with students protesting the new $800 tuition hike. Protesters marched through the building clapping and chanting to try to enforce the strike -- according to some news reports, they also used smoke bombs to force those inside to evacuate. At this point, the riot cops, which had been standing more or less on the sidelines, stepped in to shut down the protest. Police attacked indiscriminately with batons and tear gas, by the end of the day arresting at least twenty protesters and beating some as they lay on the ground. One of the arrestees, Germaine Ramia, had her left shoulder dislocated by a police blow. Despite the heavy police presence, protesters fought back, throwing rocks at the police, apparently popping the tires of a police car and, if we choose to believe the official police statement, injuring eight officers.
The arrested students were taken to the police station Hato Rey Oeste. At around 8:30 pm, about two hundred students and sympathizers arrived to protest in solidarity with those arrested. In part, they were responding to reports that they had received via text message stating that the police were beating them inside the jail. Again, riot police violently attacked the protesters outside. As of about 9:15 pm, police armed with long-range weaponry and machine-guns have cleared the street in front of the station, keeping a close watch on the protesters.
Like many universities in Latin America, the UPR is considered autonomous, which makes it illegal for the police to enter. Last week, however, the police invaded and occupied numerous UPR campuses, including Rio Piedras, Humacao, Bayamon, Cayey, and Carolina, for the first time in about thirty years. Furthermore, protests and demonstrations have been prohibited on university grounds. In this video from last week, riot cops at the Rio Piedras campus read what is essentially an expulsion order as they push students out: "You may not protest on school grounds: it is illegal" (No pueden manifestarse dentro de los predios: es ilegal").
Last week, a letter signed by 74 Puerto Rican professors was sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, condemning the police occupation:
As Puerto Rican scholars teaching in the United States we have decided to write to you in order to express our deep concern with regard to recent developments at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). For the past months, the University has experienced a continuing conflict that began last semester with a call for a strike by the students in response to an increase in academic tuition and related to fears about the future of public higher education on the island. Unfortunately, university administrators, professors, and students have not been able to negotiate a satisfactory agreement. The whole process has recently culminated in the intervention of Governor Luis Fortuño and the deployment of a massive police presence on the main university campus at Río Piedras and on other campuses in the system, including a private security contractor and fully armed SWAT units.It appears they were right. The strike continues tomorrow.
On December 13, Chancellor Ana R. Guadalupe banned all meetings, festivals, manifestations, and all other so-called large activities on the Río Piedras campus for a period of thirty days. In our view, this represents a clear breach of fundamental constitutional rights. The justifications given by the Chancellor are that this measure is required in order to keep the campus open and to return it to normal operations. Furthermore, professors and workers are being asked (under the threat of punishment) to continue working despite the intense volatility caused by the police presence on campus.
We remain very concerned that such use of force may in fact increase the potential for violence and continued tension, especially if the guarantees of freedom of speech, association, and assembly have been revoked. Both the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico guarantee these rights. Moreover, this week the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico (which, without the opportunity for serious public debate, was recently restructured by the government of Luis Fortuño in order to ensure a clear majority of judges in his favor) declared, in a disturbing resolution, that strikes will be prohibited at all UPR campuses effective immediately.
(much of this report is culled from the minute-by-minute updates from el nuevo dia and primera hora)