Puerto Rico: Violent Confrontation with Demonstrators

On the night of May 20, 2010, as the governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño held a political fundraiser in one of the salons of the Hotel Sheraton in San Juan, the capital city, students and supporters clashed with special police forces who arrived to quash the demonstration in the hotel’s lobby.  Members of the police riot squad beat demonstrators with batons and used pepper spray against them.  At least five students were arrested.  Leaders of trade unions, students, and other demonstrators were wounded and transported to nearby clinics and hospitals.

This is yet another incident in the student strike that started April 21, 2010.  For almost a month, students have paralyzed the main campus of the state-run University of Puerto Rico (UPR), protesting against $100 million in budget cuts and the proposed elimination of certain registration and fee waivers.  About 20,000 students are enrolled in the main UPR campus in Río Piedras.  Ten of the UPR’s 11 campuses on the Island — where around 62,000 students study — have joined the protest.  The student strike has catalyzed a national social movement that was already displeased with Governor Fortuño’s economic and social policies.  Artists, politicians, professors, members of trade unions, and activists, from Puerto Rico and the world, have joined the students in solidarity.

In the past days, tension has risen in the Río Piedras campus of the UPR.  A special police unit has surrounded the campus.  Parents have been legally denied the possibility of delivering water, food, and other basic supplies to their kids: students who are participating in the strike.  There have been violent police encounters with parents, students, and other people who have supported the strike.

Also on May 20, for the first time in Puerto Rican history, professors from the entire UPR system held an assembly in Cayey to discuss the institution’s situation.  Also, after the UPR temporarily suspended its lawsuit against various student leaders, negotiations between the Students’ Negotiating Committee and the President of the UPR, José Ramón de la Torre, and the President of the Board of Trustees, Ygrí Rivera, started again yesterday.

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle is a Puerto Rican journalist.  Follow her at <twitter.com/firuzehsv>.  This article is an excerpt from an article first published by Global Voices Online on 20 May 2010 under a Creative Commons license.  See, also, Firuzeh Shokooh Valle, “Puerto Rico: Second National Strike in Less than a Year”; and Juliana Rincón Parra and Firuzeh Shokooh Valle, “Puerto Rico: The University Protest Seen through Online Video.”

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