Monday, May 31, 2010

Puerto Rican universities: checkmate for colonial government

Okay, we've not been keeping up with this in Puerto Rico. Sounds like a very tense and unfortunate situation. -Angela

Puerto Rican universities: checkmate for colonial government

IT is generally the case that the groveling of the most fervent and servile admirers of the empire blinds them to seeing the horizon. That is what has happened to Luis Fortuño, the colonized and neoliberal governor of Puerto Rico. On April 26, in the midst of a university strike in full spate, it occurred to him to state that the students involved have the "privilege" of studying and even when their matriculation fees are increased, they will always be lower than those of private colleges.

He recalled that the country’s universities cost each taxpayer $726, for which reason he believes that it is logical that when the state budget is reduced, contributions should follow suit. That is his simple response to the demands of the universities. From next year, $100 million is to be slashed from their budget.

Fortuño did not anticipate that the university strike – to which he evidently attached little importance – would transform itself in the space of seven weeks into a veritable headache for his colonial administration, which has been placed in checkmate in just 18 months.

Students went on strike on April 21 in Río Piedra and 10 other precincts to oppose budget cuts eliminating study benefits, including matriculation exceptions for certain categories of students, and to protest the intention to privatize the University of Puerto Río (UPR). Given the conduct of Fortuños and his team, their action has been increasing in giant bounds.

However, and like never before, the demands of one sector on this island have succeeded in winning support from trade unions affiliated to the U.S. AFL-CIO and Change to Win, which called a general strike together with the Puerto Rican Workers Federation, without the solidarity backing of Prosol, which groups together labor unions that do not share the U.S. line and are maintaining a camp alongside the Río Piedra precinct. The Lawyers and Physicians and Surgeons Associations are also supporting the student strikers, together with the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans, at the risk of coming under violent attack by the security forces.

Two disproportionate measures, disastrous for the colonial administration, have been adopted in these past weeks and which, far from working in the direction of solving the conflict, have aggravated it. The first was the stupidity of the university authorities’ decision to abandon negotiations and close Río Piedra until July 31, and the second was to order the police to surround the facilities with the express intention of preventing families and sympathizers from giving the striking students food, water and medicines, given that electricity and water supplies had been cut off.

That has been compounded by the news – at the moment of writing this article – that Higher Court Judge José Negrón Fernández has accepted a lawsuit filed by the UPR administration instructing students to leave the university and be legally obliged to abandon their strike.

According to the journalistic source the injunction has been granted on the basis of the academic and administrative recess decreed by acting rector Ana Guadalupe and the Labor Federation until July 31. And that is not all. With this decision, the administration has increased from seven to 21 the number of students being sued, including members of the student negotiating committee which was supposedly to reassume negotiations with UPR President José Ramón de la Torre on May 20.

That decision closed the doors, at least prior to that date, to the continuation of dialogue advocated by the students and gave them up until 5:00 p.m. on May 22 to abandon the university precinct.

Lacking any argument, the university authorities have been utilizing the forces of colonial justice, a total accomplice of the current administration of Luis Fortuño, to attempt to oblige the students to give up their action, albeit using legal means.

In any event, the Puerto Rican universities have demonstrated that the moral and combative reserves of the people are intact and that its finest minds are confirming that nobody can seize from them their culture and their identity, the irreplaceable bases of a struggle that will continue until independence is attained.

As the message sent by the striking students to Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power states, "Once again Puerto Rico is fighting."

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