UPR students hold vigil to keep cops off campus

December 10, 2010

It was not business as usual at the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras campus Thursday as students, teachers, labor groups and political organizations presented a united fund to boycott classes.
While students gathered outside the gates, refusing to go to class, their professors met off- campus and voted not to teach as long as police remained on campus.
They also postponed the strike vote they had approved last week in exchange for the administration receiving the students for a dialogue.
Several organizations demanded that the police be removed.
“There is no doubt that the government is frightened by the university’s power, and the love the people have for it as an institution,” said María Gisela Rosado, president of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors, in reference to the presence of police on campus.”
“We want this fee to be canceled, or at the least put on hold, until the institution can get on an even keel, and all of us can look for ways to resolve this,” she said.
The group also urged the people to join the march from the Capitol to La Fortaleza scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.
Student spokeswoman for the Student Representation Committee María Soledad Dávila, said the administration is taking advantage of the academic recess ordered by the chancellor to install cameras.
“They are taping, and we don’t know what they are doing in the faculties,” she said. “The people are here aware that the University is not theirs [the administration’s] but ours.
“As long as there is a police presence inside the University, there will be no classes,” she said.
Police have not entered the university for the last 30 years, and when they have, it has been to repress ideas and limit the project of a public university.”
The teachers will not bar the way of anyone, she said, but the majority of students, professors and employees are expected to repudiate the police presence on campus.
This protest was not anticipated when they met to give a strike vote for an event which is scheduled for Tuesday.
Another group condemning the presence of the police is the University Pro Independence Federation, known as FUPI.
“This is a serious act of provocation on the part of Luis Fortuño’s government towards the university community and the island as a whole,” said FUPI spokesman Kevin Luciano, adding that it was also “a historic step backwards for the university.”
Police have not been brought on campus [in recent years] precisely because it has brought dramatic consequences including the death of Antonia Martínez Lagares, two police and an ROTC cadet at the beginning of the 1970s,” said Luciano.
Also commenting on the police presence was the Movement to Socialism, which called on the student body to act decidedly and united, before the new institutional aggression on the part of the government against university autonomy, the non-confrontation policy and accessibility to an excellent public education.”
“We denounce the occupation by police of the UPR campuses aimed at intimidating and creating a belligerent climate. When the police were removed [from UPR] 30 years ago, it was because of the vicious killings, attacks and arrests, the climate of confrontation, building of dossiers, and harassment, the result of which was a failure of democracy and crass violations of civil rights,” said the organization’s spokesman Alvin R. Couto de Jesús.
“Police on campus represents an act of confrontation that undermines the university autonomy project and eliminates the non-confrontation policy because it destroys the possibility of resolving conflicts from a university point of view built on dialogue and mediation,” he said.
Another point of view came from the Association of Pro-Statehood Students which announced Thursday that it will create a united front with the leaders of the organization on other campuses to prevent incidents like those which occurred in Río Piedras.
The organization’s president in Mayagüez, Edwin Jusino, said there is no conflict between the statehood cause and the protection of UPR.
“If it is true that we have the right to protest, it is also true that we must not violate the law. Our struggle must not be a violent one; we must develop dialogue and lobby to force the government and the legislature to resolve the UPR crisis,” said Jusino.
The Trade Union Coordinating Group said that it had also agreed to express solidarity with the many organizations of professors and non-teaching workers.  They also voted to support the students of the 11 campuses who are rejecting the new tuition fee. They also will participate in activities to promote their position.
They also repudiated the remarks of Chief of Staff Marcos Rodríguez Ema, who said they would (literally) “kick out” the demonstrating students.
The director of the group, Luis Pedraza Leduc, said [Rodríguez Ema’s] words are the fundamentals to create a climate of uncertainty, fear and violence at the University.”
Pedraza Leduc said Rodríguez Ema did the same thing in 1996 when he provoked a strike at the Government Development Bank, which lasted for two months.
Pedraza Leduc criticized La Fortaleza for instructing government agencies to mobilize employees of confidence to the UPR campus participate in marches which support the university administration.
After the 48-hour strike ended, Fortuño announced that he would soon name a committee to amend the regulations of UPR.
On another subject, Fortuño justified the mobilization of the police to the campuses and said that after noon classes would begin, allowing workers to clean up the barricades and trash which the students placed in certain areas.
The president of the Popular Democratic Party Héctor Ferrer called on the governor to remove the police, and urged alumni to support the students.
He said the governor should assume the responsibility and face the situation.
“We have seen conflict and unpleasant encounters, which have resulted in violence, we have seen student and police lives in danger, but the governor has been absent. It looks as if solving this conflict is not one of his priorities,” said Ferrer.
In reaching out to former students, he said: “This struggle is not just about the students, it affects the whole country, and it is time for the alumni to take a step to join this cause, which is, without a doubt, a fair one.”
Ferrer invited the governor to put aside political differences and to use “viable means” presented by the PDP delegation to solve the conflict.
Among their suggestions are a bill proposed by the Law School students to amend the Scholarship Fund law and bills that propose to amend the Fiscal Emergency Law 7 to restore the income formulas of the UPR General Fund.

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