Indefinite strike seizes University of Puerto Rico

2010-12-15

Hundreds of students protesting a new fee largely shut down one of the Caribbean’s largest universities on Tuesday, a week after clashes with security guards turned violent.

Several students were seen throwing smoke bombs into classrooms at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, the main campus of a system that serves more than 65,000 students.

Dozens of riot police stood guard near one of the university’s entrances.

The students, backed by a professors’ association, called the indefinite strike to protest an $800 yearly fee that takes effect next year to help reduce the system’s budget deficit. Students already pay $49 per credit.

Gov. Luis Fortuno warned that the strike “threatens not only the semester, but the university’s accreditation and survival as well.” He called an emergency meeting with university officials and several senators.

Fortuno promised $30 million a year in scholarships to compensate for the fee’s impact on poor students, and said he would expand a government jobs program that helps more than 2,000 students.

Protesters said the increase is too much for many students in the U.S. Caribbean territory where nearly half of its 4 million residents live below the poverty line.

“The working class needs a university that is accessible, cheap and available,” said Alvin Couto, a spokesman for the newly created Working Class political party. “The progress of this country goes hand in hand with the education of our students.”

University chancellor Ana Guadalupe Quinones had tried to head off the protest by banning demonstrations on campus for a month.

A similar strike in April over the fee and other issues paralyzed the university for nearly two months.

The university’s budget was recently cut from $9 billion to $7 billion a year.

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