[News] Students of Puerto Rico Lead Resistance Against PROMESA - Shut Down Universities

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 10 15:04:45 EDT 2017


http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58e851c1e4b00dd8e016ec0e


  Students of Puerto Rico Lead Resistance Against PROMESA

04/09/2017 - Juan Dávila

Last Wednesday, April 5th, thousands of students from the University of 
Puerto Rico (UPR) gathered at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan 
to discuss solutions to the austerity measures threatening the higher 
education system of the country. Back on March 9th, the Fiscal Control 
Board of Puerto Rico that constitutes the Puerto Rico Oversight 
Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) sent a letter to 
Governor Ricardo Rosselló requesting the government to come up with a 
plan that progressively reduces the annual “subsidies” to the UPR by a 
minimum of 450 million dollars by the year 2021 in order to pay Wall 
Street bondholders. This represents one-third of the university’s 
consolidated budget.

One of the chants of the ongoing student movement is: /“Si en vez de 
vino, bebieran malta, estos recortes no harían falta”/ (If instead of 
wine, they drank malt, these cuts would not be necessary). Although the 
fraud inside the university’s administration is evident, the students 
are aware that a reduction of 450 million dollars to the university’s 
budget can only represent the imminent destruction of the UPR as we know 
it. In this sense, a real solution to the mismanagement of funds in the 
university is the redistribution of funds, but not its reduction. Among 
other items, students are demanding the resignation of several officials 
and bureaucrats including UPR’s Interim President, Dr. Nivia Fernández.

Like baseball player Roberto Clemente, UPR students decided to represent 
their country with dignity. Continuing his humanist legacy, they batted 
the austerity pitch voting in favor of a system-wide strike involving 
all 11 campuses of the UPR starting on April 6th and not ending until 
they are sure that not a penny gets taken away from the university’s budget.

After 12 hours of sitting in the stiff chairs of the coliseum with empty 
bellies, debates, technical difficulties and /batucada/, the student 
assembly vowed to continue striking until the following conditions are met:

 1. No penalties for students participating in striking activities.
 2. A university reform that represents all sectors from the university
    community.
 3. The restitution of a civic commission that audits Puerto Rico’s
    debt, and a moratorium on debt payments before and during the
    auditing process.
 4. Zero tuition hikes and/or elimination of enrollment exemptions.
 5. Zero budget cuts to the University of Puerto Rico.

These demands continue the same path of the ones approved earlier by the 
Río Piedras campus, where students have been striking since March 28th. 
Veronica Figueroa Huertas, spokesperson of the student movement in Río 
Piedras said, “If we need to lose the semester […] we lose it, and 
retake it. I think that to be able to come up with solutions that change 
and transform the values of our society, and that transform the system, 
we need to invest in tools such as education. And we are the ones who 
need to put pressure and organize politically to make that happen.”

Figueroa Huertas is a senior student of psychology. She is expected to 
graduate in May and already has an offer to a Master’s Program. However, 
Figueroa Huertas is willing to adjourn her professional and academic 
future in order to ensure the existence of a public university for the 
generations after her. As Figueroa Huertas demonstrates, a selfless 
interest is one of the motivations driving many students to be at the 
gates closing the entire institution.

Yet, what makes this strike different from others is its “multi-sectoral 
struggle”, as the leaders of the movement refer to it. The students’ 
claims go beyond the spectrum of the university, and as their demand #3 
shows, they are asking for a complete audit of Puerto Rico’s debt before 
the country continues signing checks to bondholders without even having 
a clue of what are they paying for. The type of pressure that the 
students are employing for an audit and a moratorium of the debt, 
establishes them as the leading opposition against PROMESA and its 
neoliberal agenda.

But Governor Ricardo Rosselló prefers to cover his eyes before seeing an 
audit, and has recently said that auditing the debt is not going to 
produce any positive result. Aside from the pressure he should be 
getting from the Fiscal Control Board not to advocate for an independent 
audit, Ricardo Rosselló might also be motivated to hold such a 
perspective for personal reasons. His father’s administration (Pedro 
Rosselló, 1992-2000) was arguably the most corrupt in the short history 
of Puerto Rico, and is almost certain to have many ties to an illegal 
debt. Pedro Rosselló also privatized many assets of the country, 
including the telephone company and the health system.

Pedro Rosselló’s administration was also repressive to protestors, and 
the /Partido Nuevo Progresista /(PNP), the conservative pro-statehood 
party of the Rossellos, has a reputation of attacking university 
students. From its beginnings, the PNP set this tone. The first time the 
PNP was in power, the police of Puerto Rico murdered twenty-one-year-old 
student Antonia Martínez Lagares during a protest against militarism and 
police repression in Río Piedras. And the latest example was Luis 
Fourtuño’s administration, which supported the police of Puerto Rico in 
constantly beating and arresting students participating in the 2010 UPR 
strike against tuition hikes.

As of today, the police of Puerto Rico is keeping its distance from the 
gates of the university, except in Utuado’s campus where police entered 
the night of April 5th trying to identify a leader, to which students 
responded “We are all leaders.” The students /picaron a‘lante/ and it 
seems that the government and the Fiscal Control Board underestimated 
their capacity to organize and resist so rapidly before the austerity 
measures began to be implemented. But it might be just a matter of time 
before police intervenes and the government tries to break the student 
strike.

Additionally, the Fiscal Control Board has the capacity to enforce law, 
which criminalizes protests and free expression. A report released on 
June 3, 2016 by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) states, “The board 
could enforce laws of Puerto Rico that prohibit employees of the 
territorial government and its instrumentalities from participating in a 
strike or lockout and, if necessary, effectively nullify any new laws or 
policies adopted by Puerto Rico that did not conform to requirements 
specified in the bill.” In a recent forum at the UPR in Río Piedras 
organized by the group /Se acabaron las promesas/, lawyer Ariadna 
Godreau Aubert emphasized the immunity that PROMESA grants to members of 
the Fiscal Control Board. Godreau Aubert stated, “You cannot sue the 
Fiscal Control Board and, at the same time, besides that lack of power 
to hold them accountable, there are policies being made here to the 
service of the board to repress the right to protest. This is also part 
of PROMESA’s apparatus.”

In the meantime students are getting prepared and their barricades hold 
the first line of defense. Right now the campuses of the UPR are the 
bastions of struggle against PROMESA, and their resistance camps have 
been transformed into the new classrooms.


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