LETTER TO WORKERS WORLD
Gov. Fortuño attacks University of Puerto Rico
Published Feb 3, 2011 8:18 PM
Worker’s World’s stellar reporting has informed readers of the
ongoing political and social instability in Puerto Rico resulting from the
neoliberal policies of Republican Gov. Luis Fortuño; recent events
have gone from bad to worse. Fortuño, who courts major Tea Party big-money
donors at Heritage Foundation events, has dismayed the nation with his callous
disregard for the role of education in Puerto Rico.
In a society already dramatically divided socioeconomically, his administration
has waged a heinous assault to weaken the University of Puerto Rico by
undermining its financial stability. Through the much-criticized Law 7, state
funds assigned to the University coffers were so severely cut that some
campuses of the Commonwealth’s public university system are teetering on
the brink of financial collapse.
Despite funds being expressly set aside by the Government Development Bank for
stabilization of the University’s financial crisis, the statehood
party’s majority voted against freeing the funds to ensure ongoing
operations. Instead, the UPR’s President and Board of Trustees invoked a
loophole in the since-discarded agreements from the 2010 student strike to
impose an $800 yearly quota across the board for all students.
Those most affected, the students, are the University’s weakest economic
link, especially the more marginalized sectors of the population who are
already at risk by virtue of their social class. In spite of students’
valiant efforts to resist the government’s concerted efforts to weaken
the commonwealth’s public university, the community has little recourse
against impending havoc: thousands of the nation’s youth being denied an
education at a cost within their means.
In the last month, heavy-handed police techniques have been used to rein in
protesters intent on claiming their right to affordable education. Decades-old
standing agreements that prohibited the use of police on university grounds
were violated. The incursion of mounted riot police and armed SWAT teams has
dismayed even those politically sympathetic to the governor’s
Nonetheless, the turn of recent events is enough to offend the common decency
of even hardened political observers. Over the last several weeks, students
have upped the ante in their struggle against the infamous quota and have
adopted civil disobedience to pressure the University and the government to
identify alternative funding sources to cover the UPR’s deficit.
The government response to protesters has been beyond harsh; it has relied upon
police brutality that recalls the most violent events of student strikes in
Puerto Rico in the 1970s.
The arrests of students and sympathizers in the defense of public education
have crossed acceptable boundaries of law and civil rights. Members of the
press, themselves among the victims of police brutality, have described
treatment of protesters by police as abusive, even as torture. Frightening
images easily available on the Internet leave little doubt that violations of
civil rights are rampant.
More troubling is that the police tactics are justified at the highest levels.
The argument made by the Puerto Rican Secretary of State, Marcos Rodriguez
Emma, is that access to the UPR must be guaranteed and protesters violated the
law by obstructing free access to public domain, so all measures to reestablish
police control are justified. This position doesn’t stand the test of
law: the American Civil Liberties Union and the U.S. Justice Department have
already drawn their attention to the island to gather evidence on civil rights
The recent civil disobedience has underscored the police flouting the legal
system that supposedly governs them. Protesters are being brutalized. Women are
being manhandled. Dozens of students are hauled off to police stations and are
held for hours, even overnight, reportedly intimidated while in police custody,
without formal charges being filed. Even uninvolved passersby at protest sites
have been attacked by pepper spray and rubber bullets and hauled off to jail,
all flagrant violations of law.
The Puerto Rican Constitution protects citizens from these violations of
rights, as affirmed in legal precedents that uphold the Puerto Rican
Constitution, such as People v. Rey Marrero, 109 D.P.R. 739 (1980) that
safeguards citizens’ rights against being taken into police custody
without adequate justification.
Prior to recent events, civil disobedience has been less widely known in Puerto
Rico than on the U.S. mainland. That may soon change, as public outcry over
civil rights violations of protesters and observers becomes part of the larger
Whether the students’ cause will spread to a broader consciousness, or
Governor Fortuño’s administration will continue to trample both
public education and the people’s rights with impunity, is one question
to which the people will have to themselves provide the answer.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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