UPR, Still on Strike
After months of grass root community outreach, protests, piquet lines, cultural activities, administrative “shut downs” and public education campaigns, the student body of strikers in the University of Puerto Rico face an even more uphill battle than what they originally expected. With the strike now reaching its second month, the $800 fee was implemented successfully by the university administration. Negotiation with the elected student body known as the Student Representation Committee (CRE for its abbreviation in Spanish) destined to negotiate the student demands and resolve the university conflict once and for all, have been just next to non-existent. The strikers have not been able to coherently relate their demands conceptually with the state imposition of neoliberal policies that Puerto Rico faces as a whole.
For over two years now, ever since the passing of the Fiscal emergency law or better known as “public law №7”; The University of Puerto Rico system has suffered an indirect budget cut that reached nearly 300 million dollars during the last fiscal year. Unlike other North American Universities, the University of Puerto Rico has a fiscal particularity that stipulates the need for the state to fund the university system with 9.6% of its tax revenues from the national budget. The law №7 stipulated however a redirection of tax revenues from cigarette and alcohol sales that were steered away from the general revenue fund.
But apart from the apparent fiscal problem provoked by the law №7, the University of Puerto Rico is not the only public agency that suffered the wrath of frivolous and capricious budget cuts. Some 30,000 public workers were thrown out on the street under the same justification. Over 100,000 lost their jobs in Puerto Rico. The private sector has not been able to absorb the vast majority of the unemployed. The local Unions have not been able to push for their workers economic concessions. Poor communities have been invaded and expropriated by state police authorities backed by U.S. National Guard troops due to frivolous property violations. And as if all of these impositions weren’t enough, national support has not been able to make much more noise than a widespread sympathetic nod. It’s up to the students to work up to their demands and re-evaluate their strategy.
One good thing that’s characterized the student participation during the recent strike is their ability to re-evaluate, propose and correct their mistakes. The internal organization of the student movement has matured to the point that they have been able to directly relate their public discourse to the action at hand. Every activity that the students propose is discussed, analyzed and well thought out politically to reach its maximum potential. So much so that due to the age old government rhetoric of condoning violence habitually, students have decided that instead attacking the police head on, their use of violence was restrained strictly to self defense to in turn practice non-violent civil disobedience.
The arrests have caused more problems than the local authorities could deal with. Considering that they’ve amounted to around a little over 50 people a day, the local press has been more than willing to cooperate and film the students who get beaten during their arrest. And if it’s not by arrests, they’re usually dispersed by rubber bullets and tear gas. There have also been a vast number of complaints filed against the special arrest team police members for police brutality and sexual harassment.
Although the future of the strike is uncertain, the students are more organized and willing to take any adversity that confronts them. There justified struggle is one that is yet to grow into its expectations. It is one that has yet to see all the fruits of its labor. But if one thing is certain, as the world around them is downtrodden by the oppressive arm of the state and its need to grip control, the striking students of the UPR have shown their fellow Puerto Rican compatriots that the struggle for their nation does not stop at the end of a barrel or at the other end of a jail-cell. It begins with Puerto Ricans standing up to their class enemies that impose the right to expropriate and privatize. It begins with people standing up to their oppressors and yelling once more that their right to study in a public university cannot be restrained or constricted due to the costly nature of tuition fees. And more importantly it begins when students immersed in the history they create, consciously prepare the political soil for future generations to help deconstruct the monstrous arm of a reactionary, colonial state. Their losses may outnumber their gains when it comes to negotiation, but their struggle is not bound by state repression.