By Natalia A. Bonilla Berrios
SAN JUAN — When you see that after five days of student strikes that the main gates of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Rio Piedras Campus, are still closed, you sense something’s definitely wrong. Moreover, when you see your classmates sleeping in tents and being passed food through the bars that surround the school, you wonder how long will it take for everything to get back to normal again?
On April 13, 2010, the students voted for a 48-hour strike in the Great General Assembly to protest against the supposedly $100 million budget shortfall of the UPR and the elimination of Honors and Sports students’ exemptions as measures to fix the fiscal crisis in which the institution is immersed.
UPR protesting students hold their ground inside the campus. (Photo credit: Martha R. Alonso )
But when the Negotiations Committee — created in the Assembly to deal with the administration — waited on April 19 and 20th for UPR President Mr. de la Torre to show up and he didn’t, tempers flared. It would seem that by dawn of that Wednesday, violence was on the horizon.
It materialized on April 21 when students — many of them masked — and UPR guards fought at the campus’s main entrances. Because it became a violent incident instead of remaining a pacific protest, it was enough reason for Rector Mrs. Ana R. Guadalupe to officially declare the indefinite stoppage of academic and administrative labors.
I have heard countless points of views over this decision but there is one that seems to hit at the heart of the matter. During class, a political science professor alluded to the fact that this is a new administration, one that will make up for all the lenient decisions of the previous administrations since the UPR vs. State struggle back in the 1980’s, which made the campus an autonomous one and by so, prohibiting the state police to enter the premises.
This theory was clearly proven when the Rector and the UPR President went to court to fight for an injunction to stop the students’ strike. It was also evident when the Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth State) presented an injunction to discard the students’ motion demanding action against Chief-of-Police, JosÃ© Figueroa Sancha, and Secretary of State, Kenneth McClintock for excessive use of force against the community.
It is true that the campus has become a place of resistance. It has become ground zero in challenging the government and its “such is life” policy that has been the basis for the dismissal of over 30,000 governmental employees because of Law 7 of Fiscal Reconstruction, which has the objective of restoring the good financial status of the Island.
Originally, it was that policy that before evoked fear among students but now it seems, they simply could not care less.
These past events not only have illustrated what kind of support future professionals can expect when joining a cause — such as, the Teacher’s Federation, the University’s Professors Association and the Hermandad de Empleados No Docentes — but also, what they still need to learn.
Being a student, I right now can’t say I’m proud of what my colleagues are doing. They have turned the strike into a “let’s see who can win” battle between the government and the working and studying class.
At the beginning, the strike was a justifiable option to oppose the administration’s attitude when the President of UPR, Mr. de la Torre, deliberately stood up students who wanted to hold a dialogue with him about the situation at the university.
Striking UPR students fill their time as they wait to see when the strike will be settled. (Photo credit: Martha R. Alonso )
Even though it is refreshing to see the artistic souls of those involved, it doesn’t satisfy the ongoing loss of university time for those 19,000 students on a strike that has no end in sight.
From all appearances, it seems the strikers are assuming control over the campus. They are making the argument that their collective voice must be heard but their voice is an uncompromising one.
It is a voice whose demands must be completely met, with no flexibility allowed. Otherwise, it is feared the administration would take advantage of what would be wrongly assumed as a “weakness.”
Today, the students are planning to protest at the State of the Union speech to be given by Governor Luis FortuÃ±o where he will announce all the budget cuts to numerous (state) agencies, as well as the UPR’s budget.
The students have made a preemptive strike/statement by closing the campus before the budget cuts were official, and with only hours away of finding out if the students’ actions impacted the proposed cuts for UPR, the question lingers: “What will happen if the government doesn’t reconsider?”
The students’ cards have been dealt. No more moves can be more effective. The remaining days of the semester will be a product of what we all do with the inevitable.
Will we let stubbornness rule or sit down and talk about what really concerns all of us — restoring our education.
Learn more about Natalia
Natalia A. Bonilla Berrios is a junior at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) majoring in Journalism and minoring in Political Science, International Relations. Natalia has a 3.90 GPA.
She was the former president of the UPR student chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, a member of the National Society of Collegiates and Scholars and was selected for the ‘Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges’ program, during her freshman year.
In addition, she has worked as an intern reporter for DiÃ¡logo Digital, Puerto Rican Center of Investigative Journalism, served as a staff writer for ParÃ©ntesis newspaper, and as a volunteer reporter for IDentidad magazine.
Bonilla has served as student representative for the Freedom of the Press Center of Puerto Rico and has been selected as one of the UWIRE’s Top 100 Student Journalists of 2009.
She was selected for the Student Camp at Unity 2008, the quadrennial Journalists of Color Convention and also, as a volunteer for the 2009 International Year of Astronomy.