By Natalia A. Bonilla-Berrios
SAN JUAN — Seven days after students from five of the eleven campuses of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) declared an official strike, the state police intervened.
On Monday, Dec. 20, 2010, police used tear gas, taser guns and batons against almost 100 students who protested inside the Rio Piedras Campus. Thirteen students were officially arrested around 6 p.m. and sent to the Hato Rey police station.
“It was a totally abusive act (by police). There was no violent act (committed) here to perform that action,” said Osvaldo Burgos, president of the Human Rights Commission of the Bar Association, to the media.
On Dec. 16, students tried to block a police car in front of the University of Puert Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus.
(PHOTO: Natalia Bonilla)
On December 13, the campus’ Rector Ana Guadalupe prohibited all gatherings on the university’s premises without the approval of the Puerto Rican Supreme Court, who had determined — according to a resolution to the lawsuit UPR vs Laborde — that freedom of speech will be assured outside the campus.
This measure was aimed at guaranteeing that classes would not be interrupted by the protests, preventing what had happened during the previous strike of 54 days last summer. The University of Puerto Rico is currently on probation by the Middle States Commission of Higher Education.
The students of the Rio Piedras Campus declared a strike after a series of negotiations failed with the UPR administration to rescind a $800 fee for next semester. This amount is to help diminish the university’s $240 million debt.
During the week, few arrests were made against students who were blocking traffic to the campus. However, no violent incidents were reported until today when following a gathering of the Natural Science faculty, students used smoke balls to force other undergraduates to abandon class.
State police then intervened.
Although during these past few weeks, Governor Luis FortuÃ±o and Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz approved legislation to help students with financial need pay the new fee, protests have only continued to escalate.
The protesting group of students wants total dismissal of the fee. They’re afraid it will leave over 10,000 students without a way to continue their higher education.
Students of the Carolina Campus were the first to receive the $800 bill. They are starting their quarter season today surrounded by state police guards. Since the 1981 strike, no campus has had state police on their premises.
This strike joins the list of student protests occurring in countries like Italy and England where students are also objecting to the increase in higher education costs.
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.