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Puerto Rico: Ongoing story: Professors may join student strike at UPR

By Natalia A. Bonilla Berrios

SAN JUAN — After opting for a 48-hour strike starting Wednesday, April 21, student members of the Negotiation Committee of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Rio Piedras Campus, stood outside the Botanical Garden this morning when the UPR President, José Ramón de la Torre, didn’t show up for the meeting. This was the first attempt by the community to reach a dialogue with Mr. José Ramón de la Torre.

According to Iván Ríos, spokesperson for de la Torre, the leader called student Carlos Pagán to postpone the date. Apparently, the new student leader René Vargas did not receive the message in time.

Students speak out at student assembly about the possibility of staging a strike. (Photo: Natalia M. Febo)

“The student assured us that he would inform Mr. Vargas, the student leader. Therefore, we were surprised when they appeared today at 10 a.m.”, said Ríos.

The Committee, created on April 13 by the Great Assembly of Students, is supposed to deal with the Central Administration on issues such as the elimination of Honor students’ admissions exemptions and the $100 million budget cutoff. This last topic has been defended by the Administration stating that this isn’t official yet.

“Although the dialogue and negotiations are important, they have to be accompanied with enough strength to make them (the administration) accept the students’ legal demands,” stated the Socialists Youth Union in their April bulletin.

Protest art has sprung up on benches around the UPR campus. Translation: There is no victory without a fight and we don’t fight unless we have to.
(Photo: Natalia A. Bonilla Berríos)

Right now, the tension between students and university administration hasn’t worried the government. The police department chief, José Figueroa Sancha, called the students “trouble-makers” and has already developed a plan to maintain order during the 48-hour strike from April 21-22. 

The police will remain outside the campus to watch the protests and use force only when necessary. The department has been banned from entering the campus since violent incidents in the 1980’s.

“I’m a UPR alumni of the 80’s and as today, we still see the same group of five or six people at the university. What’s their intention? It’s not studying. Is it to cause disorder?” asked Figueroa Sancha.

Translation: We all have to put in a little so that the few don’t have to do it all.

Reacting to these accusations, Mr. Alvin R. Couto, spokesperson of the Movimiento al Socialismo, said that “the students took the decision to confront the central administration’s policy. One can be in favor or against it, but one has to respect them (the students) because they represent the majority’s will.”
But that’s not entirely true.

On April 13, less than 10% of the students voted for the 48-hour strike. The measure was approved by 763-261 votes. The campus has an estimated 20,000 students, and to recognize the decision, at least 2,000 students must have had to endorse this according to the university bylaws.

Therefore, the Campus Rector, Mrs. Ana R. Guadalupe, told in a press release that all main entrances (to the campus) will stay open during the strike.

“They have to convince me that the strike will affect directly the administration,” said Gerardo Cháves Reyes, an UPR sophomore majoring in political science. Cháves believes the strike will not hurt the administration but the students.

“Maybe we will not see the damage now, but those who come behind us will”, Cháves told Latina Lista referring to the high school students who are yet to face the cutoffs in materials and will have to pay more for classes and facilities.

On the eve of a major strike and possibly an indefinite one, if no deals are made, the university´s Professor’s Association has already made a pact to go on strike by April 29.

The Hermandad de Empleados No Docentes has also expressed it’s support to both communities.

To meet or not to meet with the university’s administration is a question to be answered in the following days.

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