Costa Rica: Clashes Over Autonomy on UCR Campus

On April 12, 2010, at least 60 police officers from the Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Organism (OIJ for its initials in Spanish) and the members of the police arrived to the University of Costa Rica (UCR) to detain a campus transit officer, who was accused of corruption. However, members of the university community including students and faculty said that this attempted arrest goes against the university's status of autonomy. According to the Costa Rican Constitution, in Article 84:

La Universidad de Costa Rica es una institución de cultura superior que goza de independencia para el desempeño de sus funciones y de plena capacidad jurídica para adquirir derechos y contraer obligaciones, así como para darse su organización y gobierno propios. Las demás instituciones de educación superior universitaria del Estado tendrán la misma independencia funcional e igual capacidad jurídica que la Universidad de Costa Rica. El Estado dotará de patrimonio propio y colaborará en su financiación.

The University of Costa Rica is an institution of higher learning that enjoys independence in the performance of its functions and has full legal capacity to acquire rights and obligations as well as to determine its own organization and government. The other institutions of higher education at the university level shall have the same functional independence and equal legal capacity as the University of Costa Rica. The State will provide this patrimony and cooperate with funding.

Based on this interpretation, some students and professors blocked police access to the campus, which led to clashes. As a result, several students were left injured and others were transported to the hospital. One sociology professor was seriously injured with broken ribs. After some professors and students were arrested, a committee was formed to ask for their release, and the UCR's rector organized a march, which led to their release.

Video by Habla Costa Rica:

Following their release, many students continued the protest by blockading the main road located in the front of the Law School, calling for the defense of the autonomy of the institution. Some police officers tried to negotiate with the students, but had no positive response. For these reasons, some bloggers have a lot of different opinions, such as Simón Avilés of the blog Deme un Campo [es] (Give me a Space):

La policía busca a un delincuente y comete el gravísimo error de entrar armada a la fuerza en la Universidad. Al tiempo que se defiende la autonomía, se refuerza la caraja idea de que en la UCR “sólo buscan pelear”, y dejamos que nos califiquen como un reguero de “majaderos violentos”. Yo repudio todas las formas de violencia, acá las de la policía y las de los miembros de la comunidad universitaria involucrados. Ambos comportamientos son reprochables, y a mi manera de ver, principalmente el del OIJ, culpables iniciales de la revuelta.

Police are seeking a criminal and committed the grave mistake of entering the university with armed force. While we defend autonomy, this also strengthens the idea that in the UCR, they “only want to fight,” and let's keep them from classifying us as “violent idiots.” I condemn all forms of violence by the police and members of the university community involved. Both behaviors are reprehensible, and my view, principally the OIJ, are the first ones guilty of the conflict.

In addition, some people are disagreeing how the university community defended their autonomy, such as the author of the blog He Dicho [es] (I Said) who wondered why some students and professors impeded the police to arrest a corrupt official, asking “on whose side are the university officials? of the criminals?

En este país todos estamos en contra de la violencia, de la corrupción, y a favor del respeto de los derechos de todos los ciudadanos, pero existen personas que en nombre de una institución donde existe una mayoría que no los apoya, violan los derechos de otros, y usan la violencia en un lugar donde en buen principio asisten a cultivar su intelecto. Desde este blog expreso mi más grande repudio hacia los que utilizan la violencia como medio de expresión, y mi más sincero ASCO hacia esas personas que sienten que sus derechos valen más, por lo que con tal de hacer “valer sus derechos” o luchar por sus “ideales” pisotean los derechos fundamentales de todos los demás.

In this country, we are all against violence, corruption, and in favor of promoting respect for the rights of all citizens, but there are people that in the name of an institution, where there is a majority who do not support them, violate the rights of others, and use violence in a place where they attend to cultivate their intellect. In this blog, I express my greatest repudiation of those who use violence as a means of expression, and my sincere DISGUST towards those people who feel their rights are worth more, so as long as they enforce “their rights” or fight for “ideals” that trample the fundamental rights of everyone else.
Photo of protest by Adriana Vargas

Photo of protest by Adriana Vargas

This conflict has reopened the debate about the meaning of university autonomy, and some legal analysts say that there is a difference between autonomy and sovereignty [es]. However, many agree that violence is no way to solve disagreements between citizens and the government.

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