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Puerto Rico: Violent Confrontation With Demonstrators

Last night, as the governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño held a political fundraiser in one of the salons of the Hotel Sheraton in San Juan, the capital city, students and supporters clashed with special police forces who arrived to quash the demonstration in the hotel's lobby [EN]. Members of the police riot squad beat demonstrators with batons and used pepper spray against them. At least five students were arrested. Leaders of trade unions, students, and other demonstrators were wounded and transported to nearby clinics and hospitals.

Video by Univisión Puerto Rico of violent clashes with demonstrators.

Student demonstration in San Juan. Photo by Mariana Muñiz from Desde Adentro. Republished under a CC License.

Demonstrators inside the Hotel. Photo from blog Desde Adentro. Republished under a CC License.

Police forces mobilize into the Hotel Sheraton. Photo by Mariana Muñiz from Desde Adentro. Republished under a CC License.

This is yet another incident in the students strike that started April 21, 2010. For almost a month, students have paralyzed the main campus of the state-run University of Puerto Rico (UPR) protesting against $100 million in budget cuts and the proposed elimination of certain registration and fee waivers [EN]. About 20,000 students are enrolled in the main UPR campus in Río Piedras. Ten of the UPR's 11 campuses on the Island -where around 62,000 students study- have joined the protest. The student strike has catalyzed a national social movement that was already displeased with Governor Fortuño's economic and social policies. Artists, politicians, professors, members of trade unions, and activists, from Puerto Rico and the world, have joined the students in solidarity.

In the past days, tension has risen in the Río Piedras (main) campus of the UPR. A special police unit has surrounded the campus. Parents have been legally denied the possibility of delivering water, food, and other basic supplies to their kids: students who are participating in the strike. There have been violent police encounters with parents, students, and other people who have supported the strike.

In the blog of students maintained by students of Río Piedras, Desde adentro [ES], Mariana Muñiz and Aura Colón offer a detailed account of the incident at the Hotel Sheraton, which forms part of the Convention Center in San Juan:

Entonces, los guardias comenzaron a tirar gas pimienta y los manifestantes a huir desesperados hacia el Centro de Convenciones. Varias jóvenes salían llorando y cojeando, mientras gritaban que sus compañeros seguían adentro. En esos momentos, la Policía lanzó una granada de gases lacrimógenos, que cubrieron con una nube blanca gran parte del área y dispersaron aún más a los manifestantes.
Toda el área alrededor del hotel estaba rodeada decenas de patrullas. DESDE ADENTRO observó, además, tres ambulancias. Se informó luego que 10 estudiantes se encuentran recibiendo asistencia médica en el Dispensario Hoare, en Miramar. También se notificó que varios estudiantes con dedos rotos y heridas en los brazos fueron atendidos en el Hospital Ashford.

Then, the police officers started to throw pepper gas to the demonstrators who started fleeing desperately towards the Convention Center. Some young demonstrators were crying and limping, while others were shouting and saying that their fellow demonstrators were still inside. At that moment, the Police threw a grenade of tear gas that caused a big white cloud in parts of the area. This dispersed the demonstrators even more. The whole area surrounding the hotel was guarded by police patrols. DESDE ADENTRO observed that there also were three ambulances. It was informed that 10 students are receiving medical assistance at the Hoare Clinic in Miramar. It was also informed that there are students with broken fingers and wounds in their arms who were cared for at the Ashford Hospital.

On the other hand, blogger Michael Castro believes the Police has to do its job [ES], although he is also against the use of violence:

Estoy contra el abuso y apoyo la huelga de los estudiantes en la UPR pero hay que tener varias cosas claras. La Policía de Puerto Rico tiene un trabajo que hacer, siguen órdenes y ahora mismo las órdenes son las de mantener a los huelguistas controlados. Si una manifestación se sale de control no esperen otra cosa que no sea palos y empujones, están haciendo su trabajo.

I am against abuses and I support the student strike at the UPR, but there a couple of things that must be clear. The Police of Puerto Rico have a job to do, they have to follow orders, and right now the orders are to control the protesters. If a protest is out of control, do not expect anything less than sticks and violent shoves, they are doing their job…

Today, for the first time in Puerto Rican history, professors from the entire UPR system are holding an assembly [ES] in Cayey to discuss the institution's situation. Also, after the UPR temporarily suspended its law suit against various student leaders, negotiations between the Student's Negotiating Committee and the President of the UPR, José Ramón de la Torre, and the President of the Board of Trustees, Ygrí Rivera, started again today [ES].
Online citizen media have been a vital source of information during the student strike. Professor and blogger Mario Nuñez Molina (@digizen) has prepared a list of citizen media in Puerto Rico covering the student strike [ES]. Some of them are: the Río Piedras students blog Desde adentro [ES] and live radio and streaming of students reporting from Río Piedras through Radio Huelga [ES]. UPR es un país [ES] is aggregating the digital citizen and alternative media resources. Huelga Digital [ES] is also republishing and making a compilation of information. Blogger and graduate student Miguel Ríos created another excellent list of resources that includes Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr.

The hashtags #paroUPR, #huelgaUPR, and #radiohuelga are being used to discuss and follow the student protests on Twitter. Students of the Mayagüez (on the west coast of the Island) campus are using @luchasrum and the blog Luchas en el RUM [ES] to inform about their events. UPR Río Piedras Law professor Erika Fontánez is blogging about the situation. The members of the Association of Professors also have their blog: Cátedra en acción [ES]. Anonymous blogger(s) have been writing critical posts about the students, the UPR authorities and the government in Agenda de la nación puertorriqueña [ES]. Students who are against the strike opened the Facebook account La mayoría silente [ES].The UPR's monthly newspaper Diálogo is also covering the strike. The alternative weekly Claridad is live-streaming the strike (you have to register first in order to have access). Mainstream media, such as Primera Hora and El Nuevo Día, are publishing minute by minute accounts of the events.

Please see Global Voices’ coverage of the student strike here, here and here.

5 comments

  • pcguy

    Totally one sided reporting. Riot Police had to intervene because protesters broke into a private establishment, altering the peace with their protests and then started a confrontation with hotel security in an attempt to gain access to an event the governor was hosting. I mean… talk about stupid! Of course they’re gonna get police on them! Police are there to keep people safe. I understand protesting outside, but once you cross the line, you have to be ready to face consequences.

    • CHWV

      I had to write to correct you dear. Hotel lobbies are PUBLIC areas according to Puerto Rican law. The students were within their rights to enter and protest. Shame on the Puerto Rican police for barbaric abuse. And dear pcguy, please research your information before posting. You appear uneducated.

  • Hotel lobbies are not public spaces,they are private and the hotel has the right to refuse entrance to that area. The students and unions did not have the right to be there. They were trying to go to an area where there was a private fund raising of the gorvenors political party. This was an ilegal demonstration in a private building.

  • A group of about 100 protesters entered the Sheraton Hotel lobby on Thursday night, coinciding with a New Progressive Party fundraising event where Gov. Fortuño and other government officials were attending.
    “The protesters who entered the Sheraton Hotel during [Thursday’s] activity are not considered guests under the Hotel Law as they were not registered to stay, were not tenants, did not intend to stay, and were not on hotel grounds with intent to enjoy the recreation and entertainment facilities provided, such as restaurants, swimming pools, bars, shops and similar establishments,” he said.
    Meanwhile, he said the hotel has the right to adopt and enforce rules and regulations regarding conduct to prevent incidents and other activities that may be offensive to other hotel guests. The hotel operator reportedly also has the authority to reserve the right of admission in areas where there may be guests.

    This from the manager of thr hotel

  • E. Sanchez

    Here’s another perspective. A mob of unruly students and union intimidators illegally entered a private business today, disrupting and possibly endangering tourists. The mob, frustrated nobody is paying attention to their protest at the University in Rio Piedres moved into the tourist zone to get some press coverage.

    Puerto Rico’s depressed economy, with the closing of many of its remaining pharmaceutical manufacturing plants, relies more and more on tourist dollars. This disruption if let to continue might have put a black mark on Puerto Rico as a tourist destination and was stopped before it could get out of hand. Students and Union members were asked to leave several times and did not comply so the Police had no choice but to use force to restore order and protect the public.

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