Puerto Rico: Online Debate on Hooded Protesters

This post is part of our special coverage Puerto Rico Student Protests 2010/11.

The student strike at the University of Puerto Rico took a turn last week when hooded protesters committed acts of vandalism and intimidation in the student center and other parts of the main Río Piedras campus on Tuesday, January 11th. One of the most publicized incidents was when a group of these hooded protesters turned tables, broke glasses and dropped smoke balls in the cafeteria of the Río Piedras campus.

Detractors of the strike have used this incident to accuse students of merely being extremist activists. YouTube user luisanthony40 posted this video of the incident in which he refers to the students as “young terrorists”:

luisanthony40 writes in the introduction to the video[es]:

La Verdad es una sola y los videos no mienten, Son protestas VIOLENTAS a la cañona, “me das lo que quiero o destruyo a la UPR y la Economía de Puerto Rico” esa actitud, no abona a un diálogo serio, razonable y realista.

The truth is one and the videos do not lie, the protests are VIOLENT and imposed, “give me what I want or I destroy UPR and the economy of Puerto Rico” this attitude does not contribute to a serious, reasonable and realist dialog.

Some bloggers who have consistently supported the students’ cause expressed dismay with the incident. Professor Mario Nuñez from the blog Digizen: Un blogfesor aprendiendo[es] expressed his discontent on Twitter[es].

A la verdad que no entiendo la lógica de algunos estudiantes de destruir la Universidad para “salvarla”. #luchaupr

I really do not understand this logic of some students of destroying the University to “save it”. #luchaupr

Professor Edwin Vázquez also expressed his discontent with the incident. He tweets[es]:

Si los estudiantes permiten que los encapuchados violentos de hoy en RP les controlen la #huelgaUPR perderán la lucha medíatica y mi apoyo.

If the students allow today’s violent hooded protesters in Río Piedras control the #huelgaUPR (UPR strike) they will lose the media battle and my support.

Some users downplayed or justified the actions like @comandobetances who wrote[es]:

Existe la violencia estratégica. Le toca a los estudiantes en lucha hacer las críticas necesarias del evento de ayer y seguir #HuelgaUPR.

There is strategic violence. It is up to the students in the fight to make the necessary criticism of yesterday's events and continue the #HuelgaUPR (UPR Strike)

To this, Professor Nuñez responded[es]:

¿la estrategia era cambiar la opinión pública a favor del gobierno?

Was the strategy to change public opinion in favor of the government?

In the meantime the day after the vandalism incidents, a number of students (whose faces were not covered) were arrested for distributing leaflets in the classrooms[es]. Student blog Desde Adentro questions[es] why these students were arrested while the true vandals were not:

Ayer varias personas que participaban de la manifestación estudiantil causaron daño a la propiedad de la Universidad de Puerto Rico y empujaron a la Decana Auxiliar de la Facultad de Administración de Empresas, según ella misma expresó a los medios momentos después del incidente. Sin embargo, ayer no se produjo ni un arresto.

Yesterday many people who participated in a student manifestation caused damage to the property of the University of Puerto Rico and pushed the Auxiliar Dean of the Business Administration Faculty, as she herself said moments after the incident. However, yesterday there were no arrests.

Arrested student Gamelyn Oduardo. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz, taken from Desde Adentro, under a CC License.

Another group was arrested the day after [es] on charges of aggression and illegal appropriation. However a judge found no cause for arrest for 5 of the 6 students[es].

This inconsistent enforcement of the law led blogger and historian Ivonne Acosta Lespier to dispute that these hooded protesters are students at all [es] and suggest that the government put them there to wreak havoc and discredit the movement:

Esos actos lograron su propósito: desvirtuar el mensaje de los estudiantes huelguistas y justificar al Gobierno en su empeño por insistir que estamos en un país de “ley y orden”, como dijo el Secretario de Justicia, para aplicar los métodos represivos que hagan falta. Ya empezaron por arrestar a los estudiantes que, descubiertos y pacíficamente, repartían hojas sueltas en el campus universitario. ¿Y los encubiertos? Bien, gracias.

These acts achieved their goal: to tarnish the striking students’ message and justify the government's insistence that we are in a country of “law and order”, like the Secretary of Justice said, so they can apply all the repressive methods needed. They have already started to arrest students who, without hoods and peacefully, were distributing leaflets on campus. And what about the undercover agents? Fine, thanks.

She also reminds her readers of the use of undercover agents by the government in the late 1970’s to disrupt strikes:

Agentes encubiertos y provocadores pagados por el Gobierno participaban en huelgas, piquetes y manifestaciones, tomaban fotos y amedrentaban a los participantes. También se cometieron actos de sabotaje en múltiples ocasiones que la prensa atribuyó a los huelguistas, como por ejemplo, en la huelga contra la Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica en 1977-78 en que se cometieron actos de vandalismo por órdenes de la Policía, entre otros por el notorio Alejandro González Malavé

Undercover agents and inciters payed by the government participated in strikes, picket lines and manifestations, took photos and intimidated the participants. They also committed sabotage acts in multiple occasions that the press attributed to strikers, like for example, during the strike against the Authority of Electric Energy in 1977-78 where there were acts of vandalism by orders of the police, among them the notorious Alejandro González Malavé

However, Professor Nuñez does not buy this argument[es] as he perceives support from some of the student leadership for the hooded protesters:

El argumento de que los encapuchados son personas que envía la administración para desprestigiar la #luchaupr no es uno convincente ya que líderes estudiantiles apoyan ese tipo de participación Y me imagino que lo hacen porque conocen la identidad de esos encapuchados y apoyan sus acciones.

The argument that these hooded individuals are people sent by the administration to tarnish the #luchaupr (the strike) is not convincing as student leaders do support this kind of participation and I imagine that they do so because they know the identities of these hooded individuals and support their actions.

* Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz, taken from Desde Adentro, under CC License NC-ND 3.0.
*Photo used for thumbnail is a collage by Noelia González Casiano, taken from 80 Grados, under CC License NC-SA 3.0.

This post is part of our special coverage Puerto Rico Student Protests 2010/11.

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