17 February 2011

University of Puerto Rico Autonomy massacred

by Leandro Maceo Leyva

The University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus has been occupied by police and is under curfew. The first semester ended marked by fresh strikes and student demonstrations against the increase in tuition fees, and the beginning of the second semester indicates that this situation is not going to change.

In the face of a spirit of struggle and university fervor, San Juan’s streets have witnessed repression and abuse. The students have raised their banners in protest at neoliberal maneuvers against university autonomy by the Luis Fortuño government, but this brave demonstration was met by shock troops with brutal force.
Without giving any explanation, agents are indiscriminately arresting students, who are being treated like criminals, when their only crime is the defense of their right to further education.

The protests are being organized by the Student Representation Committee (CRE), a coalition which is maintaining firm resistance against the increase in tuition fees to $800 at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). Preliminary estimates indicate that approximately 10,000 students would have to abandon their educational aspirations on account of the announced increase.
But, according to some, the university students’ conflict has turned into a battle to determine the educational future of Puerto Rico.

UPR Professor Raúl Cotto has called on sectors opposing the government to take action in the face of these abuses, because that is their responsibility. People cannot remain indifferent to outrages committed against the students and their protests, he stated.
Meanwhile, a number of social organizations have condemned acts of torture and sexual aggression on the part of the police and the shock force unit.

"It is unacceptable that an administration which presumes to defend law and order, should allow the torture of young people with their arms handcuffed behind their backs, and the humiliation of detained students in front of everybody, and flaunting their impunity," a release from these movements stated.

Other organizations have described these acts of repression as "crass violation of civil and human rights," and have demanded an immediate response to the situation from Fortuño and José Figueroa Sancha, chief of police, as well as an investigation in order to bring charges against the perpetrators.
Although Ana R. Guadalupe, UPR rector, has banned student demonstrations or gatherings on campus, young Puerto Ricans are determined to exercise their right to protest the tuition increases, while condemning the presence of the security forces who evicted them by force. But the conflict does not appear to be close to a resolution.

The university authorities are feigning a disposition to dialogue, but in real terms they are trying to wear down, divide and de-legitimize the student mobilizations, and proceed with plans to increase the cost of university tuition in the face of virtually unanimous opposition from students and professors.

The conflict taking place on at the university campus is not confined to high tuition fees. The budget outrage unleashed by the Fortuño-PNP administration against the UPR is intended to inflict damage on the University by countering its prospects for growth and social inclusion, either through its privatization or its gradual dissolution.

The current administration of the U.S. colony is violently opposed to the spirit of participation, diversity and social commitment in the country, and which is flourishing as genuine autonomy.

See also:   Massive Turnout Against Police Occupation of University of Puerto Rico

Student Strike at Univ. of Puerto Rico rocks island and sparks political crisis

Student protesters are detained, injured by police at the University of Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

by Juan Gonzalez
New York Daily News


A student strike at the University of Puerto Rico has forced the resignation of its president and sparked the second political crisis in a year for the island's rulers. José Ramón de la Torre, head of the 60,000-student system, resigned Friday after a series of violent clashes between students and riot police.

Some 200 people have been arrested and scores of students injured, prompting professors and university workers to walk out for two days last week in sympathy with the students.

On Monday, conservative Gov. Luis Fortuño finally relented and pulled back the hundreds of riot police that had been occupying the system's 11 campuses for weeks. It was the first police occupation of the university in more than 30 years.

Students began boycotting classes in early December to protest a special $800 annual fee Fortuño imposed this semester to reduce a huge government deficit. That fee - equal to more than 50% of annual tuition - stunned the university community, given that more than 60% of UPR students have family incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

Student leaders persuaded the trustees to reject similar tuition hikes Fortuño proposed last spring. They did so by conducting massive sit-ins and barricading themselves in buildings on all the campuses for two months, and by running a sophisticated Internet and media campaign that garnered much public support.

Fortuño's pro-statehood New Progressive Party, which controls both houses of the Puerto Rico legislature, responded by packing the board of trustees with new appointees, guaranteeing him complete control this time around. Local courts cooperated by banning student protests on university grounds.

Most experts expected the students would be too exhausted from last spring to challenge the governor again.
Those experts were wrong.

Inspired by the youth revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, the students refused to simply go home. They presented more than 200 pages of proposals to university officials on ways to trim budget costs without huge tuition increases. Under Puerto Rico law, the commonwealth government must spend 9.6% of its budget on the university's operation.

The Fortuño administration, which recently pushed through the biggest corporate and individual tax cuts in Puerto Rico's history, has laid off thousands of government workers and wants even greater privatization of public services. To underscore his message, Fortuño was a featured speaker this weekend at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

The striking students at UPR know this is not simply a conflict with their trustees. They are up against the forces of the entire Fortuño administration. The way they see it, the future of a great public university, one that has educated generations of low-income citizens in Puerto Rico, is at stake.

See also: Ugly showdown seems probable in Puerto Rico as student strike paralyzes university

              Democracy in Eygpt, Repression in Puerto Rico

Abuse of Protesting Univ. of Puerto Rico Students Reaches floor of U.S. Congress

Congressman from Illinois, USA brings the "human rights and civil rights crisis in Puerto Rico" to the attention of the U.S. House of Representatives.


FEBRUARY 16, 2011

I rise today to bring the urgent attention of the U.S House of Representatives to a human rights and civil rights crisis.

I want to talk to you today about a part of the world where the right of citizens of all walks of life to protest and speak their minds is being denied with clubs and pepper spray.

A part of the world where a student strike led the university to ban student protests on campus and where students protesting the crackdown on free speech were violently attacked by heavily armed police.

A place where a newspaper editorial stated “the indiscriminate aggression of police riot squads against students, who are exercising their constitutional rights in public areas without interfering with any academic or administrative activity, is a gross violation of their rights and an act comparable only to the acts of the dictatorships we all denounce and reject.”

A place where the same government has closed public access to some legislative sessions.

I ask this Congress to look at a part of the world where the bar association has been dismantled by the legislature because it takes stands in opposition to the government, and its leader has been jailed for fighting a politically-motivated lawsuit.

And where is this part of the world?

Egypt? No. Protesters, exercising freedom of speech, brought down a dictator in Cairo.

What far-away land has seen student protest banned, union protesters beaten and free speech advocates jailed?   The United States of America’s colony of Puerto Rico.

Sound outrageous? It is. But true, and well-documented. I ask my colleagues in U.S. House of Representatives to turn their eyes to Puerto Rico. The doors to the U.S. Congress are open. Our proceedings are public – in fact, the public is our boss. That’s how it works in a democracy.

Across America today, I am sure, there were or will be protests at college campuses. Across America, workers will go on strike. And there will be marches and protests against a mayor or governor and derogatory things may be said about President Obama.

In Madison, Wisconsin -- as we speak -- protests over employment policies and budget cuts at the University of Wisconsin are taking place. College and even high school students have been joined by unions and other allies in peaceful protest.

Will we see pepper spray and beatings? Not likely. The protesters are protected by our First Amendment.
And that’s the way it works in a democracy. It is their right to say whatever they want, and say it without fear of pepper spray or clubs or a legislature that limits and restricts the peoples' rights.

In the fifty States, we have lots of organizations, not unlike the Puerto Rico Bar Association, an organization under attack by the Puerto Rican government. And we don’t tolerate leaders being sent to jail because they exercise their rights and they stand up for what they believe in.

But that’s the reality in Puerto Rico.

Just last week – Judge Fuste, a federal judge with close political ties to the ruling party and a personal history of opposing the Puerto Rico bar association – a federal judge whose salary is paid for by American taxpayers – ordered Osvaldo Toledo, the President of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, to jail.

What was Osvaldo Toledo’s crime? Educating his members about how to opt out of a politically motivated lawsuit designed to destroy the organization.

For me, this attack was the final straw and brought me to the floor to speak out.

So in solidarity with Osvaldo Toledo, jailed for doing his job as the leader of the Puerto Rico Bar Association – I will enter into the Congressional record today the instructions for his members on how to opt out of the class action suit that is threatening their organization.

I will say to those who would pass laws to stifle public protest, to those who would authorize use of force against peaceful protesters and try to stifle the words and actions of their enemies: Attacking free speech doesn’t work in a democracy.

Here is a fact that most of us learned long ago. Here is a lesson the people of Egypt taught the world last week:

Brutal laws and secret meetings and armed enforcers don’t extinguish the flame of justice – they are the spark that makes it burn brighter.

You may, with your armed guards and your restrictive laws try to slow down protests of the people. You may harass the Puerto Rico Bar Association and make their life uncomfortable for a while. But every time you turn police on students, and jail an opponent, you guarantee that the good people of Puerto Rico and this Congress will speak out for justice.

Mr. Speaker, I say to the people of Puerto Rico that there are some places that this crusade to end free speech cannot reach. Not today. Not ever. I stand with you.

Mr. Speaker, I will return to this well to speak on this important matter again and particularly on the federal judge at the heart of this matter.

I yield the balance of my time.

No new UK Aid for Montserrat, Government Salaries Delayed

Still recovering from the economic impacts of the natural disaster, Montserrat to receive no new financial support.

BRADES, Montserrat (GIU) -- “Montserrat must live within its means,” said Andrew Mitchell, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development, who was on a one-day visit to the island on Thursday.

Accompanying the UK official was Susan Wardell, DFID Director for SHMECOT (Security, Humanitarian, Middle East, Caribbean and Overseas Territories), and Mitchell’s Assistant Private Secretary Amanda McLoughlin.

During the short visit, Mitchell held meetings with Chief Minister of Montserrat Reuben Meade, Governor Peter Waterworth, Financial Secretary John Skerritt, Minister of Communications & Works Charles Kirnon, Parliamentary Secretary Jermaine Wade, and Permanent Secretary Angela Greenaway.

He also visited the Montserrat Volcano Observatory and took a helicopter tour of the Exclusion Zone to view the devastation caused by the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The tour ended in Little Bay where there was an onsite presentation from members of the project team working on the new town development at Little Bay.

The secretary of state said during a press conference that he was quite “moved” by his first hand look at the Exclusion Zone. Adding, the scale of the devastation is something that you have to see to really believe. However, he said his government was already providing more than 50 percent of Montserrat’s recurrent budget and were unwilling to increase the subsidy.

“It is the wrong approach to wait for the mother bird to bring food to the nest. What we want to see is a real partnership and see Montserrat begin to stand on its own two feet,” said Mitchell. “As a former banker I can acknowledge Montserrat’s successful past prior to the volcano. There are new opportunities that should be embraced and we want to move rapidly to a partnership approach, which will move the island forward to greater success.”

The secretary of state said he considered his government’s stance of no additional aid for the island as “absolutely fair” as it relates to the treatment given to the Overseas Territories. He said the UK government has had to make extremely tough decisions to curtail its spending and expected Montserrat would do the same. “Tough decisions are never popular but in the end people will respect you for it.”

He commended Chief Minister Meade’s willingness to do just that and said his government embraced the vision of the Road Map and its request for the UK to assist in helping the island access development funds from other international donor agencies. “We will do every possible to support this request,” Mitchell told the media.

The official said history has shown that the surest way to economic sustainability was not from receiving continued aid but for a vibrant private sector, which encourages trade and job creation.

The government of Montserrat’s recurrent budget for 2010/2011 is EC$98,015,100, with UK grant subsidy of EC$52,920,000. An estimated $45,095,100 was to be raised from local tax revenue but the Ministry of Finance has said it still needs to raise about $9,000,000 to close out the financial year by March 31, 2011.

Meade has called for government departments to curb spending and prioritize programmes to utilise the available resources.


Low revenues in recurrent expenditure cause delay in government monthly salaries and payments

Public servants and welfare recipients wait on edge for late payments

by B. Roach
Montserrat Reporter

Following another month end scare of non-receipt of salary payments public servants eventually received their payments, while unconfirmed reports claim that between 90 to 100 of them may eventually lose their permanent jobs with the government not long from now.

While most persons with very few exceptions in the Ministry of Health, most public servants eventually received their pay, while some heads of departments advanced payment to some of their staff from their pocket.

Late in the day on February 1, 2011, The Montserrat Reporter editor assisted a little old lady who said she was just told she could go and collect her pay at Government Headquarters. That little lady expressed gratitude, but also annoyance that she had to wait for the opportunity to be able to pay her bills.

Up to Tuesday morning there was still some uncertainty before the government began the payment of social welfare benefits. Following the delay the Minister with responsibility for Community Services the Hon. Collin Riley explained in a ZJB report, “I don’t know if its lack of funds or the timing of the flow of funds….”

He said, “I think that the better definition for what is happing right is the timing of flow of funds.” He said the funding is available but there is a timing issue and it’s being worked on.

The Hon. Financial Secretary (FS), John Skerritt admitted: “revenues are flat, expenditures are increasing, so we do have a fiscal problem.”

He explained that “…the case for this month, it was simply that the departments did not have sufficient money in their vote…” adding, “…because we are issuing the general warrants by the quarter, we’re not giving the full year’s allocations so they did not have sufficiency in their vote – we have since addressed that… the recurrent budget is done quarterly and the budgetary aid comes in quarterly.”

He explained further, that government, because we had the storm damage expenditure. “We have had to try and fix those, so we used quite a bit of revenue,” he said, while adding that there was delay, “…as we needed to justify what we have spent …”

Meanwhile the Community Services Minister Riley believes, “…overtime, we’ll catch up because there is a big project about to break, those will generate tax revenue, and we will see a better 2011, I know.”