Thursday, June 17, 2010
Breakthrough Accord Promises End to Student Strike in Puerto Rico
University of Puerto Rico students who have maintained a two-month strike declared a historic victory yesterday.
An accord brokered by a court-appointed mediator between the university's Board of Regents and the student's National Negotiating Committee (NNC), an unprecedented body representing all of the 11 campuses of the UPR system, was signed by both parties.
The accord grants the central demands of the students represented by the NNC: the continuation of tuition waivers for meritorious students, the cancelation of a planned special fee that would have raised the cost of study by 50 percent, the rejection of initiatives to privatize the university and a commitment not to enact summary sanctions against strike participants.
The UPR student strike, one of the largest and longest in recent US and Puerto Rican history, has been marked by continuous threats of the use of police force to dislodge striking students from the encampments set up at university gates across the island since April. The strike quickly spread to the entire university system, which is comprised of 11 campuses and 64,000 students.
Violent police operations have been carried out at the main campus of the UPR system in Río Piedras and in other campuses in the past two months.
The accord signed yesterday remains to be approved by a general assembly of the UPR students, tentatively planned for next Monday. Observers predict it will be easily ratified, giving way to the voluntary opening of the university on the part of the striking students and the recommencement of classes to finish the three weeks remaining to end the spring semester.
NNC student representative Alberto Rodriguez said that the accord "confirms the right to a quality public higher education accessible to all, which has been the historical patrimony of the University of Puerto Rico."
The severity and length of the conflict between students and the university administration takes place in the context of a widely unpopular austerity plan the current government has undertaken in the island nation of more than four million. Last October, the government implemented Law 7 to lay off more than 20,000 public workers.
This measure also diverted funds historically available to the University of Puerto Rico, the premier institution of higher learning on the island, causing an unprecedented fiscal crisis in the university.
The student strike has garnered the attention and support of the broad public in Puerto Rico for the past two months. Moreover, it has been at the top of the national media coverage agenda during this period.
Professors, parents and the general public have widely supported the students and blamed the University administration and the current right-wing government of intransigence in the process of negotiations. The participation of all the campuses of the university system and the creation of a national negotiating committee are unprecedented in a society which has experienced prolonged student strikes in 1948, 1970, 1981 and 1992 at the main Río Piedras campus, which have exercised an enduring impact on the culture of the nation.
Jocelyn Géliga Vargas