In the last two hours riot police and troops in Puerta Rico have opened fire on protesters with rubber bullets and pepper gas, in the Parliament Square of San Juan, wounding a young journalist – reports Radio Huelga.
A live feed of events can be found here.
Since last year tensions in Puerto Rico – a semi-autonomous territory of the USA – have been escalating, after a neo-liberal government came to power and imposed savage cuts and, you’ve guessed it, a tuition fees hike on universities. In the Spring a student strike, with union backing, lasted 62 days, and in December protests erupted again over a “special” $800 fee arbitrarily imposed on students under the pretext of stabilising the government budget.
The protests have met with violence from police and private security companies – hired at a cost of $1.5m – by university officials, who stormed campuses to shut down the protests, demolishing entrance gates.
The confrontations between students and riot police have escalated in recent weeks culminating in today’s events. Oddly, while protests in Tunisia and Egypt have grabbed our attention, the situation in Puerto Rico has remained off the radar of the British media. Meanwhile – for whatever reason – nothing is coming up on google about it. Hopefully we will be able to offer some more in depth expertise soon, but for now watch this space.
Update: background from Professor Richard Drayton:
Puerto Rico is somewhere in between part of the United States, and a colony, depending on which Puerto Rican you ask. It has been in a long crisis which gave birth to many radical movements across the 19th century against Spain (Grito de Lares, etc.) and in the 20th century against the United States. Around this issue of public education has reawakened many old struggles.
Radio Huelga is the best source of information– available on the web as an audiostream and with regular Facebook group and twitter updates. Since January 11 there have been civil disobedience actions every day, with dozens of people arrested, including 80 on January 19. People have been treated with great brutality by the police, which include SWAT and National Guard units in full military battle dress and heavily armed. The use of chokeholds, pressure to the carotid arteries to people who were blocking the street, mounted police etc, baton charges, has been systematic.
The Governor of Puerto Rico — Fortuno — had declared the protestors who include, students, trade unionists, members of ‘Women against War” (a PR antiwar group which has reminded people that with african-americans, Puerto Ricans are disproportionately to their number part of the US armed forces), and the Independence political movement — to be “Terrorists”.
The slogan of the resistance is taken from the nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedro_Albizu_Campos (1893-65)
“Grande es el imperio que desafiamos, pero mas grande que ese imperio es nuestro derecho a la Libertad.”
“Great is the the empire we defy, but greater than this empire is our right to liberty”