Strike in Puerto Rico

In “Is it Really Just about Felled Trees, Poisoned Cats, and Killing Fish” (Puerto Rico Daily Sun), Ian A. Bethell Bennett, professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, draws parallels between the complacency demonstrated recently in Puerto Rico by the general public towards events such as the destruction of vegetation around the metropolitan area, the systematic elimination of stray cats, and the recent and ongoing student strike in the University of Puerto Rico system.

In a preemptive measure meant to minimize the effectiveness of the massive strike, authorities closed down the university gates indefinitely. However, students, along with professors and staff, have lead peaceful demonstrations and have called for dialogue. The students have been met with stubborn refusal to enter discussions, attempts to discredit their claims, and, at times, violent confrontation. Having lived in the Bahamas, Canada, and England, Bethell Bennett expresses outrage at the criticism directed at the students, a lack of understanding of the students’ motives, and most of all, a lack of solidarity. He compares the strikes, various types of unilateral decision-making by the government of Puerto Rico, and public perceptions on the island to similar events in the United Kingdom and beyond. Here are excerpts with a link to the full article below:

An e-mail from University of Puerto Rico students reads, “You have probably heard Gov. Luis Fortuño Burset, Police Superintendent José Figueroa Sancha and many other officials refer to us as “troublemakers” who “do not want to study” — to censor our voices. We ask to be heard, for we will talk honestly. Do not be fooled; do not think we do not want to study. Of course we want to, but we are also looking out for you, people of Puerto Rico, so you, too, can study. For our right to education and yours, we have initiated this strike. The government intends to use confrontations as a media smokescreen to divert attention from the responsible claims and proposals we have made.

Because we want to study we are indignant with the impending cuts that would affect the regular and summer academic offerings, exemptions, the cost of tuition and services essential to the functioning of the university. The administration of the UPR, which is controlled by the Board of Trustees, seeks to hinder the education of thousands of students who are preparing academically and professionally to serve you. Among a public university’s functions are democratizing education and ensuring that more citizens can be educated properly to serve society as professionals.”

[. . .] Interestingly enough, when the very mediocre brand Kraft bought the very high-end brand Cadbury, in an extremely public takeover, Kraft swore as a part of the deal that it would not close the Cadbury U.K. plants. Cadbury workers are all shareholders in the company as a part of their agreement with their employer. As soon as the deal was done, Kraft in usual neo-liberal fashion announced the closure of the Somerdale, U.K. plant, the very plant they swore to keep open so that no one would lose their jobs. And the uproar started.

This parallels the matter at hand now, on the relationship between students, neo-liberal takeovers and the environment. Though the students are being represented and viewed by many as irresponsible communists who simply don’t want to study, the students have in fact articulated well that if they simply allow the planned cuts without all sectors of the university being consulted as part of this process, it will not be a democratic one.

[. . .] Students eloquently expressed themselves: “Although we have submitted specific proposals to address the university’s deficit, and we have consistently sought negotiation, the administration of the University of Puerto Rico has repeatedly closed the doors to any dialogue. The university is a reflection of the reality facing the island. We condemn the deterioration of your living conditions and our academic conditions as the result of mismanagement, waste and corruption.” If only nature could respond in a similar fashion. [. . .] At least in Britain public outcry about the closing of the Cadbury plant, spurred involvement by Parliament members and the Prime Minister, resulting in tighter laws and regulations on any such future deals, and the staving off of the plant closure. And yes, the Cadbury plant closure resulted in only 400 jobs lost, but far more protested. 

Where do we live that so many people are so absolutely convinced that government will always do the best for them, no matter how much they are destroyed in the process, that they refuse to scream when government cuts are gouging them? All those who remain indifferent to the broader implications of the struggle of striking UPR students need to take a good hard look at Puerto Rico as a country they purport to be democratic and are supposedly seeking to build. 

Being blind to these implicit connections suggests an entrenched myopia with foreboding dangers for the country as a whole. Today it is just a few trees, fish and cats, and a few supposedly “disruptive” students. What does tomorrow hold?

For full article, see

See an unedited video of a recent confrontation between students and the police here

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