Students at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan are on an indefinite strike against a proposed three-year US$450 million budget cut imposed by the U.S. government.
The strike, which began Tuesday, was organized by the General Council of Students in response to an austerity program proposed by Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Supervision Board.
The JSF is the U.S-appointed economic board overseeing the restructuring of Puerto Rico’s US$70 billion debt owed to wealthy foreign investors. Along with cuts to public education, the board has also proposed to cut health care and housing funds.
Protesting the JSF’s proposal, the General Council of Students and hundreds more shut down and took over the campus.
“This (the budget cuts) will destroy the University of Puerto Rico and students across the island because fewer students will be able to access public education,” UPR professor Martha Quiñones told Sputnik International.
“They are attacking development by eliminating money from education, health and housing and giving it to foreign contractors who will not benefit the island at all,” she added.
Protests intensified Wednesday when UPR interim rector Carmen Rivera canceled talks with student protest leaders and announced the reopening of the campus. Strikers, however, chained entrances to the campus, preventing teachers and employees from coming in.
Shortly after however, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello met with the General Council of Students at La Fortaleza, the governor’s headquarters. There, they briefly discussed the points set forth in the student's’ proposal responding to the cuts. Both parties have yet to reach an agreement.
The UPR administration anticipates that the strike will last until April 5 when the National Assembly of Puerto Rico’s National Student Confederation will be held to discuss the matter. Strike leaders, however, have not expressed plans to end the protest.
“The students agreed with some of the measures we presented in the letter that we sent to the Fiscal Supervision Board, raised their concerns that are legitimate of the loss of revenue from the general fund versus the cuts being requested and asked the governor to expedite the process of appointment of vacancies in the Governing Board,” La Fortaleza Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario told El Nuevo Dia Wednesday.
Puerto Rico, considered a “commonwealth” by the U.S., has been a colony of the North American country since 1898 after ceding from the Spanish empire. Puerto Ricans currently do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and have no voting powers in the U.S. Congress.