After 72 days of a strike over massive budget cuts amid sweeping austerity measures on the island, the students of the University of Puerto Rico went back to classes Monday at the Rio Piedras campus, the heart of the strike, while calling for new marches in defense of public education.
"The strike held in defense of the university for the past few months fills us with pride. We stand with our heads high after having given everything, and we will go for more in this fight," the student council said.
"We invite students and the university community to participate in the march to be held on Wed, June 14, at 11:30 a.m. from the student center."
Students at the University of Puerto Rico launched the strike to protest a proposed three-year US$450 million budget cut prescribed as part of the controversial austerity measures overseen by a U.S. fiscal control board. The UPR is the island's main public post-secondary education system and has a total of 11 campuses and 70,000 students.
Students voted to allow a return to classes after being threatened with prison if they continued the strike. Earlier, university heads chose to resign rather than open the schools. Courts first ordered the reopening of the campuses on May 11 after handing out nearly US$30,000 in fines to protesters.
The federal fiscal control board — set up by U.S. Congress, where Puerto Rico doesn't have a vote — was put in place to oversee the island's US$73 billion debt and the austerity measures to address it. Amid the ongoing fiscal crisis, the UPR has already shrunk its budget over the course of past three years by US$348 million.
The student leaders behind the strike has announced that the movement remains "in struggle and organizing."
Puerto Rico, considered a “commonwealth” territory of the United States, can't declare bankruptcy under the same rules as U.S. states. Its legal status as a U.S. colony since 1898 after ceding from the Spanish empire has severely crippled its ability to manage its debt crisis autonomously. Puerto Ricans also do do not have the right to vote in presidential elections and have no voting powers in the U.S. Congress.
Between both bonds and pension debts, Puerto Rico faces a crippling US$123 billion debt. According to a study by the ReFund America Project, a large part is illegitimate.