Workers Vanguard No. 977

1 April 2011


Cops Off Campus!

Puerto Rico: Protest Repression Against Student Strike Militants

Leading student activists at the flagship Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) now face possible expulsion and new criminal charges as the university administration and colonial government try to stamp out protests against a steep tuition hike. These reprisals come on the heels of the hundreds of arrests and brutal repression meted out by Puerto Rican police forces during a two-month-long student strike this winter. The strike was provoked by the administration’s plans to impose an $800 “special fee” on students, after the systemwide UPR student strike of April-June 2010 successfully beat back tuition hikes for the fall semester (see “Student Strike Shakes Puerto Rico,” WV No. 963, 27 August 2010).

The fee, which increases tuition costs by about 50 percent, has forced thousands to drop out since it was implemented in January. As we stressed in our articles in support of the strikes, there should be free, quality education for all up through the university level and a fight to abolish the university administration, to be replaced by student, teacher and worker control.

To break the strike that erupted in December, the government dispatched SWAT units, snipers and hundreds of riot police, who invaded the Río Piedras campus for the first time in three decades. Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican Supreme Court declared the strike illegal. Since then, police have repeatedly and savagely beaten striking students. Testimony and video footage have surfaced documenting police torture techniques used against the students and sexual assault of young women who were arrested.

On February 9, baton-wielding riot cops ran amok, arresting at least 20 and wantonly assaulting students. In protest, members of the APPU professors union and the HEEND campus workers union walked off the job that afternoon in what became a 48-hour strike demanding an end to the police occupation. UPR president José Ramón de la Torre, who had invited the cops onto campus, officially requested their removal—and then tendered his resignation for “personal reasons.” On February 14, Governor Luis Fortuño did order the withdrawal of most of the police, leaving behind a smaller cop presence on campus. We demand: All police, campus security and private security guards off campus!

A student assembly voted the next week to temporarily lift the strike, although protests have continued. On March 7, students confronted Río Piedras chancellor Ana Guadalupe. Amid chants of “Resign!” the reviled administrator was shouted down at a meeting and literally run off campus, soaking wet from water doused on her by student protesters. With the security guards escorting her, the director of campus security received a cut under his eye and two windows of the campus security truck carrying Guadalupe were shattered.

With Fortuño pledging to throw the book at protesters, public condemnation of the activists was swift, including from their supposed supporters in the bourgeois Popular Democratic (PPD) and Puerto Rican Independence parties (PIP), as well as from Democratic U.S. Congressman Luis Gutierrez. In short order, the state slammed six students with charges that include “aggravated assault,” “damage to public property” and “interrupting a lawful meeting,” with bail totaling $60,000. Ibrahim García, a supporter of the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores (MST), faces three years’ imprisonment for allegedly assaulting the campus security chief. Drop all charges against Ibrahim García and all UPR protesters!

García and fellow March 7 protesters Robin Torres, Karla Torres and Rafael Ojeda were suspended from the university and threatened with expulsion. Giovanni Roberto, a spokesman for the Organización Socialista Internacional (OSI), which is associated with the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S., is battling suspension and a ban from campus. Other suspended student leaders include Waldemiro Vélez, Adriana Mulero of the MST and Javier Andrés Córdova Sánchez, youth club member of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS). Despite our political differences with the reformist MST, OSI and MAS, we call on trade unionists, campus activists and others to defend them and all other protesters against the repression and reprisals. Drop the suspensions! No expulsions!

As the crackdown on the Río Piedras campus has shown, the capitalist state—the cops, courts and prisons—is a machinery of organized violence committed to enforcing the interests of the ruling class. On March 10, during the discussion at a “UPR No Se Vende” (UPR Is Not for Sale) forum at New York University, a Spartacist League comrade said, “It is important to understand that the police and the campus cops and the security guards are deadly enemies of the working class and student strikers. They cannot be won over to your cause. Their job description is to smash the strike.” She asked OSI leader Giovanni Roberto why, one day after Capitol Security guards beat up a striker in December, he fraternized with those guards and told them, “We are not enemies, we are brothers,” as we reported in “Support the Puerto Rico Student Strike!” (WV No. 972, 21 January).

He replied, “I hug other working-class persons [!] because I not only believe in socialism, I not only believe that the working class should be united; we need to do that in practice.” Roberto proceeded to portray these hired guns as misguided black youth from the poor town of Loiza. After spitting on the basic Marxist understanding of the capitalist state and its auxiliaries, he concluded by scoffing that socialism is about what you do in practice, “not having the best theoretical perspective of how the revolution needs to be done.”

What the ISO/OSI do in practice is tell workers, minorities and youth to embrace the very forces of the capitalist state whose job is to repress their struggles. The simple truth is that regardless of background, when a person becomes a cop or security guard he becomes a servant of capital. Anyone who has been dealt a blow by these attack dogs of the bourgeoisie knows firsthand that they are squarely on the other side of the struggle.

Our speaker at the March 10 forum observed that the problems Puerto Rican workers and their children face today can ultimately be resolved only by socialist revolution, not only on the island but crucially in the U.S. In mobilizing against their capitalist exploiters, the proletariat in the U.S. must fight for the right of independence for Puerto Rico and demand all U.S. troops and federal agents out of the island now. For Puerto Rican workers, fighting the imperialists and their lackeys requires a struggle against bourgeois nationalism, which promotes the false unity of workers on the island with the local bourgeoisie. Marxists fight for the political independence of the proletariat from all parties of the capitalist class enemy, especially those that falsely portray themselves as “friends” of the workers like the PPD, PIP and the Democrats. What is needed is the forging of revolutionary workers parties in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.