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Puerto Rico: Amidst protests, students speak up for themselves online

The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) has been paralyzed since last week. Students, professors, and non faculty have been voicing their concerns for months regarding the impending budget cuts in the UPR. Finally, in an assembly, students voted in favor of paralyzing the UPR's main campus in Río Piedras for 48 hours as an act of protest against a $100 million budget cut and the proposed elimination of certain registration and fee waivers. But, after the University's main authorities failed to sustain negotiations with the Students Negotiating Committee, students decided to initiate an indefinite stoppage of the main campus [ES], where about 20,000 students are enrolled.

In a turn of events, the Provost Ana Guadalupe decided to close the campus. There are Police officers at every gate prohibiting the entry and exit of people. The students remain inside. Issues regarding the rights to free expression and association are being discussed in the courts. The UPR has appealed a decision that favored the students. The case is now in the hands of the Supreme Court. Since Río Piedras started the protest, at least four other units have joined [ES]. The UPR has a total of 11 campuses in the Island.

Students protest in the Río Piedras campus. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz. Originally published un Diálogo under a CC License.

Students protest in the Río Piedras campus. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz. Originally published in Diálogo under a CC License.

The students of Río Piedras have demonstrated a high level of organization since the protests began. They have organized a series of artistic, political, and academic activities, such as concerts, workshops, and dialogues. Numerous groups of artists participated in the 12 hour concert Qué vivan los estudiantes that took place last April 28 in front of the campus. The singer René Pérez -AKA Residente-, from the duo Calle 13, presented a video with supportive messages from international artists such as Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz, Andrés Calamaro, Bebe, Juanes, and Rubén Blades. A group of actors has formed a group called “The Special Force of Police Clowns” [ES] who have been performing on site.

Students throw flowers to police officers. Photo by Ricardo Alcaraz. Originally published in Diálogo under a CC License.

One of the most original activities the students have undertaken has been to start the blog Desde adentro [ES]. A complete staff of student reporters, editors and photographers are blogging about many of the political, economic, and social issues that are affecting the UPR.  They are covering the array of activities they have organized, and also doing important fact-checking of politicians’ messages and comments. The Student Press Collective has also opened a channel on YouTube. The chief editor of the blog, Aura Colón Solá, explains the blog's mission:

El derecho a la información y la libertad de prensa son básicos para el desarrollo de la educación del Pueblo y la creación de este colectivo tiene como base este objetivo. Necesitamos crear espacios de información libres de mediadores donde todos y todas tengamos un acceso directo a la información. La creación de este canal por Youtube y este blog le brinda al estudiantado en lucha una herramienta para publicar sus reclamos, informar sobre las negociaciones con la administración, denunciar prácticas lesivas y documentar todo este proceso formativo.

The right to have access to information and freedom of press are fundamental rights in the education of a country. This is the objective behind the creation of this collective. We have to create spaces in which information can flow freely: where each one of us has access to information. The creation of the YouTube channel and this blog will offer students in this struggle a tool they can use to publish their claims, inform about the negotiations with the administration, denounce bad practices, and document this formative process.

Paro de 48 horas desde dentro de la Universidad de Puerto Rico from Noelia González Casiano on Vimeo.

Video of the protests at the UPR by Noelia González Casiano.

Conmemorative poster of the concert "Qué vivan los estudiantes."

Students are also live steaming from within the campus through Radio Huelga. The hashtags #paroUPR, #huelgaUPR, and #radiohuelga are being used to discuss and follow the student protests on Twitter. Students of the Mayaguez (on the west coast of the Island) campus are using @luchasrum to inform about their events. UPR Law professor Erika Fontánez is blogging almost every day about the situation. The UPR's monthly newspaper Diálogo is covering the daily incidents, activities, and negotiations. Mainstream media in Puerto Rico, such as Primera Hora and El Nuevo Día,  are also publishing minute by minute accounts of the events related to the UPR's situation.

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