Letter from Rutgers Faculty, Alumni, Staff, and Students in Solidarity of the UPR Student Movement
In the summer of 2016, the US Congress passed the PROMESA Bill, which led to the formation of the Fiscal Oversight and Management Board (FOMB)--an entity that is currently managing the fiscal budget of the Puerto Rican government and its public institutions in order to secure Puerto Rico’s payment of $72 billion debt to the U.S. The seven members of the FOMB, all appointed solely by the President, have legal power to overrule any decisions or measures regarding fiscal spending made by the Puerto Rican government and its people. Since its first meetings, the FOMB has made known its intentions to impart austerity measures that would severely cut spending on public services. Recently, the FOMB demanded a $500 million cut to the University of Puerto Rico’s (UPR) budget, which is expected to lead to a massive re-structuring that undermines the public nature of the institution and its role in facilitating social mobilization in Puerto Rican society.
As a response, students from the UPR Río Piedras (IUPI) campus have declared a stoppage (paro) from March 28th till April 5th. During this paro, students have barricaded the campus’ gates and formed a campground within it. At this campground, students have been organizing picket lines, performances, cultural events, workshops, teach-ins, and meetings to reject the austerity measures proposed by the FOMB and the state government. Members of the Union of Exempt Non-Educational Employees of the UPR (HEEND) and the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors (APPU-RP) are organizing and marching alongside students in their protest. Likewise, students have been in collaboration with the Campground Against the Fiscal Board (Campamento Contra La Junta), which has occupied the entrance to the US/PR Federal Court in San Juan since June 2016 in order to peacefully protest and resist the US’s imperial politics. Furthermore, on March 31st a multisectoral march took place, mobilizing more than a 1,000 people. On April 5th, students of the UPR will hold a national assembly to call for a national student strike.
The students are demanding and proposing the following:
1.That a civil auditing of the debt take place by means of the Governor requesting a comprehensive auditing of the public debt.
2. That the original members of the Integral Commission for the Auditing of the Debt be restored.
3. That funds be reassigned to the Commission for the Auditing of the Debt.
4. That the Governor declare that no cuts will be made to the university or to student enrollment in order to pay the debt without the debt being audited first, and that the aforementioned auditing be approved by the student body.
5. That the university reform that is approved be proposed by the academic community.
6. That, when the stoppage and/or strike ceases, the president declare that students will not be sanctioned for exercising their right to protest.
As alumni, professors, staff and students who benefit from public institutions, we stand in solidarity with the students of the IUPI in their fight for accessible public education. As alumni, professors, staff and students of Rutgers University, a public university with a significant Puerto Rican population that led to the formation of a Department of Puerto Rican Studies, we wish to express and offer our support to the students’ initiative. Like the UPR students, we are critics of colonialism and neocolonialism and defenders of the public role of the university and the value of public goods. Furthermore, not only are some of us alumni of the UPR, but we have family and friends that work or study in UPR, who form part of the many people that would see themselves severely affected by these budget cuts.
We encourage UPR’s students to continue their fight for free education and against the multiple oppressions Puerto Ricans continue to face. Their dedication, motivation, and knowledge is needed now more than ever. As they have demonstrated in the past, they have the power to spark the mobilization of the Puerto Rican people.
We are facing multiple oppressions in multiple fronts and must, through open communication and love, work together to defeat those who wish to limit, dominate, and invisibilize us. The students of the UPR do not stand alone.