They are stealing our present. The UPR is not for sale,” read a large banner at the gates of the oldest and largest of the 11 campuses that make up the University of Puerto Rico system. Early in the morning on Monday, October 18, students gathered to join the protests in front of Puerto Rico’s Capitol in San Juan, holding colorful signs: “They violated our past”; “They are stealing our present”; “They are mortgaging our future.”

On the other side of the island in the western town of Mayagüez, where the STEM flagship campus of the system is located, students were starting a one-day strike. Some had planned to join their peers in San Juan, but those who were unable to do the two-and-a-half-hour drive would attend local protests. The campus in Aguadilla organized a local march in support. Students from campuses such as Ponce and Cayey came to the Capitol in rented buses. They started with a march from the campus to the town hall and ended with plena music and an open mic. The night before, hundreds of students held a pleno—an informal, grassroots assembly—to make decisions and plan the day’s events, with thousands more joining virtually using social media. The discussion was orderly but emotional, and it went beyond the logistics of the protests and into a deeper conversation about the importance of resistance and showing up to the events of the day.

The pleno included comments like the following: “They are destroying our university. They keep hiking tuition costs. They want to force us to pay a debt that is illegal, a debt that is not ours.” “We are paying more for fewer services, but this is not just about us. It is also about the elderly, about the teachers, about everybody…. I don’t want my children to have to leave Puerto Rico like so many in my family have done…. What we are doing here is also about our children, our grandchildren, about the generations to come.”

The trigger of these protests was a bill now before Puerto Rico’s legislature, PC1003, designed to implement the “debt adjustment plan” presented by the Financial Oversight and Management Board, an unelected body imposed on Puerto Rico as part of the PROMESA Law passed by the US Congress in 2016. Called simply “La Junta” by most Puerto Ricans, and charged with “helping” Puerto Rico structure its debt, this group has spent the past five years pushing austerity measures and consistently prioritizing the interests of bondholders over the pensions and essential services needed by the island’s people. Since January 2017, the FOMB—under the cover of two hurricanes, a series of earthquakes, and the Covid pandemic—has been implementing “adjustment” measures that include slashing the public university’s budget in half, increasing tuition threefold, closing a third of the island’s public K-12 schools, and privatizing part of the public electric utility. The FOMB has done this with the complicity and support of three different governors, as well as many local politicians and administrators, The Puerto Rican population has been rapidly dwindling, while wealthy investors, mostly from the United States, buy luxury properties and coastal land on the cheap and move to the island to take advantage of generous tax exemptions.

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Source: “The University of Puerto Rico Is Not for Sale!”

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