By: Gabriel Jimenez Nieves
Under the typical Puerto Rican heat a National Student Mach took place on November 21, 2010 against an $800 stabilization fee the University of Puerto Rico’s administration plans to impose beginning January 2011.
The “special fee”, is a charge of $400 per semester added to the tuition of every single student of the UPR system. The fee was approved by the Board of Regents, one of the main parties in the strike that started in April 2010, between the UPR students and the administration.
This fee, known as the Fiscal Stabilization Fee, is a measure implemented towards trying to fix the fiscal deficit of the UPR system. In the January-May 2011 semester, a large number of students won’t be able to afford their tuition.
The march started from the main gates of UPR-Río Piedras with a group of students from different campuses of UPR, professors and non-teaching staff. Protestors obstructed the Ponce de León Avenue and then the Luis Muñoz Rivera Avenue carrying the main banner that read “11 recintos 1 UPR en contra de la cuota” (11 campus, one UPR against the fee).
This National Student March was scheduled in an alleged illegal assembly celebrated on November 11, 2010. The UPRRP chancellor Ana Guadalupe did not validate the assembly as legitimate because it lacked quorum.
An anonymous UPRRP student participating in the march who also participated in the assembly said “there was quorum in the assembly, but the administration did not validate it because various things were approved there, things that demonstrate that there’s no need to implement the special fee.”
During the celebration of the general assembly numerous things were approved like the celebration of the national march. The administration was given an ultimatum to eliminate the fee and a student referendum was to be conducted about the fee.
In the course of the march one could hear the chants voiced by the protestors. “Esta cuaota va quitar, mi derecho a estudiar” (this fee is going to take away my right to study), was heard from the “tumbacoco” (loud speakers) leading the march.
Other chants like “dile no, dile no, a la cuota dile no” (say no to the fee), clearly demonstrated the community’s opposition.
Even Santa’s elf participated in the march. Two students were dressed with vibrant Christmas red and green clothing and hats with elflike ears. They were carrying around cubed gift boxes with writings against the fee.
On of them who identified himself as Santa’s helper said that Christmas in Puerto Rico was going to be even harder on the students because of the fee. “That’s why we are here protesting against the $800,” added Santa’s helper.
The march was summoned by the Cordinadora Nacional de Comites de Accion (CONCA), an organization that gathers different action committees. The main purpose of the manifestation was to deliver the results of the referendum of the fee.
Arriving at the main gates of the Central Administration building of the UPR the protestors encountered a formation of police guarding the entrance. It took a little more than an hour before someone from inside the administration addressed the students.
It was the secretary of Academic Services, Miriam Martínez Figueroa, who received the documents. The documents included a petition of the students for the administration to dialogue. The representative of the CONCA, María Soledad Davila Calero, was the one who handed the files which also included the results of the referendum.
An estimated 33 percent of the students of UPRRP participated on the referendum. Rafael Torres, spokesman of the Organization Committee of the referendum, said that 5,560 students participated. Of those 96 voted in favor and 5,462 voted against the $800 fee.
Ygrí Rivera, president of the Board of Regents, said in a radio interview that this referendum was a “deceit” because it was approved in an “illegal” assembly.
Rafael Ortega, a Social Sciences student, affirmed “I’m here for various reasons the most important one is that I won’t be able to pay the $800 in January and another reason is that I’m against the naming of the new Financial Director of the UPR.”
On November 20, 2010 the Board of Regents named the new Director of Finances of the UPR, Charles Anthony Cordero. This was a polemic naming amongst the university community. Cordero was accused by the Blue Ribbon Committee for allegedly taking advantage of his old position in the Government Development Bank.
“We cannot keep allowing the entrance of corrupt people to our university, the Board of Regents has gone mad!,” added Rafael Ortega.
The march came to an end without any hostile accidents. As the manifestation disintegrated and protestors started leaving the streets, of Río Piedras returned to normality. But the situation the UPR system faces is far from being resolved.