Let’s Cultivate Cement

By: Héctor A. Ramos Pedraza

On August 15, 2012, Governor Luis G. Fortuño, with the support of Dr. Miguel Muñoz, president of the University of Puerto Rico, and 12 members of the UPR Board of Trustees, signed a law to give away 50 acres of agricultural land from the UPR’s “Estación Experimental Agrícola” (Agricultural Experiment Station) in Gurabo to the municipality. The law was formalized by the Senate Joint Resolution 1053 and authored by Senators Luz M. Santiago González and Ramón Díaz Hernández.

Although Fortuño offered 300 acres located in “Central Roig” (Roig Central) in Yabucoa, the entire UPR community was concerned and disappointed about this decision that risked the university’s heritage.

According to the 2010 census, the Gurabo population has increased for the last years and they have to build up a new school, a hospital and a government-subsidized housing to fulfill people’s needs, but apparently the Gurabo citizens understood that there was no reason for jeopardizing the university in that way.

On one hand, Fortuño decided to express his reasons about why he agreed to make the exchange to calm people’s anger and said, “Gurabo is the municipality with the most population growth in the last 10 years. It increased more than 20 percent. They have a serious problem of overcrowding in the schools.” But, Puerto Rico residents manifested themselves against Fortuño, because they consider the situation as an unfair treatment of the UPR students and think that those lands should not be used for urban development.

On the other hand, Gurabo Mayor Víctor M. Ortiz Díaz, guaranteed that there was no way to revert the transaction process of the lands from the “Estación Experimental Agrícola” that people claimed for, because they were obtained legally and he would not return it.

Many in Puerto Rico considered that the law had many unclear aspects, and that explained why the majority of people were against what they called “hidden process.” Isabel Picó Vidal, Carlos Pérez Díaz, Christopher Torres Lugo, Carmen Ana Miranda and Ana Matanzo Vicens, five members of the Board of Trustees, affirmed to Pieras Castañer, a reporter from “El Post Antillano” newspaper that this action was made behind their backs and it was imposed by the government, in violation of the autonomy of the university.

Furthermore, students from the eleven campuses had done everything in their hands such as meetings and organizations for protesting, trying to find a good and convincing explanation for what had been done against the institution. They questioned why Dr. Muñoz changed his mind at the last moment, since at the beginning he was not supporting the law.

Similarly, Manuel Díaz, administrator of the “Estación Experimental Agrícola,” who had been working closely with the students and their research projects on agricultural development, insisted that it would be hard to transfer experiments that are already very well developed to a different location with unknown parameters.

Díaz also knows it is hard to find resources to keep those experiments on track because of the high cost of all the equipment. “We (me and my students) do not know from where the President of the university will obtain the money to establish a new research center in that location, where there is no infrastructure,” said Díaz to Vilmar Negrón, a reporter from “El Regional” newspaper on August 17, 2012.

He added that the Board of Trustees had lost a great opportunity to gain credibility from the UPR community, dissipating any doubt about its compromise defending the institution interests over any external pressures from the government branches. In addition, experts on the topic sustained that Muñoz had no defined plan to move the entire experiment station to any other place, including the fact that the UPR system has no funds to do the relocation.

A recent interview to ten UPR – Mayagüez students revealed that their campus is the most affected one because they begin their experiments in a local station named “Finca Alzamora,” but eventually they need to transfer those projects to the “Estación Experimental Agrícola” in Gurabo to develop them in a larger scale with more space. Seven students agreed that this whole process had political motives, and this was a way to cut off the island’s possibilities of being independent in the agricultural industry and to produce its own food, but they considered that the law just favors statehood.

Furthermore, Héctor Santiago, Dean of the Agricultural Sciences Department from UPR-Mayagüez, wrote an explanatory memorial responding to the Senate, expressing the opinion of the entire campus. He insisted on understanding the importance of preserving agricultural lands for two main reasons. On one hand, “The station has the mission to develop a research program in areas of pressing needs to achieve the broadest and most efficient agricultural development to contribute on improving life quality.”

On the other hand, “The services that these stations provide are invaluable to the island. Experimental plantings serve as school farms where both our students and the farmers can see the latest technology, and gather details for better performance.”

Additionally, the students claimed that this mistreatment affects the entire island because the land is used to boost the agricultural industry in Puerto Rico and they are worried about the future of agricultural production.

Aníbal José Torres, ex-secretary of the government and applicant to the Senate by accumulation position, supports the UPR community and said, “When people around the entire globe are talking about the importance of sustainable agriculture and the food security, the Governor insisted on giving away from our university valuable lands that are used for research and development.”

Similarly, agronomist Alfredo González Landrón said in a letter to “Mi Puerto Rico Verde” organization, “Loving agriculture is not remembering with romanticism an age in which the Puerto Rico economy was based on agricultural production. Loving agriculture is recognizing the importance, potential and fundamentals of this sector for the integral development of Puerto Rico.” González made these assertions specifically to the representatives of Gurabo, who were talking about their ancestors’ memories with agriculture, while trying to justify the governor’s action.

He insisted that it is important to satisfy the necessities of the people, but it should be done wisely. The government cannot back up the selfishness of a minority, by putting in jeopardy the future of thousands of students who are working hard for the progress of Puerto Rico.

A tractor is preparing the soil of the “Estación Experimental Agrícola” for a new experiment. This is the place where students not just cultivate different types of seeds, but also their hope for great agricultural advances.
(Photo: http://frapuertorico.wordpress.com/category/casos/extension-experimental-agricola-gurabo/)

Melissa Rivera, student from UPR-Mayagüez, is working on her latest investigation to prevent soil erosion and boost addition of nutriments. Her work consists on ensuring food production for Puerto Rico and other countries. (Photo: http://openpublic.eea.uprm.edu/press-release/investigaci%C3%B3n-agr%C3%ADcola-de-puerto-rico-beneficia-muchos-pa%C3%ADses

Melissa Rivera, student from UPR-Mayagüez, is working on her latest investigation to prevent soil erosion and boost addition of nutriments. Her work consists on ensuring food production for Puerto Rico and other countries.
(Photo: http://openpublic.eea.uprm.edu/press-release/investigaci%C3%B3n-agr%C3%ADcola-de-puerto-rico-beneficia-muchos-pa%C3%ADses)

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