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AP: Students beaten by police during protests

While much of our attention has been focused on Wisconsin, and the cabal of other right-wing Republican governors on the mainland, much of the dirty work of Republican Luis Guillermo Fortuño has not been on our radar.  Labor unions, teachers and students are under attack on the island under his administration.  Thousands of people have been protesting over the last year, but as usual, much of what happens on the island gets little coverage in the mainstream media.

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This is Luis Guillermo Fortuño, who is only the second Republican Governor of Puerto Rico.  

Puerto Rico Governor Fortuño, who is considered a rising star in the Republican Party, has publicly committed to not allowing what he calls “extreme left” protests and expression. On Friday, February 11, 2011, Governor Fortuño spoke about his administration’s policies while speaking at a Conservative Political Action Conference of the American Conservative Union (ACU) in Washington, DC, an activity attended by members of the National Rifle Association, the Tea Party and the John Birch Society.

For  Fortuño, "extreme left" means unions, Democrats and young people.  For  Fortuño, "extreme left" means those who believe in civil liberties.

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Human Rights Crisis in Puerto Rico: First Amendment Under Seige

While the world celebrates the democratic revolution in Egypt, major violations of basic human rights are occurring in our own backyard. Since Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño came into power two years ago, free speech has been under all-out assault. The following events have taken place recently:

* Thousands of public workers have been laid off and had their union contracts terminated, leading to tens of thousands of people peacefully protesting over the past year. One event turned out over 100,000 peaceful protestors and while in NYC hundreds marched on May Day, in Puerto Rico May Day turned out an estimated 30,000 citizens.
* At a protest at the steps of the Capital Building over the closing of access to legislative sessions, access that is constitutionally mandated, protesters were beaten mercilessly, pepper sprayed and shot at by Puerto Rico Police. The same has occurred at other locations.

At most events young women are the first to be targeted for police violence. At the University of Puerto Rico, female students, many of whom were beaten, were also sexually harassed, groped and assaulted (touched) by police. Students have been mercilessly beaten, mazed and shot at with rubber bullets. Citizens have accused, which images captured confirm, police of applying torture techniques on immobilized student protesters. In the past two years, there have been several riots at protests in and around the University of Puerto Rico. Many protesters have accused the police of causing the riots, which some videos also seem to confirm.

Since taking the oath of office, the current administration, which controls all three branches of government, has set out to quash Freedom of Expression. In Puerto Rico, Expression has been in the form of protests against government policies, such as the firing of approximately 26,000 workers in total, privatizing government, closing off access to public information and legislative sessions, attempting to close down the university FM radio station during periods of civil unrest and going after the Puerto Rico Bar Association, which was a mandatory integrated Bar and is Puerto Rico’s oldest institution. The 171 year old Puerto Rico Bar Association (Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico) has historically been a known focal point for liberal dissent against government policies.

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Students march

Puerto Rico does not have a vote in the US House of Representatives.  But the Puerto rican people have a staunch defender in the House, in the person of Rep Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat from Illinois

Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez Denounces Civil Rights Violations in Puerto Rico

(Washington, DC) – Today, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to call national attention to the developing civil rights crisis in Puerto Rico. In recent months, certain protests have been banned, demonstrations have been broken up violently by police using clubs and pepper spray, the Legislature has moved to conduct some business behind closed doors, and free speech advocates have been jailed. Severe cuts to the budget of the University of Puerto Rico and a huge increase in tuition and fees sparked the original protests, which were the catalyst for further escalation of demonstrations that have spread to labor unions, parents and alumni of the university, and more broadly.

"What far-away land has seen student protest banned, union protesters beaten and free speech advocates jailed?," Rep. Gutierrez asked during his speech to Congress, answering, "The United States of America’s colony of Puerto Rico. Sound outrageous? It is. But true and well-documented. I ask my colleagues in U.S. House of Representatives to turn their eyes to Puerto Rico."

HuffPo had this story:

Massive Turnout Against Police Occupation of University of Puerto Rico

Gov. Fortuño on Friday was in Washington, D.C., during this latest juncture in the UPR crisis, attending a Conservative Political Action Conference, which gathered such right-wing notables as The National Rifle Association, The John Birch Society and The Tea Party. He also finds himself defending his wife's lucrative business as a notary public for the banks of Puerto Rico, collecting a minimum of $250 per signature and reaping approximately a million dollars per year.  Also on Friday, came news that Gov. Fortuño had named a commission to assess the university for restructuring. Among the appointees is the former UPR president José M. Saldaña, who published demagogic Op-Ed pieces labeling the Colleges of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education as hotbeds of communist revolutionaries, despite their markedly heterogeneous political temperament. In contemporary U.S. terms, the rhetoric of Fortuño and his appointees sounds like a Latino Tea Party.  "We appear to be in the first stage of a democratic dictatorship, a new absolutism," observed UPR Humanities professor Rubén Ríos Ávila.

As institutional venues for redress become besieged, the courts and civic unrest are sites of active opposition. The summary suspension last Monday of student leader Giovanni Roberto was reversed on appeal and the ruling also deemed unconstitutional the chancellor's edict prohibiting all protest and assembly on campus. Hence Wednesday's campus protests occurred while the prohibition was annulled. By the end of the week, however, the university won an appeal, and the case will now be again appealed on his behalf. "Some of the most deeply rooted constitutional principles are at stake in this case after the administration of the University of Puerto Rico encroached on fundamental rights by establishing an absolute prohibition on free speech and the right to free assembly within the UPR campus," said attorney Frank Torres-Viada in a prepared statement.

Other reported abuses include police sexual harassment of female students. A complaint of excessive force against females being arrested was also filed in a governmental women's advocacy agency. These events seemed to touch a collective nerve, as intimated in this haunting video by student Luis R. Rosa, featuring a mother crying out as her only daughter is beaten by police.

Juan Gonzalez discusses the recent events in Puerto Rico on Democracy Now:

Solidarity with the workers and students of Puerto Rico!
Pa'lante Siempre Pa'lante

cross posted from The Motley Moose

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