(en) 100,000 march in Puerto Rico

Platformist Anarchism (platform@geocities.com)
Sat, 25 Oct 1997 13:15:54 +0000

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From: Carmello Ruiz <carmeloruiz@hotmail.com>

Over 100,000 March Against Privatization On Oct. 1st! in Puerto Rico

The October 1 24-hour nationwide general work stoppage against the privatization of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company (PRTC) and other state assets and functions called for by a broad committee of labor and civic organizations was successful beyond its organizers' expectations, with 100,000 to 150,000 citizens from all over the Puerto Rican archipielago joining the protest march. That morning the protesters met at the Dos Hermanos bridge in the Puerta de Tierra section of San Juan and marched towards the capitol, where leaders of opposition parties and civil society organizations, as well as musicians, addressed and entertained the crowd from a makeshift stage well into the evening.

The protest, known as El Paro Nacional, was notable not only for the number of participants but also for its non-partisan character. The labor unions and other non-governmental organisations were the real force behind the stoppage, and not the opposition political parties, which were almost completely absent from the activities. Commenting on the event, political analyst Juan Manuel Garcia-Passalacqua concluded that "The political parties lost. Civil Society won."

"Today it has been demonstrated that this is the voice and conscience of a people that do not surrender and are not silenced by threats and intimidation from a government that does not respect the will of the people", said Annie Cruz, president of the Independent Brotherhood of Telephone Company Employees (HIETEL), to the marchers. Cruz and other speakers challenged Puerto Rico governor Pedro Rossello to make a referendum on the phone company sale.

"The purpose of governing is to administer the common interests of the people, not the particular interests of private capital", said Independent Union of Telephone Employees (UIET) president Alfonso Benitez in his speech. Benitez made clear that the opponents of privatization are not against private enterprise, pointing out that "the government has recklessly initiated an indiscriminate policy of privatization, characterized by improvisation, often without having made the necessary studies, and with results that could be devastating for the country".

Independence movement statesman and former Puerto Rico Socialist Party head Juan Mari-Bras, who participated in the protest, is optimistic about the future of political activism in the country. "This is the most combative and massive popular demonstration that I have ever seen in all the years of my life", said the independence advocate in an interview.

Mari-Bras, who recently created a heated controversy by renouncing his American citizenship in protest against US colonialism, pointed out that if the governor does not change his mind about the PRTC sale then the campaign will concentrate on discouraging potential buyers. The American Bell Atlantic and Bell South corporations are the most likely buyers of the phone company, according to reports in the Puerto Rican press.

Jose "Lole" Rodriguez, president of the National Union of Health Workers (which is itself a Service Employees International Union affiliate) said in an interview that the message of El Paro Nacional is very clear: "that the people reclaim what belongs to them and that governor Rosselli does not have the authority to sell off the essential services provided by the state". assured that the October 1 walkout is only the beginning of a national campaign against privatization.

The speeches were followed by musical performances by artists ranging from traditional trobadour Andres Jimenez to rock group Fiel a la Vega to internationally renowned salsa singer Andy MontaF1ez, who is known for his support for independence and progressive causes. One of the speakers on the stage mentioned the names of artists that opposed the PRTC sale and supported the Paro Nacional, but could not make it there.

These included leftist singer-songwriter Roy Brown, actor-screenwriter Jacobo Morales, comedian "Sunshine" LogroF1o, actors Lucy Boscana (who lives right in my street) and Horacio Olivo, singer Jose Nogueras, legendary composer Tite Curet, Ruth Fernandez, and several others. They all received warm applauses as their names were mentioned.

Aida Rodriguez-Rodriguez, a member of the electrical utility workers' union (UTIER) who attended the march, called the stoppage a complete success and assured that this is not the last the governor will hear from the labor movement. "We fully met our expectations in spite of government threats and arm-twisting", said Rodriguez-Rodriguez. She also expressed great concern that the electric utility's retirement fund, which has one billion US dollars in liquid assets, might be privatized.

Viva la Nacion!

Judging by the abundance of Puerto Rican flags, nationalistic imagery and appeals to patriotism in El Paro Nacional, it was evident that the organizers succeeded in combining opposition to neoliberalism with affirmation of Puerto Rico's nationhood. This is a very important factor, because the position of governor Rossello and his New Progressive Party (NPP) on the issue of nationhood is that Puerto Rico is not a nation, nor has it ever been. NPP founder and former governor Luis A. Ferre went even farther, stating in last year's US Republican National Convention in San Diego that "We are not a nation, not even culturally".

NPP leaders and their hardcore, dazed followers think that if they wave American flags long and hard enough, they will turn white and blonde, 100% mom and apple pie Americans, and it will start to snow in Puerto Rico. They openly disdain anything that reminds them of our unique culture and heritage. They think of themselves as no more than American citizens residing in Puerto Rico.

Only a few months ago, at an activity in the city of Bayamon commemorating the anniversary of the birth of statehood movement founder Jose Celso Barbosa, the audience was distracted when Puerto Rico's national anthem, 'La BorinqueF1a', was played. However, when the Star Spangled Banner was played, they all straightened out, listened up and sang along with emotion. That just goes to show where their loyalties really are. Furthermore, in the NPP's pro- privatization rally last Sunday, American flags were everywhere, far outnumbering the Puerto Rican ones. Some people present there were waving both flags. They would never be caught dead waving a Puerto Rican flag alone.

Contrast this 110% pro-USA attitude with the thousands upon thousands of Puerto Rican flags and the slogans of national affirmation in El Paro Nacional and you'll see why the issue of privatization has everything to do with Puerto Rico's relationship with the US, everything to do with our national identity.

University students against neoliberalism

By all accounts, the students of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) have made themselves invaluable to the struggle against privatization and neoliberal policies through their tenacity and commitment. On Wednesday September 10, the students of the Rio Piedras campus (last issue I called it the San Juan campus. They're actually the same. Rio Piedras is a town that was incorporated into San Juan) held an assembly which approved resolutions in opposition to the privatisation of the PRTC, in support of the October 1 national work stoppage, and for the creation of a University Front Against Privatisation (FUCP) composed of students, professors and non-teaching employees. To make their solidarity clear, they also resolved to shut down UPR on the day of the stoppage.

Then on Tuesday September 16, UPR students organized a spontaneous protest against governor Rossello, who had entered the campus unannounced and accompanied by dozens of policemen and die- hard supporters of his New Progressive Party. The riot caused by the governor's forceful visit, far from frightening and discouraging the student activists, seemed only to have the opposite effect.

In the afternoon of Tuesday, September 30, the day before the national stoppage, UPR students held a march in downtown Rio Piedras and afterwards returned to the campus to celebrate their first University Festival in Support of Working People. The lively event featured speeches by representatives and leaders of political, student, civic and labor organisations, as well as performances by national celebrities like comedian "Sunshine" LogroF1o and singer-songwriter Antonio "El Topo" Caban, jazz instrumentalist Pedro Guzman, and the rock group Fiel A La Vega, whose commitment to progressive causes is undeniable. I stayed until midnight. At that moment, a lot of artists still hadn't gotten to perform yet and the campus seemed as crowded as during broad daylight in a weekday. The event carried on until two in the morning.

Once the festival ended, a large group of students camped out in the campus green in order to be ready to shut down the university at the crack of dawn. At about four in the morning they began to help the maintenance employees lock all the entrances to the campus, and before seven o'clock the campus was effectively sealed and a rally was in full swing in front of the west side entrances. It seemed that no transportation would be available from the UPR to the rendezvous point at Dos Hermanos bridge. The drivers of the "carros publicos" (privately- owned pickup vans that supplement the public bus system) had been threatened by the Education Department with cancellation of their contracts with the public school system if they participated in the demonstration. But at about 9:30 dozens of "carros publicos" appeared in defiance of Education Department threats. Their drivers flung their vans' doors open and gave us free rides to Dos Hermanos bridge.

Just before ten, the "carros publicos" began to move slowly in a noisy caravan to Puerta de Tierra to meet with the other protesters, some of whom had come in caravans of their own from all over Puerto Rico. Some of the students did the whole trip on foot without losing any enthusiasm!

"If there is one thing that encourages the workers, it is the tenacity shown by the UPR students", said Jorge Farinacci, former political prisoner and spokesperson for the Socialist Front. "This afternoon the telephone company employees salute the Puerto Rican youths and university students, who have been exemplary in their commitment with the values of Puerto Rico", said HIETEL president Annie Cruz in her speech in front of the capitol.


Yesterday at noon secretary of state Norma Burgos entered UPR unannounced and went to the Social Sciences faculty building. Precisely the epicenter of opposition to the government's neoliberal, right-wing, anti- national policies! Hundreds of students immediately surrounded the building to protest her presence and repudiate all she stands for. A few minutes later, the stormtroopers entered the campus for the first time since 1981, beating students, professors, reporters and even the UPR's own security force. A police helicopter with a sharpshooter overflew the campus during the incident, and an unmarked car with undercover agents toting AR-15 machine guns was seen entering campus.

TV footage of this near tragedy clearly shows professors Rafael Bernabe and Julio Muriente doing everything in their power to prevent a confrontation between the stormtroopers and the protesters. Luckily, no one was hospitalized or arrested.

El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's leading daily, energically repudiated Burgos's recklessness and the regrettable behavior of the stormtroopers in a fiery editorial today:

"The ill timing of (Burgos's) visit can only be conceived of as a provocation. The sudden presence of the stormtroopers in the University campus leads one to think that her visit was not just a simple provocation, but a premeditated and intentional act. By tradition, and according to the University's own regulations, only the campus dean (the Rector) can call the police into the campus. What happened yesterday in UPR could have been avoided if instead of governing by brute force, the government had turned to dialogue and consensus."

Point well made. Everything seems to indicate that the government is carrying out these acts of provocation in order to create a case for an authoritarian regime that will carry out the neoliberal program in spite of the democratic opposition.

Things will get more intense in the next weeks, as the campaign against privatization is stepped up into outright civil disobedience.

Tomorrow, the committee of unions and other organizations that organized the Oct. 1 strike will demonstrate in the San Juan business district, known as 'la milla de oro'. Will a riot break out? Will the stormtroopers appear and charge at the demonstrators? We'll see.


PUERTO RICO NEWS An occasional electronic newsletter devoted to opinion and commentary on current Puerto Rican affairs written by Carmelo Ruiz Issue #16 Wednesday, October 8 1997

This and previous issues of Puerto Rico News are available at: http://www.neravt.com/left/ruiz.htm

Send questions and comments about Puerto Rico News to: carmeloruiz@hotmail.com

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