Students from the Universidad de Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Students Association organized a spontaneous protest on the Arts Quad on Tuesday in solidarity with strikes taking place in Puerto Rico.
Approximately 30 protesters marched across the Arts Quad and around Ho Plaza, questioning the actions of the oversight board and Gov. Ricardo Rossello and calling for unity amongst the 11 campuses of UPR.
According to The New York Times, protesters in the capital of San Juan took to the streets to express their outrage at austerity measures such as school closings, tuition increases and possible pension cuts. A similar protest took place on the island last year on May 1 to mark International Workers’ Day.
“They’re closing a lot of schools and then our school credits, our university, the public university credits are going like 100 percent up what we were paying, so it’s basically doubling from this last semester to the next,” Mariela Bayron, a UPR senior, told The Sun.
The increase in tuition was approved by the unelected federal board that manages finances for the island, according to The Times. The board was established by the U.S. government in June 2016 in light of Puerto Rico’s inability to pay its tens of billions of dollars of debt, according to NBC News.
Diego Sotomayor, a UPR junior, told The Sun that the federal oversight board “basically is the de facto government of Puerto Rico” and that Puerto Ricans “really don’t have any say in what happens in our government.” He added that the situation on the island is “probably a consequence of our colonial condition.”
“Right now it basically seems like a dictatorship,” Bayron said.
Bayron noted that Puerto Ricans were also protesting the slow response efforts to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island last fall.
“Just the other day, there was like an entire day without power. It has been months since the hurricane hit,” Michelle Marrero-Garcia, a UPR student, told The Sun. She explained that people still sleep with blue tarps instead of roofs on their homes.
Marrero-Garcia said she wants the U.S. government to recognize that Puerto Ricans “deserve to get the help” that should be provided to any American citizen.
“It’s like they want us to get back on our feet but we don’t have the tools to do it, because they’re not giving us the tools to do it, and instead they’re just putting someone over the head of our democratic processes,” she said.
Demonstrators emphasized that the protest was intended to express solidarity with people in Puerto Rico and to inform Cornell students about what is currently happening on the island.
Alejandra Varela, a UPR junior, explained that one goal was to “just to like spark [Cornell students’] curiosity of what’s going on in Puerto Rico so that they can actually feel at least half of what we’re feeling right now.”
Santos Cardona, a student from the Mayaguez campus at UPR, said that the protests are “the start of really massive movements” that will take place on the island. He sees investing in UPR as the way to solve the island’s financial difficulties.
“To help Puerto Rico, go study at the University of Puerto Rico,” he said. “Do an exchange, and with it, coming here to Cornell, give your ideas, start working on investigations, creating projects, and that’s the only way I think Puerto Rico’s going to get out of the fiscal crisis that it is in.”