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article imageMexico, Puerto Rico protests lead to clashes with security forces

By Andrew Moran     Feb 17, 2011 in World
Oaxaca - Reminiscent of the clashes and demonstrations in the Middle East, students have gone on strike at the University of Puerto Rico and sparked chaos in the process. Meanwhile, police fired tear gas in the colonial city of Oaxaca in Mexico.
Puerto Rico’s protests
The president of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Jose Ramon de la Torre, has resigned amid a student strike that has led to political chaos. The 60,000-student post-secondary institution’s professors and employees walked off the job for two days last week to support the protests, according to the New York Daily News.
An estimated 15,000 people marched in the protests, but dozens of people were injured and more than 200 people were arrested in a police occupation of the university, which is the first in more than 30 years. Earlier this week, though, Governor Luis Fortuno ordered the riot police to stand down.
But why are students protesting? The students first began to boycott classes in December after it was learned that the government would impose an $800 annual fee in order to reduce the government’s deficit. The fee is equal to 50 percent of the annual tuition.
“I want to talk to you today about a part of the world where the rights of citizens of all walks of life to protest and speak their minds is being denied, with clubs and pepper spray, a part of the world where a student strike led the university to ban student protests anywhere, anytime on campus, and where, when the students protested the crackdown on free speech, they were violently attacked by heavily armed riot police,” said Illinois Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez on the floor of the House of Representatives, reports Democracy Now.
“What faraway land has seen student protests banned, union protesters beaten, and free speech advocates jailed? The United States of America’s colony of Puerto Rico."
Similar to the protests in the Middle East, students utilized social media networks Facebook and Twitter to relay the message to the world and to publish information in a timely manner. One Facebook page, Estudiantes de la UPR Informan (Inform students of the UPR), has more than 32,000 fans.
Fox News reports that lead singer and activist of Calle 13, an international band, Residente, tweeted in Spanish in support of the protests and spoke against the actions of the police. “Video of what happened today at the University of Puerto Rico, treating students like they are criminals,” tweeted Residente.
Mexico’s protests
On Tuesday, the teachers union of Section 22 protested a visit by Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the colonial city of Oaxaca. According to the Associated Press, Section 22 teachers were protesting the President’s decision to give parents tax breaks on private school tuition.
“The increase in future income, derived from education, will more than pay back the investment made today,” said the Mexican President.
The protests began in the city’s main plaza when teachers threw rocks and other inanimate objects at police. Security forces responded with tear gas, although it is unclear who initiated the fight.
All of this led to even more chaos when protestors set a government vehicle on fire and hit Oaxaca Public Safety Secretary Marco Tulio Lopez when he called for calm, law and order.
About 20 protestors and five police officers were injured in the fighting. A journalist was injured when he was shot in the leg and three reporters filed a complaint against both the state and federal government for alleged abuse, reports Fox News. The running clashes lasted for several hours.
The state government issued a public statement and said it stands in “solidarity with professors Gabriel Meliton Santiago and Raymundo Santiago Sanchez.” The two professors are in the hospital after suffering injuries.
The union has promised more protests in response to the government’s clampdown of demonstrators and rallies.
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