Teachers brutalized in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican officials are using "disaster capitalism"--a U.S.-imposed "debt crisis" and the massive destruction caused by recent hurricanes--as an excuse to close public schools, open charters and attack the teachers' union. But educators and students are vowing to resist. Their protests today add their voices to the wave of teachers' revolts happening across the U.S. At protests in late April and on May Day, teachers were brutally attacked by police, who used tear gas against peaceful protesters and children.

In articles published on his I Am an Educator blog, Seattle activist and educator Jesse Hagopian reports on the protests and his conversations with Mercedes Martínez, president of the Teachers' Union of Puerto Rico (Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, or FMPR).

A riot cop in Puerto Rico assaults a May Day protesterA riot cop in Puerto Rico assaults a May Day protester

April 29, 2018

Thousands of teachers have been striking and protesting for school funding around the U.S.--from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Kentucky and Arizona and beyond. But many people are unaware of the ongoing struggles of the Puerto Rican educators.

At the end of April, police pepper sprayed members of the Puerto Rican teachers' union (FMPR) as they protested against the Fiscal Oversight Board's plan to close nearly another 300 schools, lay off thousands of teachers, cut their pensions and impose charter schools. These brave teachers are set to strike on May 1, May Day--International Workers' Day--against these neoliberal education policies.

Mercedes Martínez, the president of the FMPR, sent the following e-mail to myself and other supporters over the weekend about the bitter struggle the union is waging. All of us in the U.S. must speak up in support of the union, as it's our government that is imposing austerity on the island.

So with Mercedes' permission, I have republished her statement on the teacher's struggle and the police brutality used against them. Solidaridad!:

Dear Comrades,

I am writing all of you to let you know about what has been happening in Puerto Rico. On April 18, 2018, the Fiscal Oversight Board, imposed by the U.S. Congress, submitted different fiscal plans for our country. I attached them here, so you may read them. In the Commonwealth's plan, page 70 and beyond, you can see all of what they approved to be implemented for the Department of Education:

"PRDE [Puerto Rico Department of Education] has closed over 480 schools (30 percent of K-12 schools) since 1990. After SY2016-17, PRDE closed 167 schools, 84 and announced plans to close another 283 schools after SY2017-18.85 After an analysis of several factors including capacity, geographic and cultural characteristics, distance to neighboring schools, transportation costs, and facility quality, among others, the Government has determined that it will be able to close a total of 307 schools before FY2020, or an additional 24 schools beyond this summer's planned closings, and it must do so...

"PRDE must achieve $53 million in net personnel savings and $6 million in non-personnel savings in FY19.

"The number of school administration (principals, office staff, etc.), food service staff, facility maintenance staff, and other school-specific staff shall be scaled down accounting for a smaller number of schools. This should result in $124.8 million in savings by FY2023.

"These teacher focused measures should achieve $194.5 million in run-rate savings by FY2023, inclusive of transition costs under workforce reduction policies (e.g., liquidation of vacation pay."

As you can see, it's Disaster Capitalism.

This will mean thousands of layoffs, hundreds of school closures, added to Law 85 that now allows 10 percent charter implementation beginning August 2018.

We are facing the biggest attack ever.

We had a National Assembly that decided to strike May 1. And if the government does not revoke these measures on May 2, we will go to the governor's mansion to be sure he attends to our proposals. If they insist, during the week of May 7-11 we are planning a boycott against standardized testing.

Yesterday, we had a civil disobedience action, which ended in police brutality against all the teachers that were protesting and been pepper sprayed. It was a protest against school closures and all these measures. I send you a link so you can see a video. Police brutality was implemented against the protesters. Teachers resisted. Please send a solidarity message video if you can. Upload it to YouTube or post it on my wall in Facebook.

We expect more repression on May 1st and we will not back down!!

Please let us know what is happening in your state or country and how can we support your struggle.

In solidarity,
--Mercedes Martínez, president of the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico

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May 2, 2018

In the spirit of May Day, International Workers Day, the unionized educators of Puerto Rico went out on strike against mass school closures, layoffs and the school privatization. These members of the Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico were joined by students and community members, as a sea of tens of thousands of people wearing red shirts rallied in the capital.

This beautiful display of resistance to disaster capitalist schooling policies that have been exported by the U.S. was met with a grotesque display of police brutality. Puerto Rican cops bombarded protesters with rubber bullets and teargas--even gassing the children of teachers. They illegally arrested people and brutalized others.

As Mercedes Martinez, the president of Teachers' Federation of Puerto Rico, told me today:

Today was a day of pure struggle. I just got home from going to the police stations to check on our people. They sent over 1,000 police to intimidate the protest. People are hurt and in the hospital. It was brutal. They chased students to their homes, entered without warrants, and arrested them. This is the class struggle.

The police arrested at least these 20 students at the May Day rally, and teachers are demanding their release: Rocío Rodríguez, Jeffrey Carrasquillo, Nomar López, Joel Gasser, Jean Pérez, Angélica Questell, Alfonso Questell, Manfred Pérez, Gabriel González, Jonaseph Guzmán, Erimar Landrón, Luis Rodríguez, Jeziel Echevarría, Frank Seguí, Elvin Torres, Ediel Robles, Hamid Burgos, Luis Pérez, Juan Figueroa, Luis A Pacheco.

You can support the teachers' struggle by sharing this article or sending me your statement or photo of solidarity, and I will pass them on to Mercedes.

Mercedes ended my conversation with her today by saying, "We resisted. We will prevail!"

First published at I Am an Educator.