Puerto Rico: Police brutally attack protesters at the legislature

Puerto Rican professor and activist Deborah Berman Santana sent this urgent report about the brutal police attack on peaceful protesters at the government capitol building.


Aloha y Hafa adai,

I was present to see an incredibly brutal police attack on peaceful Puerto Rican citizens reclaiming their right to view the kind of legislation that the government was enacting. I am including three documents:

  1. My eyewitness testimony plus a link to see my photos
  2. A review of the kinds of legislation being enacted to dismantle what’s left of our natural and cultural inheritance
  3. An analysis of the operations calculated to cancel our constitutionally guaranteed civil rights, criminalize public assembly, and restrict expression to isolated electronic “voting.”

I wouldn’t assume that such actions are limited to the colony of Puerto Rico…

Un abrazo boricua y solidario,

1) On Thu, Jul 1, 2010 at 7:22 AM, Deborah Berman Santana <santana@mills.edu> wrote:

I was there. Following is my testimony (translated to English). The link is to my photos.


I was there. I am witness to the declared intent of students to enter peacefully into the Capitolio – our legislature, a public building where the budget was being debated – to read a proclamation, and for some to stage a peaceful sit-in with possible arrest. What instead happened was that police beat, dragged, and gassed them and physically threw them outside and down the stairs. I saw the police hitting and kicking students and older citizens outside.

I was there to see a large contingent of riot police – some in military camouflage without badges – establish a line to block the plaza where people normally protest. There were some 1,000 protesters of all ages plus press outside.

Strangely, along one side next to the bldg where some legislators park, there were no police so protesters could get real close. There were agents on top of the bldg, a police helicopter, and agents on the steps with those gas canister shooting rifles. I began to notice some protesters with faces covered with black bandanas, who started standing on some cars. I thought that the space was very vulnerable and that it might be a trap.

A police official made some gestures and the tear gas started flying and the line of police in the plaza plus mounted police began to move to clear all protesters from the whole area, despite there being many older people, press and legislators from the minority party outside. I had to begin running for safety. I noticed that some masked protestors smashed some car windows.

Well, I got really hit hard by gas but kept moving, grabbing my water bottle to splash water in my eyes and my mouth. As I continued walking quickly away I saw the helicopter come very close, and a cop inside aiming at people with those gas canister bullet guns. I remembered the protestors in th West Bank that were hit by such projectiles, and turned into a side street to protect myself from the helicopter.
Later I saw groups of cops running through the streets hunting young people. I reunited with several friends and as we walked we heard one cop say “no, they’re older people” and they ignored us… So we were spared an attack for being old!

My friend – who is 60 – was clubbed in the head and shoulder by a cop when she came to the aid of a student who he was hitting on the ground. I saw people bleeding, vomiting, and one girl unconscious who was evacuated by an ambulance.


2) It is 5:00 of the evening of June 30, 2010, groups of students, teachers and citizens asked for entry to the House of the Laws and they were struck and tortured by the Police, there are numerous injured people, while the National Guard is mobilized towards the Capitol Hill. Violent shocks scatter for the whole zone of the Parliament and the repressions continue.

A constitutional coup has just been established in Puerto Rico.

After a year in which the present time government under the New Progressive Party (Partido Nuevo Progresista, that attempts to join the Island to the United States trough statehood) tried to and succeeded taking over many institutions that form the base of the democratic government of Puerto Rico, an atmosphere of hostility followed by many reckless actions that threaten public peace had climaxed in violent and aggressive actions of this government against the parties of the opposition, the organized student movement, the labor unions, the press, the environment, as against every area and institution of Puerto Rico’s civil society.

This constitutional coup springs from the Legislative branch of the government under the command of Senator Thomas Rivera Schatz, endorsed by the central government, under the dominance of the Secretary Governor, counselor Marcos Rodríguez Ema, with the obvious intent of having under their grasp and without opposition full control of every agency and organization that rule the judiciary, academic, economic and civil societies. Before this scenario, Governor Luis Fortuño operates without volition, has no opinion, appearance nor public responsibility.

With the complete control of the High Court of Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico Board of trustees, and the alleged control of the news media, among many others, the genuine participation of the People of Puerto Rico in all democratic processes protected by our Constitution is jeopardized.

The events started (trough the rush approval of Law 7 by the Legislature) with more than 20,000 public employee lay-offs, with the allegation that this would alleviate the gigantism of the government and would find the solution of the serious public deficit, that has never been properly evidenced. This decision has caused economical chaos, public services are worse than ever and it has generated despair and gloominess in every Puertorrican family. In this same guise there exists a serious persecution against all artistic institutions of the country, strangling their budgets, trying with this actions to avoid the propagation of art as dissidence. This, while the government favors contracts of obscene sums with hundreds of advisors, contractors and lobbyists associated with their own political party.

The attacks continued in the form of the appointment to the High Court of four Judges with a well known affiliation with, and militancy for the governing political party, achieving a majority of votes in favor of the actual government on all decisions made in this Forum, on individual basis. The government went on repressing and eliminating student participation on the procedures of the State University, suppressing tuition exemption rights for outstanding athletes and artists, among others; forcing the students from all eleven campuses of the University of Puerto Rico to declare a strike that lasted 60 days, generating ample support from the people of Puerto Rico and around the world.

The students on strike were successful on their achieving their demands trough negotiations that involved a First Instance Court and an appointed negotiator; however, these accords were are trying to be invalidated by Secretary of government Rodríguez Ema who said that these accords “are not worth the paper in which they were written”

This event preceded the Central government’s action of proposing a hasty law, that was signed with no revision within hours, adding four additional members to the Board of trustees of the University of Puerto Rico. These additions to the Board are unconditional members of the governing political party The students of the State university, who on a great majority depend in Federal grants, now face an annual recurring fee of $800.00, fee they will not be able to pay and that they will not pay, forcing the students to return to their strike. With this strategy, the Central government risk the accreditation of the State University and as a consequence, the government would be able to privatize it’s assets.

Following this same direction, the government of Puerto Rico will attempt to sell and to divide for speculation a strip of land where stands the Karst formation, on the northwest of the Island. This area collects one third of our water supplies for the entire population; nonetheless, the government intends to put this area into private hands that would build a toll expressway over this zone that is rich ecologically and economically.

Passing up many other events, the budget of Puerto Rico was approved, together with countless laws which favor privatization, the dissolving of professional associations and the distribution of public funds into private hands, without the pertaining and compulsory hearings of public participation, reaching the extreme of turning off the microphones of the opposing political party members, in a despotic fashion.

The events climaxed last week when the FBI in Puerto Rico arrested Senator Héctor Martínez, NPP, on charges of bribe, the selling of influences and other charges. Martinez is Senator’s Rivera Schatz right hand on the Senate. A public squabble reached the news between the Senator and the FBI, with the Seantor fending the alleged innocence of Senator Martínez,, who has been directly associated with drug traffic and who was filmed while committing bribery.

Then, last in his many violent and reckless acts, the president of the Senate, Rivera Schatz, using force and a real padlock, censored the access of the cameras and the news media to the Senate sessions, depriving the People of Puerto Rico of direct information about the discussions and voting sessions that were taking place about this year’s budget and other matter). The events resulted in verbal and physical violence between senators, rising indignation between the people to a point of and almost unsustainable state of outrage and wrath.

Counselor Rivera Schatz has taken virtual control of the country with his tyrannical and fascist ways; and it cannot be discarded that from these same seats, this same week, acts of persecution and acts of violence will be started against other sectors of the People, all approved by the Secretary Governor of Puerto Rico.

It is 5:00 of the evening of June 30, 2010, groups of students, teachers and citizens asked for entry to the House of the Laws and they were struck and tortured by the Police, there are numerous injured people, while the National Guard is mobilized towards the Capitol Hill. Violent shocks scatter for the whole zone of the Parliament and the repressions continue.

This factual deed of control of the political power from within the Puertorrican Nation violates all elementary principles of democracy and of participation of the People in the government, for which we proclaim to the World the actual situation of contained violence that exists in our People and that is about to explode against these two politicians that had taken by assault the power in our Country. Even though in Puerto Rico there are no conditions for an armed struggle of the People because of the obvious disparity of the opposing sides, a revolution of cultural and of student affirmation is starting to take the streets and to retrieve the spaces stolen away by the originators of this coup.

We exhortat all communications media of the World to divulge and expose the current situation of the Puertorrican Nation and we ask of you, therefore, your total solidarity.

Composed by Roberto Ramos-Perea, Puertorrican Playwriter

(With the active collaboration, comments and support of more than a hundred Puertorrican citizens.)

Jesús Dávila
translated by Jan Susler

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, July 1, 2010 (NCM) – A calculated police operation, according to sworn testimony this morning by one of the agents, left yesterday afternoon in front of the Capitol dozens of demonstrators injured and journalists attacked, and served as a framework so that behind closed doors the legislature could annul the university students’ constitutional rights of assembly and freedom of speech.

The sworn statement— a copy of which NCM News obtained— specifies how the order to disperse the crowd was given at least two hours before more than a hundred Puerto Rico Police, among them the anti-riot force, the horses of the mounted unit and a helicopter, swept with batons, kicks and gas hundreds of demonstrators who insisted on asserting the right that the  legislature be open to the public.

To make matters even worse, the first to be violently dispersed were the reporters from the student media, who had gone to the Capitol to cover the events, and whose press credentials the government refused to recognize. Several member of the general press and at least two legislators ended up injured as well.

At the close of this edition, a statement was expected from the media guilds as well as an urgent press conference by the Puerto Rican Independence Party, calling the Puerto Rico Police action “gorilla-like.”

Without knowing that it had all happened in a calculated way by police commands, Capitol employees last night expressed their indignation at the picture of some of their vehicles overturned by the mass of students, professors, and support groups that faced the onslaught of batons and gas by police who had no fear of punishment. A little later, the legislature announced the approval of a new measure that eliminated student assemblies and substituted them with a remote electronic voting system, which any public expression by an official student leader must also be subjected to.

The measure substitutes for another which had proposed the system of internet voting for assemblies of every university organism, including professors, and which a source in the industry estimated would cost over $50 million to establish. That measure would have exempted only the Board of Trustees, which would be the only organism capable of deliberating and decision making without being subjected to the restrictions.

But in fact, a source of the ruling New Progressive Party— which in the past has provided reliable information and even confidential documents— assured days ago that the objective was to change the project to the one that was ultimately adopted. The source indicated that it’s all part of a broader agenda to eliminate in Puerto Rico the old constitutional right of freedom of assembly and substitute it with electronic voting, which would guarantee the preponderance of the so-called silent majority.

Minutes before the new restriction on constitutional rights was approved, the minority opposition Popular Democratic Party had withdrawn from the Senate floor, as a sign of protest. Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz proclaimed that they had managed to be able to complete the final work of the ordinary session of the Legislature “in this peaceful environment.”

Rivera Schatz himself was an important piece in the entire operation when on Friday last week, in an action for which officials provided contradictory explanations, he ordered the expulsion of all journalists from the Senate sessions. To accomplish this, he used armed police and locks that blocked the press from entering, and it stood out in public opinion that the public galleries in the third floor had been closed since the end of last year.

The PDP minority and the journalists turned to separate legal recourse, still pending in court, while a group of students from the University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez campus called for a demonstration yesterday, at which the student collectives from several campuses throughout the country came together. The Senate, meanwhile, which had gone back to permitting journalists to enter and which had opened its galleries, put the locks back on, and starting early in the afternoon the anti-riot squads, known as the “Shock Troops” entered the building.

The problem of civil rights is crucial for the statehood movement, which has been complaining for years that the social and political institutions don’t recognize its overwhelming majority, as a result of which they have taken steps such as last year’s elimination of compulsory bar association membership for attorneys, because statehood has never gotten a majority at its conventions. On the other hand, the government understands that the student movement carried out a successful two month strike that paralyzed the eleven UPR campuses.

Similarly, the legislature approved another measure, to criminalize any social protest that paralyzes public or private construction sites.

But the isolation of the NPP, barely a year and a half after having won the most sweeping electoral victory in its history, isn’t limited to the student revolt or the political opposition. The party is already showing signs of division, such as growing complaints from important business sectors such as the hotel and insurance industries, as well as small town governments.

The situation has a lot to do with the attempts to increase government funds, while the country continues to be submerged in a galloping economic crisis, with more than 100,000 jobs lost since the beginning of last year. In this context, the divided labor movement continues to be paralyzed, and in the social sphere, only groups like the students present an articulate opposition to governmental plans.

With great difficulty, at the end of the night, the legislature managed to approve a deficit budget for state agencies, from the marble and alabaster building of the Capitol, in whose shadow, even hours after the incidents, the acrid odor of tear gas could still be breathed.


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