“Cerrar para abrir”: Puerto Rican Student Struggles and the Crisis of Colonial-Capitalism

Carla M. García for Diálogo UPR

The gates of the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) are closed. They were barricaded by students. The main campus, Río Piedras, was shut on March 28th. At the rest of the campuses, students joined in the stoppage after a 10,000-strong assembly, an astounding exercise in direct democracy, declared a national student strike on April 5th. Outside UPR, other students have also gone on strike: from high-schoolers to the musicians at the Conservatory, there is a veritable upheaval among young Puerto Ricans currently in educational institutions. Far from having materialized out of thin air, this rising movement is the latest manifestation of a long history of struggle.

In its everyday practice of struggle, this student movement actively engages with that history, with the memories embodied in the organizational forms it experiments with and adapts. The result is a collective organizational practice grounded in the immediate and shifting circumstances of the present, one in which historical knowledge about forms of organization has ceased to be a bookish interest and is instead the actively organized and re-appropriated archive of a mass movement of struggle.

As a movement, moreover, the student upheaval is connected not only to the past but, most importantly, to the present. Students throughout the islands of Puerto Rico have inserted themselves into the heart of a conjuncture that seemed to be desperately demanding an active, direct intervention, but that had seen few answers to its call. 

Rather than confining their movements to the limits of the academic setting, striking students have adopted a practice that expands beyond the university walls, both real and metaphorical, enacting a set of demands that pinpoint the contemporary failings of the colonial-capitalist system, and enunciating them in a self-consciously political language. Even as they occupy the University’s buildings and shut its gates or continue to call their movement a “student movement,” students are going beyond any strict or narrow definition of their possible political and social practice. 

Evidently, the students’ movement has found a way of making the university a site of the current broader political struggle against neoliberal austerity and national debt-servitude. They have hit upon a form of struggle that engages directly with the general conjuncture, while simultaneously including a targeted response to the local and immediate crisis of public education.

That crisis became all but unavoidable when, with an almost off-hand statement, José Carrión III, Chairman of Puerto Rico’s unelected yet powerful Financial Oversight and Management Board (or “Junta” in Spanish), condemned the public university to extinction:

The Board is supportive of the Governor’s difficult decision to reduce subsidies to the University of Puerto Rico by $300 million in FY19. The magnitude of the Government’s structural deficit, however, requires that this reduction in annual subsidy grow to a minimum of $450 million by FY21. 1

Even before these words, students, faculty and workers at UPR were already gearing up for an intense fight against Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares’ proposed $300 million cut for 2017–18. The Junta demanded even more than Rosselló Nevares’ proposed austerity, deepening the UPR budget cut by $150 million, rejecting the governor’s fiscal plan as not austere and draconian enough. Given the current university budget of $835 million, fixed at that rate by the previous administration’s austerity measures in 2014, the Junta and the governor have effectively announced the destruction of Puerto Rico’s public university system, which serves more than 60,000 students. Concurrently, they have called for wide cuts to health-care provisions and pensions, as well as announced the closing of at least 300 public schools by August of this year and threatened the existence of two public arts universities not part of the UPR system.

Cutting such a large amount of the University budget will most certainly go hand in hand with tuition hikes, making public higher education inaccessible to thousands. It will also mean lowering wages and eliminating what workers’ rights remain at the University, as well as doing away with programs that waived tuition for certain groups of students. The possibility of selling or closing down campuses is also looming on the horizon.

It was widely reported that at the Junta’s last meeting, on March 16th, the board acknowledged that the analysis behind the cuts was purely a matter of accounting – it was not even a “rational” or economic decision. The Junta’s purpose, after all, is to hack and cut, making sure that the Government of Puerto Rico has as its main goal repaying its incommensurably high debt. In order to implement the cuts at UPR and other public universities, however, the Government and the Junta will have to first deal with the challenge the university community and specifically students are posing.

In response, more than 10,000 students from thirteen different public colleges and universities gathered in San Juan on April 5th, 2017 to declare the beginning of a national student strike. The strike resolution reads as a decidedly political statement: starting from an identification of the Junta’s purpose as an entity concerned with repaying the debt, even at the cost of “essential services” and the defense of “the welfare of the people,” it goes on to articulate an opposition to budget cuts to the universities, declaring the university administration “accomplices” to the Junta. Moreover, in light of the very real possibility that a large amount, if not most, of the debt was probably issued illegally and in violation the Puerto Rican constitution, 2 the resolution pairs the rejection of budget cuts with a central political demand: that the debt be audited and a moratorium on debt payments be declared. Students are demanding,

That the Citizen Commission for the Audit of the Debt and its budget be immediately restituted, the process of auditing begins, and that a moratorium on the debt be declared before and during its audit. 3

The students are referring to the Commission for the Integral Audit of the Public Credit, an independent entity created reluctantly towards the end of the Alejandro García Padilla administration in 2016. It was quickly dismantled by Rosselló Nevares, who has explicitly disavowed his predecessor’s declaration that the debt was “not payable” and whose administration is committed to paying it, even if it was illegally issued. 4 Although there is a debate within the student movement over what exactly would constitute a satisfactory audit and moratorium of the debt, in calling for the Commission’s reinstatement and therefore setting the legitimacy and legality of the public debt in its sights, the student movement has taken an action that exceeds its character as a narrow, student effort circumscribed to the academic setting. As a mass movement it inserts itself into the political heart of the conjuncture of struggle. In order to understand how these thousands of students stopped acting “like students” and began deliberating, acting, and demanding in a clear and self-consciously political field of struggle, it is necessary to look at the history of student struggle in Puerto Rico.

When ten thousand people met to decide what was to be done against the cuts, they arrived at their national student assembly as the bearers of a long tradition of struggle and radicalism. For more than twelve hours, thousands not only gathered to protest, but also engaged in actual direct democracy: student assemblies in Puerto Rico, far from being simply demonstrations or performances for the media, are deliberative bodies. Their existence and history is intertwined with a broad, rich trajectory of forms and practices of organization that constitute an important element of Puerto Rican politics in general. As elsewhere in the world, student movements in Puerto Rico have never been merely student affairs: they are an instantiation of politics and, despite what some old-school dogmatists might hold, class struggles.

The April 5th national assembly represents only the latest event in that long history. Although it might appear contradictory when speaking of a youth political movement, here tradition comes to the forefront. It is not uncommon to hear young, radicalized people being charged with lack of memory. However, in Puerto Rico, it has also become common for striking students to be attacked for too much memory. They are called nostalgics, as if their protests were a mere simulacrum or unthinking reiteration of the past glories of a movement that, however appropriate it might have been before the Wall had fallen and history came to a standstill, is now a thing so much of the past as to be otherworldly. If student protests in Puerto Rico have done something, however, it is to bridge the gap between the pasts and presents of struggle not through adulating commemoration, but through the crafting of an engaged, radical practice of memory.

La Junta: Neoliberal Reaction in a Colonial Context

Last year, the United States Congress passed the PROMESA bill, creating a new structure of governance above Puerto Rico’s elected, yet colonial, administration. This unelected body, known in Spanish as “Junta de Control Fiscal,” is tasked with overseeing the continuation and deepening of aggressive austerity measures and structural reforms with two aims: guaranteeing the repayment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico’s immense public debt, and fiscal discipline to re-establish its capacity to continue acquiring immense public debt. In order to accomplish this, the Junta is empowered to take over the Government’s finances, imposing priorities and demanding cuts, as well as demolishing labor rights and environmental protections. In a nutshell, with PROMESA, a Republican-conceived bill that garnered Hillary Clinton’s support and Barack Obama’s signature, any veneer of autonomy in Puerto Rico has been stripped from the islands’ relation to the United States and financial capital: Puerto Rico has reverted from the self-managed colonialism inaugurated by the Commonwealth in 1952 to a reconstructed direct colonialism articulated in a specifically neoliberal way.

The main mechanism for the Junta’s control over Puerto Rico is its ability to control the Commonwealth’s budget by demanding fiscal goals and retaining ultimate decisional power over required fiscal plans. Under the law, the Junta has authority over any legislation approved by the government: it even has the power to revert any bill passed, which it deems not in accord with the fiscal goals it has set. 5

The Junta exists in the preferred sphere of neoliberal institutions: way above any form of democratic or popular accountability. The classic rationale for central bank independence is the same that informs the genesis of the Junta. By establishing institutions whose actual fiscal power is inversely proportional to the people’s ability to control them through political means, neoliberals argue, populist pressure upon governing bodies can be eliminated, therefore allowing the implementation of adjustment programs and austerity measures, the famous unpopular, yet “unavoidable” dogma of neoliberal fiscal policy. In Puerto Rico’s Junta, an additional element must be considered: because of the colonial relationship existing between Puerto Rico and the United States, the Control Board was established not by a vote of Puerto Rico’s nominally liberal-democratic institutions, but by an outside decision of Congress, which arrogates to itself sovereignty over Puerto Rico. Therefore, the Junta exists at a double remove from democratic legitimacy: it is as much a reactionary expression of the commonplaces of neoliberal dogma as it is an instantiation of what can only be termed colonial-capitalism.

It is against this double removal of power from the people that the student movement has emerged, denouncing it through the enactment of a diametrically opposed politics. In the April 5th assembly, what was seen was not only a preparatory stage, a moment in a wider struggle, but the struggle itself. The assembled students put into practice the possible, if fleeting, negation of the limits represented and embodied by the Junta and the Commonwealth. The ensuing strikes, in which hundreds of students are occupying their campuses until their demands are met, are the consequent execution of the democratic decisional power put on display at the assemblies.

The Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colonial-Capitalism

Far from only being an important component of its capitalist economy or a romanticized means of social mobility, the UPR also represents a main battlefield of radical politics in the islands of Puerto Rico, as not only a locus of radical thought, but also and most importantly the site of this combative student movement, which has been at the forefront of resistance to neoliberalism and colonialism for decades.

Socially, the public university system has been historically central to Puerto Rico’s capitalist development. Spain, it is often remembered, never built an education system there; that “achievement” would be left to the new colonial rulers after their “arrival” in 1898.

Although by the late-19th century there was already an emergent capitalist economy in Puerto Rico, it was not until the aggressive economic development under U.S. rule that a modern industrial economy appeared, hand-in-hand with an education system that catered to it. Within that economy, public education in general and UPR in particular played an important role in training cadre for industry, as well as leading industrial research. By contributing to efforts such as the creation of a modern rum industry or the elimination of tropical disease, UPR was inserted into Puerto Rico’s developmental project. Furthermore, it provided the space for the Puerto Rican elite to cement its ideological hegemony, as the remnants of the old ruling class, those that had never forgiven the Spanish for not allowing them a university, found within its halls a privileged space to reproduce themselves as social clique and to exert undue influence over national development. However, the populist aspect of the development project also meant that higher education acquired a mass character: by the 1960s this was a requirement of the chosen development path, which by prioritizing capital intensive industry required a highly educated working class, rather than the uneducated masses necessary for a mostly agricultural economy dominant until the 1950s.

Since the mid-1990s, however, the thorough neoliberalization of Puerto Rico’s economy has immersed the country in a profound crisis, whose basis was set by the bankruptcy of the development project pursued since the 1970s: industrial development through corporate tax incentives. As the University is not a bubble, but an institution directly related to the capitalist economy, we can say that the crisis in higher education is not a crisis of higher education, nor just an instance of the fiscal crisis of the state. On the contrary, what has been happening at the University is a repercussion of the colonial-capitalist accumulation crisis.

Nevertheless, if what is happening to colonial-capitalism in Puerto Rico could be called a crisis when the economy entered “recession” in 2006, after more than a decade without economic growth it is hard to see it as anything else than the agonic death-tendency of its pre-crisis form, even if we must make the usual caveat that it is, as all tendencies, asymptotical. What sense does it make to speak of “crisis” when the present condition has been the daily experience of the Puerto Rican people for more than a decade? A “crisis” implies a temporary, if recurrent, event, yet what is happening in Puerto Rico is the new normality of colonial-capitalist production there. 

Certainly, as Argeo Quiñones and Ian Seda point out, even if the decomposition of colonial capitalism has had its winners and losers, with capitalists reaping benefit even in the context of a depression, it cannot be denied that even in capitalist terms Puerto Rico’s economy is a disaster. 6 Even the Junta acknowledges the bleak situation capitalism finds itself in Puerto Rico, as it does not believe any nominal economic growth will happen until 2022 while it assumes that the demanded austerity measures will result in an immediate and massive contraction of the economy of 16.2% in 2018 (in real terms). 7

As a state apparatus embedded in this colonial-capitalist context, the University’s ideological function is clear. Its prestige as a space for perceived social advancement has allowed subsequent governments to use access to the UPR as a cooptation mechanism, opening its doors when wide swaths of working-class youth would otherwise be faced with unemployment. However, this hegemonic possibility has been mostly eroded by austerity and neoliberalism. Furthermore, even if the ideological function of the University has not changed fundamentally, the way in which it plays an economic role has and will: the Junta has demanded the University be further corporatized, by effectively transforming it into a revenue-producing government owned corporation able to provide services and profit off of intellectual property.

At the UPR, 28% of students live in households that earn less than $10,000 a year; 42% less than $25,000. This means that at least a third of UPR’s students live in poverty, although the number could be higher. At the national level, the poverty rate stands at 46% and the median household income at $19,350. University students, both at UPR and in private colleges, are highly dependent upon federal subsidies to study: 70% of UPR students receive Pell Grants, with half of all them receiving the full amount.

Young people outside the universities do not have it much better. A recently approved labor reform has eliminated almost all existing labor rights by extending probation periods during which workers are essentially out in the cold for two years, as well as taking down other regulations, such as guaranteed overtime pay for working Sundays. And although it has not been implemented yet, the PROMESA bill gave the Government a further card to play against workers by authorizing it to lower the minimum wage of anyone under 25 years old to $4.25 per hour.

If $450 million is cut from the UPR budget over the next four years, the tens of thousands of students who will be kicked out of the public universities will be faced with the bleak prospects of an agonizing capitalist economy. For many, the only option will be emigration. Furthermore, if planned tuition hikes go into place, higher education will mean, as it already does in the United States, the certainty of unbearable personal debt, a condition that students in Puerto Rico are experiencing already, especially those in private institutions: from 2006 to 2015, Puerto Rican students’ debt with Sallie Mae grew 43% to $464.7 million. 8 The stagnant economy and the draconian austerity of the labor reform mean that the destruction of the public university will have dire effects for Puerto Rico’s young workers.

Puerto Rican Student Movements: Shifting Demands and Forms of Struggle

To add insult to injury, the Government’s plan for cuts to higher education includes eliminating $3 million for the tuition exemption program. Although a small part of the overall plan, it is a highly symbolic element. In April 2010, UPR students shut down the university system in a two-month long occupation of ten campuses, demanding the tuition exemption program be kept intact, as well as opposing privatization and rejecting the elimination of summer courses. Their militancy was met with intransigence and, eventually, violence: by late-2010 the Río Piedras campus was occupied again, by police this time, in response to a renewal of the student strike now in opposition to an $800 increase in tuition. To eyes accustomed to the astronomical figures of U.S. college tuition, an extra $800 per year may not seem much, but it represented an almost doubling of fees and led to some 10,000 students dropping out, unable to pay.

The 2010 conjuncture showed that student struggle in Puerto Rico has never been a merely sectoral affair. Strikes at UPR are a feature of social struggle nationally; student movements emerge with greater force in the context of heightened upheaval in the wider society. It was far from a coincidence that the 1981 student strike was held concurrently as the electric utility workers engaged in an intense and violent strike. Nor that the 2010 strikes occurred along with contemporary struggles against austerity, exemplified by resistance to Governor Luis Fortuño Burset’s “economic emergency” declaration, which entrenched the use of a neoliberal state of exception as the main form of crisis-reaction. Today, the fact that the Junta’s demands to reshape Puerto Rico into a machine geared totally towards repaying the debt are at the core of what is taking place at UPR only underscores the intimate relation between national politico-economic conditions and the student movement.

Perhaps in an outdated manner, Puerto Rico’s student movement has been mostly famous for being a pillar of opposition to colonialism in nationalistic terms. This image is not false, but it obscures a drastic change in the character of student mobilization since the early 1980s. If from the 1940s to the 1970s student movements were mainly concerned with the national question, with organizations such as the Federación de Universitarios Pro Independencia (FUPI) and the Juventud Independentista Universitaria (JIU)  leading the way, 9 the 1981 strike marked a turning point. Led by a broad student committee within which socialists and radical Christians influenced by Liberation Theology had the most prominent voices, 1981 finds the student movement becoming more and more concerned with economic issues: that strike was the first against tuition hikes, in response to which students demanded not free tuition, but a system of fees adjusted to student incomes, in which poor and working class students would pay nothing or next-to-nothing and the well-off oligarchy that enjoyed subsidies for their children at the public university would be charged much more.

Economic, rather than nationalistic, issues have been the concern of student movements ever since. In 1992 and 2005, students struck against tuition hikes. In 1998, they joined teachers in resisting an attempt to defund the University in order to create a voucher program aimed at destroying K–12 public education, a move attempted by then-Governor Pedro Rosselló González, the father of the current governor (and by some accounts, the one still pulling the strings). In the lead up to 1998, the fiction of University autonomy and “non-confrontation” was broken. After the struggle of the ‘60s through the early ‘80s, university administrators instituted a policy of not directly repressing student protests, the cornerstone of which was the reform and disarmament of the University Guard and the commitment to not allowing police within the campus. However, the struggles around ’98 were met with the use of the Fuerza de Choque, the notorious anti-riot force. To underscore the point about national-university conjunctural interrelation, it is important to note that the immediate context of 1998 also saw two epochal struggles against neoliberalism and for national dignity: during the summer, workers struck against the privatization of the Puerto Rico Telephone Company and shortly thereafter, in spring 1999, the final push against the presence of the U.S. Navy in Vieques began after the murder of David Sanes.

Throughout this history, the student movement has not only shifted focus in terms of demands, but also experimented with various forms of organization. 10 Perhaps the most striking is the general assemblies described above. Representing all of the students of a campus, these must gather at least ten percent of the student body to be considered legitimate. Once they do so, they behave as a sovereign deliberative body, autonomous from the institutional arrangement to which they are nominally wedded. Repeated attempts at controlling general assemblies have failed. Nominally a body of each university’s officially recognized student council, assemblies as sites of struggle do not hold themselves to the institutional limitations imposed upon them, but rather exceed them. Their practice goes beyond the institutional constraints and directly challenges legality. According to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, students have no legal right to strike; however, this has not stopped students from striking. According to the Legislative Assembly, no decision taken at general assemblies carries weight unless it is approved in an online electronic vote; however, no such vote has ever been carried out: assemblies have consistently ignored the law and remain true to their direct, participatory character.

Another relevant organizational form is the action or struggle committee, organized within the context of a specific school within the university. Not exactly fronts or political organizations, these groups are composed of students willing to do something. As their name suggests, they are oriented towards practice. In 2010, most of these took the name of Comité de Acción, harkening back to the upheavals in Paris in 1968, when worker and student action committees were formed in the context of the May events. Although many students may be unaware of this “genealogy,” committees for struggle work because they are able to provide a space in which organizational memory is not limited to the members of political organizations. These are spaces for the socialization of practice and the democratization of theory geared for action. Nevertheless, action committees are a relatively recent innovation in the Puerto Rican context as students had traditionally organized around issue-based campaign committees or fronts composed of political and student organizations. With the creation of open committees of general struggle, also known as committees “for struggle” or “of the base,” a new type of structure has proliferated, in which participation is not on the basis of belonging to a particular group, but of being an individual committed to militant action. Recent events have seen action committees spring back to life at the UPR, showing that this form of organization may have supplanted in practice the much yearned for yet never achieved “student union.”

Intermediate forms of organization also exist, such as the “pleno”: a plenary meeting of all students willing to take action within a campus. Plenos have acted as coordinating spaces and decisional bodies, but they are neither formal networks nor do they have the scope of general assemblies. Their purpose has been to allow activists to come together, collaborate, and decide upon actions that require campus-wide discussion. It would be an error to not also mention political organizations, which have consistently played an important role in student struggle, especially when it comes to planning and executing the more direct elements of actions. In the present situation, however, the crisis of the Puerto Rican Left outside of UPR has shown itself inside, with political groups finding themselves in a state of disorganization as the movement gained force.

Political Character of the Current Student Strike

Perhaps the distinguishing characteristic of the most recent mobilizations by Puerto Rican students is their explicitly political character. It is one thing for student movements to be analyzed as political, it is another for them to think themselves as such, in their immediate demands and goals. The first is a constitutive element of their existence, the second, an innovation, at least in the directness of the politics of current demands. Even in the 1960s and early 1970s, when students struggled against national and international political issues, they did so by displacing it into the university context: thus struggle against the Vietnam War and the draft were enacted within the university as struggle against its representatives on campus, namely the ROTC.

Further on, student struggles against neoliberalism occurred via demands with clear and exclusively student character. At no other moment than 2010 was this more evident. The contexts in which both movements developed are different, as now there is a very low level of protest in Puerto Rico, contrary to what was the case in 2010 when labor unions and other groups were very actively opposing austerity. The character and expression of the movements are also distinct, even if the tactics, methods, and organizational forms represent a clear continuity. The main difference between then and what is happening now is in terms of demands: 2010 was a victorious fight against neoliberal austerity carried out via strictly student demands, such as defending tuition exemptions. However, now students’ demands are straightforwardly political and not circumscribed to the academic setting; addressing them would force the Government into a direct confrontation with the Junta. Thus they bring to light the main politico-economic contradictions of the conjuncture. 

For this reason, they have been criticized: how do students intend to pressure the university administration with demands that are beyond the scope of the institution? This critique, common among detractors of the strikes, widely misreads what is entailed by the fact that current demands are political, rather than just “student demands.” By putting into evidence the impossibility a confrontation between the government and Junta, the student mobilization unmasks the limits of Puerto Rico’s current political institutions. The direness of the contemporary situation, in which the agony of colonial-capitalism is unavoidable, has done away with even the possibility of pretense.

In the assemblies and at the occupations, students have stopped being “students”: here lies the limit of understanding struggle within institutions of education through the institution’s own academic lens. Students may very well occupy a certain position within the university structure, within the education process. But when they act politically, when they occupy a campus indefinitely, demanding epochal political changes, students stop behaving “as students”; their actions exceed the limits of that condition. And even though they always “do” politics in some sense, it is now plain to see: in hours like these, we are “at last compelled to face with sober senses” the nakedness of our conditions and relations.

At Puerto Rico’s universities, students have developed a rich tradition of struggle over many decades. If that heritage is being mobilized without nostalgia, it is not because of any magical characteristics we might ascribe to “youth” in the abstract, but because subsequent generations of students have reconstructed this memory by way of organization and action– in short by not constraining themselves to being “students.” If nothing else, those occupying campuses and striking in the present, as in the past, are signaling to the Puerto Rican people and beyond where the limits of our contemporary situation reside: they have identified a real enemy, the Junta, and the system that makes it possible, neoliberalism and colonialism. Their actions do not illuminate or “show the way,” they are the path.


1 José B. Carrión III, Letter to Governor Rosselló Nevares, March 9, 2017.
2 According to the preliminary analysis of the main campaign for a citizenship audit, Frente Ciudadano por la Auditoría de la Deuda, most of the debt was issued in dubious circumstances, a large amount of it is product of onerous interest rates of between 614% and 785%, and large swathes of it are revenue bonds issued “extra-constitutionally.” The upshot is that, even within the confines of bourgeois legality, a lot of the debt is blatantly illegitimate and probably should not be paid, even though the current government is committed to paying it in full, without audit, and even dismantled the official Audit Commission created by the previous administration to audit it.
3 The resolution approved declaring the strike can be found here.
4 After a short-lived reinstatement by court order, the Commission was finally dissolved on April 19th, 2017. During his announcement of the Commission’s elimination, the Governor was also cited as saying that the illegality of the debt did not preclude its repayment. See “Rosselló Elimina Comisión para la Auditoría de la Deuda,” El Nuevo Día, April 19, 2017.
5 As it reminded the governor recently. See José B. Carrión’s letter to the Governor on March 27th, 2017.
6 Argeo Quiñones-Pérez and Jorge Seda-Irizarry, “Wealth Extraction, Governmental Servitude, and Social Disintegration in Colonial Puerto Rico,” New Politics, Winter 2016.
7 See Carrión’s letter on March 9th, cited above, as well as the January 18th letter.
8 Puerto Rico Planning Board, “Apéndice Estadístico al Informe del Gobernador,” 2016.
9 FUPI, founded in 1956, was a nationalist revolutionary organization that eventually linked itself to the Puerto Rican Socialist Party as its effective if unofficial youth-wing. After PSP’s long agony, culminating in disbandment in 1993, FUPI struggled to find relevance. Although there have been attempts at reviving FUPI afterwards, some at odds with each other, splits and expulsions in the mid-1990s broke all continuity with the historical organization. JIU was the radicalized youth wing of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, expelled in 1973 for embracing revolutionary socialism, rather than the party’s official Scandinavian-style social-democracy, it eventually broke up into more radical organizations such as Unión de Juventudes Socialistas, then the youth of the Guevarist Movimiento Socialista Popular, and JIU-Organización Democrática, linked to the semi-clandestine, Maoist Partido Socialista Revolucionario (M-L). Most of these organizations were not exclusively composed of university students, but also organized at the high school level, as well as young workers. MSP and PSR would eventually fuse into the Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadores (today, Movimiento Socialista de Trabajadoras y Trabajadores), an organization of which the author is a member.
10 A recent interview with a Río Piedras student organizer, Gabriel Casal Nazario, provides a brief overview of how these forms of organization are being used in the present process, emphasizing historical continuity and conjunctural experimentation. See Dorian Bon, “The future of our university is at stake (Interview: Gabriel Casal Nazario),” Socialist Worker, April 18, 2017.

Author of the article

is a socialist activist from San Juan, Puerto Rico, currently studying political theory at the CUNY Graduate Center.