Student Protests in Dominican Republic Shut Down Universities

Eight injured, several jailed amid charges students were armed

Tear gas filled the air and classes were suspended at universities in San Francisco de Macorís and Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, during student protests on Thursday and Friday, March 11 and 12, primarily over physical conditions at the medical and engineering schools in San Francisco de Macorís, in the northeast of the country.

The Frente Estudiantil de Liberación Amin Abel (FELABEL — Amin Abel Student Liberation Front) was expelled from the campus of the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD — Autonomous University of Santo Domingo) on Friday after federal authorities and university administrators announced they had discovered a cache of arms, including machine guns, rifles and hand grenades, in a basement room on the UASD campus used by the student group. Members of FELABEL, denying any responsibility for the weapons, said they had been planted by authorities to discredit the group and to distract attention from the aims of their protests.

In connection with the weapons, agents of the National Police arrested three student activists and the head of the UASD employees’ association, Ángel Osiris Torres, in a hospital waiting room where they had gone to visit Engel Rodríguez, who had been shot, reportedly by the National Police, during a demonstration at UASD on Thursday. Rodríguez was not himself involved in the demonstrations.

FELABEL had declared a few days before the demonstrations that the San Francisco de Macorís campus, opened 40 years ago and now serving some 15,000 students, “is in a truly deplorable state as far as the physical plant is concerned, not providing conditions for study appropriate for a university.”  The group charged that laboratories planned years before had still not been constructed and that students were provided a warehouse of books instead of a library. The group says that “authorities continue displaying palpable signs of indifference to students’ needs and incompetence in the exercise of their functions.”

Student demonstrators in Barahona on Saturday protested similar conditions at their own campus and expressed their solidarity with the protestors in Santo Domingo and San Francisco de Macorís.

In the meantime, UASD Rector Franklín García Fermín charged that government and university officials had instigated the violent campus protests in a conspircy to discredit his administration and to convert the university into a center of agitation. He said he had predicted the events in a letter he wrote to Dominican President Leonel Fernández on March 4.

The Frente Estudiantil de Liberación Amin Abel, formed in 1977, was named in honor of Amin Abel Hasbún, a Dominican of Arab descent who had been involved in opposition to the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo and to the coup against democratically elected President Juan Bosh and had supported the Constitutionalist uprising of 1965. He was assassinated in 1970, apparently by the National Police, during the 30-year regime of Joaquín Balaguer.

The Autonomous University of Santo Domingo traces its origins to the first university in the Americas, the Universidad Santo Tomás de Aquino, founded in 1538.

[Sources: Diario Libre, El Día, El Nacional, Hoy Digital, Listín Diario]

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