World

Gutierrez Rails Against "Human Rights Crisis" In Puerto Rico

PHOENIX - APRIL 25:  U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), speaks in favor of national immigration reform at a rally on April 25, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. A large crowd gathered to protest the passage of Arizona's tough new immigration enforcement law which was signed by the state's Republican governor Jan Brewer two days before. Critics of the law say that it will encourage racial profiling by law enforcement and endanger the civil rights.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

PHOENIX - APRIL 25: U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), speaks in favor of national immigration reform at a rally on April 25, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. A large crowd gathered to protest the passage of Arizona's tough new immigration enforcement law which was signed by the state's Republican governor Jan Brewer two days before. Critics of the law say that it will encourage racial profiling by law enforcement and endanger the civil rights. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2010 Getty Images)

With the ongoing student protests at the University of Puerto Rico and controversial use of force by police, Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL) took to the House floor to let his colleagues know about what he sees as injustice on the island.

"I want to talk to you today about a part of the world where the right of citizens of all walks of life to protest and speak their minds is being denied with clubs and pepper spray," Gutiérrez began.

"A part of the world where a student strike led the university to ban student protests on campus and where students protesting the crackdown on free speech were violently attacked by heavily armed police," he continued.

"Egypt? No. Protesters, exercising freedom of speech, brought down a dictator in Cairo," he said.

"What far-away land has seen student protest banned, union protesters beaten and free speech advocates jailed? The United States of America’s colony of Puerto Rico," he said.

At the University of Puerto Rico, protests led the President José Ramón de la Torre to resign on February 11 and the police presence to be drastically reduced by a governor's order.

Gutiérrez moved from attempts to silence the protesters to a lawyer who was thrown in jail for defending the rights of his colleagues.

Osvaldo Toledo, President of the Puerto Rico Bar Association, was held in contempt and jailed for holding a news conference where he told his colleagues how to protect themselves from a lawsuit.

"What was Osvaldo Toledo’s crime?" Gutiérrez asked. "Educating his members about how to opt out of a politically motivated lawsuit designed to destroy the organization. For me, this attack was the final straw and brought me to the floor to speak out," said the congressman, whose parents were born in Puerto Rico.

In closing, Gutiérrez invoked a lesson he says the world learned from the people of Egypt.

"Brutal laws and secret meetings and armed enforcers don’t extinguish the flame of justice – they are the spark that makes it burn brighter," he said.

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