Puerto Rico is investigating the suspicious wave of robberies and vandalism in its public schools that began after the government announced its intention to cancel its multimillion-dollar contract with a private company that guards the schools at night.

Education Secretary Rafael Roman and Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla have said that the robberies began before the night watchmen were dismissed.

The decision to cancel the contract with Genesis Security Services was announced last week by Roman, but did not take effect until this week.

This indicates that either the watchmen were not effective in their work, as Garcia Padilla said, or it was the watchmen themselves who were behind the suspected robberies in order to prove how badly they were needed.

Puerto Rico suffers from almost 14 percent unemployment and close to 45 percent of its population lives in poverty.

Up to now at least a dozen schools have suffered robberies. The latest occurred Friday at the Cacique Agueybana Specialized School of Cinematography in Bayamon, a city next to San Juan, where someone made off with a score of computers, along with photo and video cameras and television sets.

Police estimate that the stolen goods are worth some $31,000. The money originally came from federal funds, so that the school administration seriously doubts it will be reimbursed to replace what has gone missing.

In another of the thefts, the criminals left a note written on the blackboard in one of the classrooms vowing that the robberies would continue because of the government's decision to do away with the watchmen.

In view of that, Roman said he would ask the FBI to investigate the incidents and would speak with the Puerto Rico Mayors Association to present them with a proposal to have the municipalities take charge of security in public schools. EFE