Viva Puerto Rico Libre!

July 24 Marches Mark 100 Years
of U.S. Colonialism

Revolutionary Worker #968, August 9, 1998

July 25, 1998--Many thousands of people took to the streets in Puerto Rico, New York City and Washington, DC to protest a century of U.S. domination over Puerto Rico. In their banners, speeches and cultural performances, people expressed their deep support for the right of the Puerto Rican nation to decide its own future. And they demanded freedom for the much-loved Puerto Rican independence fighters who are still held in prison by the U.S. government.

A hundred years ago, U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico. They landed at the small southwestern port of Guánica and fanned out to conquer the island. The U.S. high command claimed they had come to free Puerto Rico from Spain, but they established themselves as new colonial masters. Today, after a century, the imperialists still claim Puerto Rico as "U.S. territory." The economy of the island has been twisted and distorted to serve the profits of U.S. corporations. The people have been used as cheap labor in the cane fields and in the sweatshops. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to leave their homeland for the barrios of New York and Chicago. And the Spanish language and rich culture of this island have been under constant attack.

On July 25 the resistance of the Puerto Rican people was center stage.

The roads heading for the quiet town of Guánica were crammed with thousands of cars and buses coming from all over the island. In the harbor itself, thousands gathered to celebrate the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. A two-mile march route to Guánica's harbor was packed with people--and the harbor itself was dotted with the boats of this coast's fishermen--flying the flag of Puerto Rico. Chants rang out for independence, for the removal of U.S. bases, for the release of the political prisoners, and for socialism. Speakers at the rally included Lolita Lebrón and Rafael Cancel Miranda--independence fighters who had spent decades in U.S. prisons after their 1954 armed attack on Congress. The organizers of the event were a broad coalition that included both radical forces opposed to U.S. imperialism and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (which advocates a neocolonial independence).

In Puerto Rico last month, the working people staged a powerful two-day general strike against the sale of the Puerto Rican phone company to a U.S. corporation. And in Guánica, on July 25, many signs read "ˇPuerto Rico no se vende!" (Puerto Rico is not for sale)--continuing that struggle and spirit.

On that same day, the streets in New York City and Washington, DC echoed with the chants "ˇViva Puerto Rico Libre!" --as thousands rallied to protest U.S. colonialism. People came to march from the huge Puerto Rican communities of New York and Chicago--and from a dozen other places in the U.S.--often riding busses through the night to join the actions. Revolutionary nationalist organizations and prisoner support committees had worked hard to build the marches. College and high school students were especially prominent--a new generation was there to be heard.

At all the events, Puerto Rican political prisoners were presente in a powerful way--at the United Nations in New York, at the White House in DC and on the island itself. You could see the faces of the 16 imprisoned Puerto Rican fighters everywhere you looked--on posters, banners and T-shirts. People were clear in their demand: It is time to free these fighters NOW!

Many people told the Revolutionary Worker how moved they were at the tremendous solidarity among Puerto Ricans that day. And how thrilled that so many people from many other nationalities had come to support the just cause of Puerto Rican independence.

Hundreds of copies of the Revolutionary Worker were sold at the marches in New York and Washington. The Revolutionary Communist Party banner carried that day proclaimed "Free Puerto Rico!" in English and Spanish.


Meanwhile, agents of imperialism were also busy on July 25. Puerto Rico's governor Pedro J. Rosselló tried to turn all of history upside down--by gathering supporters of Puerto Rican statehood to celebrate the U.S. conquest of their island. Addressing a crowd far smaller than the independentista rally across town, Rosselló unfurled a U.S. flag with 51 stars on it, and announced that his island government would stage a plebiscite in December. This new plan actually revealed that the pro-statehood forces have suffered a major setback in their annexationist campaign: the infamous Young Bill has stalled in the U.S. Senate, and plans for a U.S. mandated plebiscite on statehood are on hold. This is because powerful forces in the U.S. ruling class oppose admitting a Spanish-speaking territory as a state--not wanting to upset their reactionary agenda of imposing English-only on the other 50 states. So, Rosselló is proposing his own vote on Puerto Rican status--without an endorsement of the U.S. Congress. He wants Puerto Rican people to endorse statehood in this referendum, and then go begging on their knees to the U.S. government for admission.

As the RCP said in its recent statement on the 100th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico:

"The imperialists claim today that Puerto Rico now rules itself--in `voluntary association' with the United States. They claim that deepened integration with the U.S. is the island's only hope for prosperity. They stage plebiscites and elections--and then announce that the dreams of independence have faded in the hearts of Puerto Rico's people.

"But we know none of this is true!

"All the `status options' the U.S. `offers' in their staged plebiscites--statehood, commonwealth or phony `independence'--represent a continuation of the U.S. domination of Puerto Rico. No matter what new arrangements the U.S. imposes on the people of Puerto Rico, a future under U.S. imperialism will be filled with continued exploitation, the ongoing destruction of Puerto Rico's land and waters, and systematic assault on the people's language and culture. The people of Puerto Rico can never solve the problems that face them without forcing U.S. military bases off their island and breaking the grip of U.S. corporations over their lands and industry."

The marches on July 25 were a step forward in that struggle for Puerto Rican liberation. And they were a forceful statement from many different forces demanding the release for the imprisoned independence fighters--whose only crime was risking all for the freedom of Puerto Rico.

New York

"Independence! That is the solution! I am very happy, the young people have the spirit. I know the fight will go on!"

Puerto Rican man, smiling as he
watched the New York march

In New York City, the biggest concentration of Puerto Rican people outside the island, thousands marched to the United Nations under the banner, "100 Years of U.S. Colonialism! BASTA YA." The call for independence was clear. Banners, sign and chants said:

"Independence Sí! Yanquis No! Colonialism No!"
"U.S. Imperialism Out of Puerto Rico!"
"U.S. Troops Out!"

Popular T-shirts proclaimed: "Fuera imperialismo yankee de Puerto Rico" (U.S. Imperialism out of Puerto Rico).

One of the chants on the official march list was particularly popular:

"Esta lucha va a llegar
a la guerra popular
ˇQue va a llegar, que va a llegar
a la guerra popular!"

This struggle gonna take us
to people's war.
Gonna take us, take us
to people's war!

The organization Parents Against Police Brutality was given an honored spot at the head of the march. And many people described the link between colonial domination in Puerto Rico and the oppression of Puerto Rican people in the U.S. The spokeswoman for the National Congress of Puerto Rican Rights said at the rally, "The police are the armed wing of the United States of America, whether it be here in New York or Puerto Rico....we will not have justice until we, as Puerto Rican people, are able to live our lives with sovereignty and walk with dignity where we please."

Over 200 young Puerto Rican men and women marched as part of a contingent from The Almighty Latin Kings and Queens--a street organization that has recently been hit with police repression because of their political activism. King Tone of the Latin Kings had been specifically denied permission to attend this march by a judge--and sent a message of support.

A strong contingent was there under the banners of the Puerto Rican Collective--which organized actively for this march in colleges and communities. Buses brought people from other areas, including Boston, Cleveland and Connecticut.

Many other nationalities marched to support the Puerto Rican struggle: a contingent of Dominican people, groups from many Latin American countries, and activists from the anti-intervention movements. One banner proclaimed: "Asians for an Independent Puerto Rico, Resisting 100 Years of Colonialism." African American people, white youth and many more swelled the crowd.

The highly spirited march extended over 12 blocks as it stopped traffic and poured down 2nd Avenue towards the United Nations. Organizers estimated that 8,000 people participated.

The rally near the United Nations was MC'ed by the Comité '98, and featured many speakers and messages strongly demanding independence for Puerto Rico. The names of the 16 Puerto Rican political prisoners and POWs were read from the stage--as the crowd shouted back each time: Presente!

Representatives of the Taino people, the original inhabitants of Puerto Rico island, recounted the early history of the island.

Speakers included a representative of the Nation of Islam, the Methodist Bishop of Puerto Rico, and the national president of the United Church of Christ, who expressed support for independence and the freedom of the political prisoners.

Veteran revolutionary activist Yuri Kochiyama paid tribute to the heroism of the imprisoned Puerto Rican independentistas and pointed out that 1998 also marks 100 years of struggle against U.S. imperialism in Guam and the Philippines.

Solidarity messages from the political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier were greeted with cheers.

The finale of the day was a rousing performance by the band Ricanstruction. The crowd joined in the band's call for "Revolución!" A promise of more to come.

Washington, DC

"It was a very emotional moment. A number of prisoners spoke to us over the phone through the PA system. The signal was very weak. The MC held the phone to a microphone. Everybody just quieted down. They had their ears glued to those speakers, listening to every word....

"They talked about our right to self determination--they stood firm in their position and convictions of what they done. No regrets--they're very strong people. They shared their reflections on 100 years of colonialism in Puerto Rico, but interestingly enough they talked about the reality of the Puerto Rican people here in the U.S., since many of them were brought up in that reality....

"I was moved by their strength and their lack of bitterness. It is hard to describe, cuz you're listening to people that have sacrificed so much. Because they have stayed steadfast by their principles. They are not--after being in jail 15, 18 years--changing their mind, or trying to find some compromise way of getting out of jail. And you would think that if they had played that game they would have been released by now. These people are the real thing. They're what we call--los imprescindibles, the essential, the indispensable. They've dedicated their lives to the struggle."

A long time Puerto Rican activist from Chicago,
speaking to the RW

The march in Washington, DC was determined to bring the issue of the political prisoners right to the White House--to demand that justice be done, that these heroic fighters finally be allowed back onto the streets, back into the embrace of the people. And so it was fitting that the highlight of the protest were the words of Puerto Rican independence fighters speaking over a phone hook-up from the U.S. dungeons.

The slogan of the DC march was "A century after the invasion, we still march as a nation!" And at every turn, this gathering was an affirmation of Puerto Rican identity and culture. It was alive with songs, performances, and waving Puerto Rican flags. People repeatedly quoted nationalist leader Juan Antonio Corretjer: "I would be Puerto Rican, even if I were born on the moon."

Many people had come long distances --including from Boston, Orlando, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis and New York. (One participant from Chicago told the RW of watching videos of Panther, Sankofa and Braveheart on the long ride.)

Among organizations represented were the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners, National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, the Revolutionary Communist Party, Refuse & Resist!, Workers World Party, Socialist Workers Party, Queers for Social Justice and Prairie Fire Organizing Committee.

The actions started with an overnight vigil by relatives and supporters of the political prisoners--in front of the White House from noon June 24 to noon July 25. Then a major service was held at the National City Christian Church, with speeches and music. The gathering was told that the United Church of Christ has called for release of the prisoners since 1991, and that others like the World Council of Churches and most denominations in Puerto Rico were now joining the call for their release.

One marcher told the RW: "After every speaker there was this huge roar of applause and shouts of `Puerto Rico Libre!' And then, just to see the long church steps--just covered with people, pouring out with flags, and extremely colorful banners!..."

The marchers headed for the White House to a powerful drumbeat. The main demands of this rally had been freeing the Puerto Rican political prisoners, an end to U.S. colonialism and self-determination for Puerto Rico. And it quickly became clear what the marchers meant by "self- determination." The chants rang out "Independencia para Puerto Rico!"

The rally in Lafayette Square opened with a passionate performance of revolutionary songs by the well-known Puerto Rican musician Roy Brown.

The voices of political prisoners were broadcast. Carmen Valentín spoke first and honored those who had gathered to fight for liberation: "I love you. I am so proud of being a Puerto Rican. Yo soy una boricua.... You have converted 100 years of oppression into 100 years of resistance.... Being here with you confirms that the system has not won out. Some days I wake up smelling freedom because of all of your efforts!" Political prisoner Dylcia Pagán said "Today is 100 years--not of colonialism, but of showing the U.S. government that Puerto Rico belongs to the Puerto Rican people." Ida Luz Rodríguez told the crowd: "Puerto Rico is not for sale--will never be for sale...No to privatization...all military bases must fall...we are awake in the face of so much abuse...Que viva la independencia!"

Anti-imperialist prisoner Laura Whitehorn spoke to the crowd on behalf of herself and fellow prisoners Marilyn Beck and Linda Evans.

Family members of the political prisoners addressed the crowd, including Rev. José Torres (the husband of Alejandrina Torres and father of Carlos Alberto Torres). Josefina "Fifo" Rodríguez (mother of Ida Luz and Alicia Rodríguez) announced, "Still, to this day, the U.S. battle for the Puerto Rican soul has met with defeat."

Children from the Bruderhof communities came wearing T-shirts portraying the political prisoners and read letters to the crowd from their pen pals behind bars.

Statements were read, including from Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, the MOVE organization, and Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The Chicago offices of The National Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Political Prisoners of War told the RW that 4,000 people had participated in Washington, DC on July 25.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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