Clinton's Cruel Offer to
Puerto Rican Political Prisoners
Revolutionary Worker #1020, August 29, 1999
For 19 years, thousands and thousands of people have fought to reverse a great injustice: the imprisonment and intense mistreatment of Puerto Rican independentistas in U.S. prisons. For a moment this month, it seemed that the imprisoned fighters might be about to taste freedom--as the news flashed that "President Clinton was giving clemency" to these political prisoners. In 1979 four Puerto Rican nationalists were released after years in prison for the armed struggle. Was this a similar moment of victory?
But then the details sank in. Clinton did not agree to free the prisoners by commuting their sentences unconditionally. The White House offer is that these prisoners be released from prison, but serve the remainder of their sentences on the outside. This sets up the legal basis for a series of "conditions." These prisoners would be under the close supervision of the state for the remainder of their sentences (which in many cases means the rest of their lives).
Those "conditions" amount to a demand that these prisoners give up their cause publicly before the world and the people of Puerto Rico. It is a cruel and unjust offer for prisoners who have spent so many years suffering isolation, confinement, sensory deprivation, and the whole range of official punishment and brutality.
Clinton's offer reportedly insists that the prisoners (personally, individually and in writing) "renounce the use, attempted use, or advocacy of the use of violence as a condition for release." The U.S. imperialists have never renounced the use of violence against the people of Puerto Rico --and, in fact, one Puerto Rican civilian was recently killed by U.S. bombers during war games on the island of Vieques. Is it not a great injustice (and hypocrisy) to demand that the people renounce the use of arms in their struggle to be free from U.S. domination?
Clinton's offer demands that the prisoners accept the conditions imposed on paroled "felons." This is typical of the U.S.--which denies that there are any political prisoners--and claims it is imprisoning political opponents for "criminal" offenses.
In fact, these independentistas were imprisoned for fighting for the liberation of Puerto Rico--and in many cases were charged with "seditious conspiracy"--which makes it a crime to even discuss revolutionary acts. And, in practice, the parole conditions the government would impose on them are also highly political. The federal parole commission would have direct and close control over their lives, activities and travel--and would constantly hold the threat of returning them to prison if they did not do as told.
These parole conditions would mean that the prisoners would be forbidden to associate with other "convicted felons"--which of course means that they cannot meet with each other! They cannot attend conferences or gatherings where there would be other former prisoners. The U.S. government has repeatedly imprisoned leading activists and fighters, including many from the Puerto Rican liberation struggle--for armed acts, civil disobedience and draft resistance. Then this same government pretends that the demand to "not associate with other felons" is a small matter. It is (as the U.S. government knows well) a demand that these leading representatives of Puerto Rican independence withdraw from the struggle or face re-imprisonment.
It is a bitter irony that these Puerto Rican independentistas have more freedom of speech and association inside prison now than they would have outside prison under Clinton's conditions!
Another condition of parole is that the prisoners agree to meet with parole officers for years. This too is a highly political matter--it is a demand that these fighters repeatedly and publicly acknowledge the sovereignty of the U.S. federal government over themselves and Puerto Rico. It is a federal demand that they commit a public act of submission regularly for much of the rest of their lives.
This Clinton offer pointedly does not release all of the 15 political prisoners who have spent so many years in jail. It would only release 11 of the prisoners immediately (after they agreed to the conditions): Edwin Cortés, Elizam Escobar, Ricardo Jiménez, Adolfo Matos, Dylcia Pagán, Alberto Rodríguez, Alicia Rodríguez, Ida Luz Rodríguez, Luis Rosa, Alejandrina Torres, Carmen Valentín. The other four are treated differently: Juan Segarra Palmer would still be forced to serve five years (even if he agreed to the conditions.) Oscar López would still face 10 more years in prison (since he has been accused by the federal authorities of plotting to escape).
And there is no offer of release at all for Carlos Alberto Torres, who reportedly refused to "renounce violence" at a previous parole hearing, or for Antonio Camacho Negrón, who has already refused to acknowledge the authority of U.S. parole officers.
And finally, the federal authorities have pointedly refused to allow the prisoners the right to discuss this offer collectively. The prisoners are not allowed to confer by phone. When their lawyer requested that they be moved to the same facility to confer with each other and their attorneys, the request was quickly denied.
Politics of Cruelty, Rhetoric of Mercy
The Clinton administration has been under heavy pressure to free the Puerto Rican political prisoners. The demand has been broadly popular among Puerto Rican people. And in recent months a fresh and powerful movement has erupted in Puerto Rico to demand the removal of the U.S. navy from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Meanwhile a significant worldwide campaign has supported the release of political prisoners in the U.S.--including the Puerto Rican prisoners, Native American activist Leonard Peltier, and the revolutionary Black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. Millions of people around the world understand that the United States has held Puerto Rico as a colony for a hundred years--and that U.S. federal prisons are used to punish fighters for the liberation of Puerto Rico.
For the U.S.--which bombs the world under the banner of "defender of human rights and democracy"--international exposure of its imprisonment of political opponents is a major embarrassment and political problem.
At the same time, the U.S. has taken advantage of the current world situation to attempt to extinguish the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. The U.S. embargo and strangulation of Cuba is shown to the Puerto Rican people with the pointed message: This is what you can expect if you try to slip out of U.S. domination.
The U.S. has conducted referendums and elections "under the gun"--after which they claim that the Puerto Rican people have turned their back on independence. And meanwhile, the federal authorities have just sent another Puerto Rican activist to prison. Professor José Solís was sentenced to over four years in prison by a federal judge on July 7--after the FBI repeatedly and unsuccessfully pressured him to finger activists and leaders of the Puerto Rican community for indictments.
In short, the Clinton administration has fought to maintain permanent U.S. domination over Puerto Rico. Its offer to the imprisoned independentistas is not an act of mercy or justice--but a calculated part of this colonialist policy.
The Shameful Government Confessions
"The president reviewed the matter and obviously concluded that the sentences imposed for the crime committed were out of proportion to sentences for similar offenses for others."
Attorney General Janet Reno
"They no longer pose a danger to society. The rationale is they have served long enough for the crimes they have committed. If they were to commit such crimes today, they would not get such sentences."
White House spokesperson
These are individuals who were not convicted of any crime involving physical harm to any person and, yet, some of them received sentences of upwards of 50 years; some of them would not have been released for another 25 years or more, in fact, if the President had not acted."
White House spokesman Barry Toiv
Now, after these fighters have served 14 to 19 brutal years in prison, the White House admits that these were incredibly extreme sentences. What a confession by U.S. imperialism! And yet, having said that, this same White House imposes new political demands on the prisoners--that they publicly bow before U.S. imperialism and its colonial rule over Puerto Rico.
As we go to press, no statements have been released by the political prisoners themselves on the Clinton offer. However on August 20, a spokesperson for the federal Justice Department reported that none of the 11 political prisoners had accepted the August 11 clemency offer.
Meanwhile, the White House offer has intensified the struggle for unconditional release. Former political prisoner Lolita Lebrón said, "These are shameful demands. The president has insulted the dignity of the Puerto Rican nation and those who fight for its liberty." Supporters of the political prisoners quickly announced a letter-writing campaign demanding that the White House unconditionally release the prisoners.
The Revolutionary Communist Party,USA has expressed its strong support for the demand for the immediate and unconditional release of all Puerto Rican political prisoners, and its support for the Puerto Rican people's struggle for independence and national liberation.
The White House announcement has been criticized by a wide range of political figures in the U.S. and Puerto Rico including: Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Congressional Representatives Luis V. Gutiérrez and Nydia Velazquez, San Juan Archbishop Roberto González Nieves, New York City Councilman José Rivera, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and Mumia Abu-Jamal (see page 4).
If even the U.S. government now admits that the punishment of these independence fighters has been extreme and unjust--why are these freedom fighters not already out on the street?!
Free Puerto Rico!
Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners/POWs!
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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