Question: Could you tell us about the fight for the release of all the remaining Puerto Rican political prisoners, both the longtime independentista prisoners and those jailed for taking part in the successful struggle to get the U.S. Navy out of the island of Vieques?
Answer: There is an ongoing campaign, both in Puerto Rico and the United States, for the release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners. Three have been locked up in U.S. prisons for more than 20 years because of their actions for the freedom of Puerto Rico: Oscar López, Carlos Alberto Torres, and Haydée Beltrán.
They are serving long sentences. Oscar López, for example, would not be released until 2027, so it will take a political campaign to force the U.S. authorities to free him and the others.
Of the compañeros who were jailed for actions demanding the U.S. Navy get out of Vieques, two remain in federal prison. We will celebrate the release of José Vélez Acosta on January 27. José Pérez González is serving a sentence until January 2008, and we demand he be released immediately.
Q. The FBI killing of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, leader of the Macheteros pro-independence organization, on September 23, sparked protests and outrage among many Puerto Ricans. Could you comment on this?
A. When the U.S. government assassinated compañero Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, they made a big mistake. They always underestimate the national sentiment and the moral fiber of our people. They underestimated the capacity of the Puerto Rican people to react in face of such a vile murder. They are blinded, by their arrogance and class mentality, to the social demands and aspirations of freedom of oppressed peoples. So they are surprised when our people turn out in defense of one of their sons, recognizing Filiberto Ojeda Ríos as a national hero.
U.S. imperialism has dominated Puerto Rico politically and economically for more than a century. They try to make us believe they are giving us something, that they are sustaining us. But the opposite is truethey are exploiting us in every sense of the word. Puerto Ricos labor is plundered. Unemployment is officially 16-17 percent, but real unemployment is about 40 percent.
The imperialists have tried to destroy our national identity as a people. They have tried to force us to speak English. They have tried to deny us access to the history of our great men and women and the major events in our struggle for national liberation. They have tried to destroy our values of unity, fraternity, and humanism, and instead foster the mentality of the market and capitalist exploitation.
This has led to a new generation of rebel youth who react against this, who refuse to have their Puerto Rican identity uprooted.
Q. How do you see Puerto Rico in the world today?
A. I view the struggle for independence in the context of the worldwide fight against imperialism. I fight for the independence of Puerto Rico because its my trench in this struggle. But I would fight in any other country for the social demands and the liberation of that people from imperialism.
The Puerto Rican independence struggle has been tied from the beginning to the Cuban struggle for liberation. The Grito de Yara in Cuba took place right after the Grito de Lares in Puerto Ricothese were the two pro-independence revolts against Spain in 1868. Today we see the continuation of the Cuban peoples support to the independence of the Puerto Rican people. We recognize the Cuban governments cooperation, aid, and commitment to our struggle.
Q. Tell us about your own experience in the struggle for Puerto Ricos independence.
A. I was born on Oct. 15, 1945, on my familys coffee farm in the mountains near the town of Yauco, Puerto Rico. As a youth I began to notice the dichotomy of having two flags and two national anthems. I saw U.S. military police persecuting neighbors who refused to join the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
These are some of the experiences that led me from an early age, although my parents were not independentistas, to question something that was abnormal. I began to explore Puerto Ricos situation through reading, and had the opportunity to meet leaders of the independence movement such as Juan Antonio Corretjer. In 1965, when I was 19, I attended the funeral for [Nationalist Party leader] Pedro Albizu Campos.
At the time I was in seventh or eighth grade, at the end of the 1950s, people did not talk about independence or freedom. The mentality of many Puerto Ricans was affected by what was called the little Smith Act, the Gag Law [modeled on the thought-control Smith Act in the United States] that had been used to repress the independence movement in the 1950s. As I and other students gained awareness of the political situation, I began to speak openly about these questions in the classroom, in the school. The teachers would try to keep me from talking about these things.
Little by little, study circles began to be organized in my school. They were disguised as cooperatives, sometimes with the names of patriots who were also known as poets or writers. Through those circles we began to discuss and organize around the question of independence for Puerto Rico. Later at my school these groups became part of the youth organization of the Puerto Rican Socialist League (LSP), led by Juan Antonio Corretjer. That was in 1960-61.
After I graduated in 1965, for financial reasons I went to New York, where I worked various jobs in factories. While there I was drafted into the U.S. Army. I was in the army for two years, from 1966 to 1968, stationed in Germany.
After getting out of the army I entered the University of Puerto Rico. I became involved in the student struggles, which were very intense. Later I graduated and entered law school, but after a few years I realized the career of a lawyer was not for me. I didnt want to become a prop for this system.
Q. Tell us a little more about your arrest and imprisonment.
A. The FBI carried out a massive raid in Puerto Rico on Aug. 30, 1985. There were more arrests in March 1987, when I was detained. Nineteen people were charged in connection with the $7.2 million robbery from a Wells Fargo depot in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1983, by the Macheteros. Two were acquitted and the rest were convicted. This was part of the U.S. governments war against the Puerto Rican independence struggle.
I was convicted in 1989 and jailed for 15 years in different U.S. prisons, mostly at the federal prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. I was not able to see my children for nine years.
A major international defense campaign was waged. It created a popular ferment, demanding the release of the political prisoners, that had not been seen in Puerto Rico in decades. Hundreds of thousands signed appeals for the release of the political prisoners. There were marches of more than 100,000 in Puerto Rico, as well as protests in New York, Chicago, and other U.S. cities. All this contributed to the release of 11 political prisoners in 1999.
The 11 compañeros were freed on parole under extremely onerous conditions. I did not accept the conditions that the U.S. government demanded, so I remained in prison. I had been sentenced to 15 years and had the right to parole after serving a third of the sentence, but I didnt appear before the parole board. So I was first released in 1997, after serving nine years. I refused to report to the federal authorities because I didnt recognize their authority in Puerto Rico, so within a month they locked me up again.
In 1999 I rejected the conditions the U.S. government demanded for releasing us. First, they demanded that we accept guilt. I dont have to acknowledge guilt for fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico. Second, they demanded periodic drug testing. Third, they demanded I report any visits to my home and all my movements.
Fourth, I would be barred from speaking to any person with a federal conviction. In other words, I couldnt greet Rafael Cancel Miranda, Lolita Lebrón, or other independentistas who had been freed, including my own brother Isaac Camacho, who was released in 1995.
I was released again in 2001, and spent 11 months out of prison. Without reporting to the authorities, of course, and taking part in political activities in Puerto Rico. So they locked me up again and I served out the remaining two years, and was released on Aug. 21, 2004.
The U.S. government still claims I owe them 76 days in prison. Federal marshals in Puerto Rico have told my attorney, Linda Backiel, that they have an arrest warrant against me. Weve shown that their calculations are incorrect and that I completed the sentence. They still say I must report to federal authorities in Puerto Rico but I never have.
Q. Can you describe your current activity?
A. Right now Ive been devoted to the building of a new organization, the National Congress for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico, CONADE. Its an umbrella organization whose goal is to unite all Puerto Ricans who genuinely believe in the decolonization of Puerto Rico, regardless of their current political affiliation. This effort has been well received among diverse sectors in Puerto Rico. We will hold the First Congress for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico on March 28-30, 2006.
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