Reprinted here is a speech by historic leader of the Cuban Revolution Juan Almeida (1927-2009) at a Nov. 1, 1979, award ceremony in Havana for five Puerto Rican independence fighters.
Oscar Collazo, one of the Puerto Rican nationalists, was jailed after taking part in a 1950 attack on Blair House, President Harry Truman’s temporary residence. Rafael Cancel Miranda, Lolita Lebrón, Irving Flores and Andrés Figueroa Cordero were imprisoned after carrying out an armed action in the U.S. Congress on March 1, 1954, in answer to the removal of Puerto Rico from the U.N. list of colonies the year before.
On Sept. 10, 1979, Lebrón, Cancel Miranda, Flores and Collazo were released from prison after being given clemency by President James Carter. All four refused to accept conditions restricting their participation in the fight for independence. Cordero, who was released in 1977 because of advanced cancer, died in March 1979.
Cancel Miranda, now 82, continues to be an outspoken leader of the Puerto Rican independence struggle and supporter of the Cuban Revolution.
The Militant prints Almeida’s speech following May 29 protests in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Cuba demanding Washington free Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera and a June 1 rally in Washington, D.C., to free the Cuban Five — actions that demonstrated both support for these fighters and the deep-rooted bonds of solidarity between the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and the Cuban Revolution.
The text of the speech is from Granma. Subheads and footnotes are by the Militant.
Commander in Chief Fidel Castro, First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Party and President of the Councils of State and of Ministers;
Beloved Puerto Rican patriots Lolita Lebrón, Oscar Collazo, Rafael Cancel, and Irving Flores; Comrades:
At tonight’s ceremony the people of Cuba, their Communist Party, and their revolutionary government are fulfilling a fine duty of fighting solidarity and paying deeply felt homage to you, comrades Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores, and Oscar Collazo.
You are representatives of the heroism and self-sacrifice of our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters in the more than 100-year struggle for the freedom and independence of your country, a struggle that began against Spanish colonialism and continues today against imperialism.
On this occasion José Martí’s saying — "To pay honor is an honor unto itself" — takes on special significance. It is an honor for Cuba to pin these medals on your chests, dear comrades. These medals symbolize a glorious moment in our history written on the sands of Playa Girón1: the first great defeat of imperialism in Latin America.
By a unique coincidence, you were set free on Sept. 12, the anniversary of the birth of Don Pedro Albizu Campos2, the tireless fighter who devoted his entire life as a patriot and revolutionary to winning Puerto Rican independence.
That date emphasizes the history of a struggle that begins with the Grito de Lares [the Cry of Lares, an 1868 anti-colonial uprising], that identifies with the program of the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded by Martí, and that goes on unrelentingly behind the walls of enemy prisons — a struggle that has become a living consciousness in the hearts of the Puerto Rican people.
None of these sacrifices have been in vain, nor have they failed to move the Cuban Revolution, the heir to Martí. During those glorious days of the Moncada, the Granma, and the Sierra Maestra, the Centennial Generation was always conscious of the historical significance of the struggle developing in Puerto Rico. 3
When young Cubans led by Commander in Chief Fidel Castro attacked the dictatorship’s fortress in Santiago de Cuba, Oscar Collazo had already been in prison since 1950.
Months after that glorious 26th of July, when we were still being mercilessly persecuted — when repression left painful empty spaces in our ranks, but while a national consciousness began to mature — the world was amazed to hear that a commando of Puerto Rican nationalists, a woman and three men, had carried out a bold revolutionary action, one that was to result in their imprisonment for more than a quarter century. That action made the struggle for Puerto Rican independence known throughout the world.
For that unshakable commitment to the independence of your country, which has been so fully demonstrated in long years of difficult and solitary imprisonment, and so you can wear them on your chests and in your hearts, we present you tonight with the Playa Girón National Order — given to you collectively, by decision of our people — and the 20th Anniversary Medal commemorating the assault on the Moncada garrison, which we have the honor of giving to each of you individually.
There is a memory that cloaks this solemn ceremony in sadness, however. Beloved comrade Andrés Figueroa Cordero, who took part in the action on the U.S. Congress, is not with us tonight. Figueroa Cordero died at the beginning of this year of a fatal illness. In his case, imperialism reproduced the inhuman strategy it used against Don Pedro Albizu Campos. They freed him when he was dying to avoid the repercussions and responsibility for his death in prison. Tonight we confer upon him posthumously the Playa Girón National Order, as a member of the group of patriots, and the 20th Anniversary Medal commemorating the assault on the Moncada garrison.
Example of revolutionary spirit
Dear comrades, you were the protagonists of a heroic action taken out of a simple sense of duty. Perhaps your modesty and simplicity make it difficult for you to fully appreciate the example of revolutionary spirit you represent for this and future generations. Your qualities and virtues, your forthright conduct, the commitment of your lives reflect the exceptional conditions that the Heroic Guerrilla Ernesto Che Guevara eloquently described when he said that to be a revolutionary was to reach the highest pinnacle of humanity.
Comrades Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores, and Oscar Collazo: you suffered on your own flesh the blows of imperialism and colonialism, and you carried on your shoulders the pain of hundreds of thousands of oppressed and exploited Puerto Rican compatriots.
As the children of workers and peasants, you emigrated to the United States in search of the economic stability you could not find at home.
Lolita Lebrón, a textile worker; Oscar and Andrés, of peasant origin; Rafael, a student and, for a time, a construction worker in Cuba; and Irving, a diligent worker in a tailor shop — you threw in your lot on the side of justice and your country, on the side of liberation and the dignity of man.
Victims of the brutality of Yankee prisons, you were isolated and cut off from world events. Imperialism tried in vain to break you with cruelty or promises, so you would renounce your noble ideals. Accustomed to buying everything, haggling over everything, they were convinced they could corrupt the consciousness of these patriots. Once again they were incapable of assessing courageous men and women; they failed.
On every occasion, and in response to every maneuver, the group of prisoners answered: No! They constantly reaffirmed Puerto Rico’s right to be free and independent!
Solidarity of the peoples
The prison gates were not opened by some supposed imperialist generosity. They were opened by the action of world public opinion, the solidarity of the peoples, the moral and political weight of a new relationship of forces and, above all, by the moral and revolutionary intransigence of the prisoners themselves.
For 29 years Oscar Collazo, and for more than 25 Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel, and Irving Flores repeated their slogan: If we had more lives, we would give them all for Puerto Rico’s freedom!
They refused to even discuss the possibility of a conditional pardon.
At tonight’s ceremony, beloved comrades, we are not only honoring exemplary revolutionaries. We are reaffirming our unshakable commitment to continue fighting alongside you and your patriotic people for the Puerto Rican cause. No imperialist pressure or threat will ever make Cuba renounce this sacred duty of Latin American solidarity and historical brotherhood.
Beloved comrades, in the name of the Cuban people, our Communist Party, and the Council of State, we warmly welcome you to the land of José Martí. In his name and with unbridled emotion, please allow Comrade Fidel to confer these decorations on you. You have our highest admiration, our love, and our unshakable solidarity. And allow us to join you in proclaiming:
Long live free and independent Puerto Rico!
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