Fueling popular anger was the collapse of the electric power system that had plunged Puerto Rico into darkness for the previous two days. Most of the nation’s 3.5 million residents lost electricity, and many were left without running water or phone service. By Sept. 23, power had been restored in only parts of the island.
U.S. colonial domination magnifies the impact of today’s world capitalist depression on working people in Puerto Rico.
The rally was held in the Plaza of the Revolution in downtown Lares, where an armed revolt against Spanish colonial rule — the Grito de Lares (Battle Cry of Lares) — was launched Sept. 23, 1868, less than three weeks before the anti-colonial uprising in Cuba known as the Grito de Yara. It was led by Ramón Emeterio Betances and other Puerto Rican revolutionaries fighting for independence and the abolition of slavery.
While the rebellion was crushed, it became a symbol of the fight for liberation after Washington invaded Puerto Rico in 1898, seizing it from Spain and becoming the colonial master.
This year’s Grito de Lares celebration was marked by growing opposition to the government’s attacks on the living standards and rights of working people. A focus of this fight is the cynically named PROMESA (Spanish for “promise”) law, which the U.S. Congress has imposed on the island to force it to repay the colonial regime’s $70 billion debt to bondholders. The law established a seven-member “fiscal control” board, appointed by U.S. President Barack Obama, with the power to sell Puerto Rican assets, lay off workers, enforce anti-strike legislation, reduce the minimum wage to $4.25 an hour for workers under 25, and jail officials who do not carry out its dictates.
This comes on top of the tens of thousands of public employees who have already been laid off, as well as steeply raised sales taxes and slashed social services. These attacks have been enacted by both the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) governments over the last decade.
‘The debt isn’t ours’“The debt is not ours, it’s imperialism’s debt!” declared Aleida Centeno, speaking for the Nationalist Party at the rally. “It’s we who should present the United States with a bill for 118 years of exploitation and plunder.”
María de Lourdes Santiago, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) nominee for governor of Puerto Rico, pledged that if the party’s candidates are elected, they will refuse to abide by PROMESA and the fiscal board’s orders, even if threatened with jail.
Santiago said PIP supporters, who are canvassing house to house, have never seen such openness to their anti-colonial message in a nation that for decades had been polarized between supporters of the current “commonwealth” status, statehood and independence.
Eduardo Villanueva, president of the Human Rights Committee, reported growing support for the fight to release Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican independentista who has been in prison in the U.S. for more than 35 years. He has resisted every effort to break him and make him renounce his views, Villanueva said.
A major action calling for López’s freedom is set for Oct. 9 in Washington, D.C. Villanueva said organizations here are planning to send a delegation. A sister protest will take place in San Juan.
Wilma Reverón, a co-chair of the Hostos National Independence Movement (MINH), also pointed to the importance of the fight to free López. She had just returned from a summit meeting in Caracas, Venezuela, of the Non-Aligned Movement, where MINH represented the Puerto Rican independence movement. She said the summit demanded that Washington free Oscar López.
Protests are being organized in San Juan during a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. federal court in Puerto Rico planned for next week, Reverón said. The court has a decades-long record of frame-ups and repression against the independence movement.
SWP presidential candidate speaksAlyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. president, told the crowd that she was on a nine-day visit to the island “to support Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and to join your protests against the U.S. fiscal control board and other struggles by workers and youth to defend jobs, wages, health care, education and living standards.”
The fight for Puerto Rico’s independence “is also in the interests of working people in the United States because we face a common enemy, the imperialist ruling class and its government,” she said.
The SWP is actively building the Oct. 9 action in Washington for Oscar López, she said. Her remarks were warmly received, and daily newspapers and TV news reported on her speech.
Camila Sánchez-Longo spoke on behalf of young people who have maintained a permanent tent encampment in front of the U.S. courthouse in San Juan since June to protest PROMESA and the fiscal control board.
José Rivera of the Socialist Front and Norberto González Claudio of the Revolutionary Workers Party-Macheteros also addressed the rally. González Claudio was imprisoned in the U.S. from 2011 to 2015 for his pro-independence activities. Other speakers included Miriam Montes Mock, cousin of Ana Belén Montes, who is serving a 25-year sentence in a U.S. prison for passing information to the Cuban government while she worked at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, and Jorge Farinacci Fernós, son of the late independentista leader Jorge Farinacci García.
‘While Oscar López is in prison, we’re all in prison’
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