BY PETE SEIDMAN
LEWISBURG, Pennsylvania - Twenty-five people picketed outside the Federal Penitentiary here November 7 demanding freedom for Puerto Rican political prisoner Edwin Cortés and independence for Puerto Rico. Protesters traveled from Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Camden, New Jersey. It was the first in a series of protests scheduled at federal buildings in half a dozen cities and outside six prisons where fighters for Puerto Rican independence are serving sentences ranging from 15 to 105 years. These actions (see list on page 11) will build a December 10 rally at the United Nations.
Cortés was born in Chicago and became active in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence in high school. He helped form Latinos United, which advocated a Latin American Studies curriculum and cultural programs. He continued his political work while at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where he helped found the Union for Puerto Rican Students.
Cortés was arrested in 1983, accused by police of being a member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), an alleged group the U.S. government claimed carried out bombings of government, business, and military sites. Along with fifteen other independentistas arrested between 1980 and 1983, he was charged with seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government.
Fourteen of those fighters are still in U.S. prisons, as well as two others convicted in the "Hartford 15" frame-up case. Cortés, who was 28 years old with two young children at the time of his imprisonment, was sentenced to 35 years in prison. Now 43, his scheduled release date is 2004.
Speakers at a rally at the prison gates included Inéz Ramos, a University of Pennsylvania student; Fermín Morales, Miriam Cortés, and Moises Cintrón from the Philadelphia, Camden, and Cleveland chapters of the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners; Rev. Nozomi Ikuta, from the United Church of Christ in Cleveland; and Pete Seidman from the Socialist Workers Party.
The high point of the rally was the reading of a message from Cortés that saluted the numerous actions this year that mark a rise in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and urging support for the December 10 march on the United Nations.
"It is only proper that we end this centennial year with a protest at the United Nations condemning the 100th Anniversary of the Treaty of Paris, in which Spain gave Puerto Rico, like a piece of chattel, to the United States in violation of Puerto Rico's Autonomous Charter, as well as showing the hypocrisy of the 50th Anniversary of the signing of the Human Rights declaration while the Puerto Rican people are denied their fundamental human right to self-determination and independence," Cortés said. His statement also condemned the "grand jury conducting another witch-hunt in Chicago with the threat of incarceration" and the arrest of independence leaders "like José Solís on the use of paid informers.
"The Puerto Rican political prisoners and prisoners of war are labeled as criminals and terrorists by the United States government," Cortés explained. "But our struggle for freedom will not end with such labels because we know that Nelson Mandela and the ANC [African National Congress], Yasser Arafat and the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein, among many other national liberation movements were also labeled as criminals and terrorists, but today they are applauded as patriots.... The real criminals are the rulers of those nations that still subjugate other nations and the real crime is colonialism."
News of the protest spread through the penitentiary. A defense committee leader who met with the independentista during the protest reported that prisoners applauded Cortés when he entered the visiting area.
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