The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 68/No. 25           July 6, 2004  
Pro-independence forces at UN condemn
U.S. colonial rule of Puerto Rico
(front page)
UNITED NATIONS—“The presence of ROTC programs on the campuses of the University of Puerto Rico is a reminder of the fact that the U.S. Army invaded our country in 1898. It is a reminder of U.S. colonial rule,” said Fernando Moreno, a member of the University Student Front for the Demilitarization and Education (FUDE) of Puerto Rico.

Moreno, a student at the University of Mayagüez, said FUDE has been organizing student protests to demand the expulsion of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) from university campuses on the island. He condemned as blackmail the Solomon Act, a U.S. law that denies federal funds to colleges that bar military recruitment programs such as ROTC from their campuses.

The student leader was one of 22 speakers against the colonial status of Puerto Rico who testified at hearings held here June 14. He was part of a broad delegation of pro-independence forces, both from Puerto Rico and from the United States, that presented a wealth of facts highlighting the reality that Puerto Rico is one of the world’s last remaining direct colonies.

The speakers argued that, 106 years since the U.S. military took over the island, Washington continues to deny the Puerto Rican people their right to self-determination and independence.

The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization, which holds the annual hearings, adopted a resolution introduced by the government of Cuba that “reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence.” For the fifth consecutive year, the 24-member committee approved the resolution by consensus, without a vote.

Introducing the resolution, Cuban ambassador Orlando Requeijo reiterated his government’s unconditional support to the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence, a stance that Cuban revolutionaries have championed for decades.

Requeijo demanded that the U.S. government release all Puerto Rican political prisoners and that Washington, which ended its bombing practice on the island of Vieques last year, carry out its responsibility to turn over to Puerto Rico all the land previously used for war training and to clean up the land contaminated by the U.S. military.

Most of the speakers spoke on behalf of Puerto Rico’s independence. They included representatives from the main pro-independence currents on the island: the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), the Hostos National Independence Movement (MINH), the Socialist Front, and the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. The MINH is the result of a recent fusion of two groups that largely originated in the former Puerto Rican Socialist Party.  
Washington must clean up Vieques
Ismael Guadalupe, a retired Vieques schoolteacher and leader of the Committee for the Rescue and Development of Vieques, was one of the many speakers who celebrated the victory won in May of last year when, in face of sustained mass mobilizations, the U.S. Navy finally ceased its bombing and other military training exercises on the island of Vieques.

For more than 60 years, fishermen, farmers, workers, and other Vieques residents have demanded that the U.S. Navy, which occupied two-thirds of the island, stop its bombing and return their stolen land. In 1999 the protests surged anew when a U.S. Navy plane dropped a 500-pound bomb that killed a civilian guard in Vieques, David Sanes.

“On May 1, 2003, the Navy withdrew its troops, but one year later, they still haven’t even begun to carry out plans for the decontamination and reparation of the damage caused by tons of explosives and radioactive material that they left throughout our ecosystem,” Guadalupe said. The U.S. government, he pointed out, has turned over control over a third of the island to the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Department of the Interior, instead of returning it to Puerto Rico.

He denounced the plans by U.S. real estate developers who, now that the Navy is gone, are licking their chops over the prospects of taking over the prime land in Vieques for profitable tourist projects with no regard to the views and the needs of the residents. He reiterated the “Four D’s” campaign promoted by his committee: demilitarization, decontamination, devolution, and development.

Félix Colón, from the Hostos National Independence Movement, pointed out that as a result of the victory in Vieques, Washington has also closed down its huge Roosevelt Roads naval base near the eastern city of Fajardo. The U.S. government, however, has not yet turned over the land to Puerto Rico.

Today, said Frank Velgara of the New York-based Vieques Support Campaign, the island remains plagued by “cancer, respiratory illness of all types, mercury poisoning, and contaminated waters, water supply, air, flora and fauna.” He cited a recent report by the health secretary of the Puerto Rican government that describes “an emergency medical situation” in Vieques, which has a cancer rate 27 percent higher than the main island of Puerto Rico. This in turn is much higher than the rate in the United States. Because of the lack of adequate medical facilities, cancer patients have to travel to the main island for treatment.  
Nine political prisoners in U.S. jails
Ben Ramos, speaking for the ProLibertad Freedom Campaign, a group based in New York, noted that five Puerto Ricans remain in prison today because of their participation in civil disobedience protests in Vieques against the U.S. Navy. Starting in 1999, thousands took part in such actions and dozens were prosecuted. In recent months, fishermen and other Vieques residents have again carried out actions on former military territory to demand the clean-up and return of those lands.

In addition to the four Vieques prisoners, Jorge Farinacci of the Socialist Front called for the release of four political prisoners who were framed up on “seditious conspiracy” charges and remain in U.S. prisons because of their pro-independence activities. These are Oscar López Rivera, Carlos Alberto Torres, Haydée Beltrán Torres, and Antonio Camacho Negrón. Beltrán and Torres have already been locked up for 24 years, López for 23 years, and Camacho for 18 years. Another prisoner, Juan Segarra Palmer, was released earlier this year. In 1999, the Clinton administration released 11 pro-independence prisoners in face of an international defense campaign on their behalf.

Farinacci explained that the jailing of Puerto Rican independence fighters is one graphic example of what Washington’s so-called war on terror is about—using the political police to frame up and deny basic rights to those who oppose the U.S. government’s reactionary policies abroad and at home.

Carlos Mondríguez Torres explained that another expression of the colonial status of Puerto Rico is Washington’s imposition of the death penalty. The Puerto Rican constitution bans the death penalty, but residents of the island are still subject to capital punishment under U.S. law. Today, 14 Puerto Ricans face the death penalty, said Farinacci. In 2001, a U.S. appeals court revoked a decision by a federal judge in Puerto Rico who had ruled that U.S. death penalty laws did not apply on the island because of the Puerto Rican constitutional ban.

Speaking on behalf of the Young Socialists, and of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Nicole Sarmiento said that Washington uses Puerto Rico as a springboard to carry out its unceasing imperialist assaults around the world, from the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia to the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Sarmiento, a member of the Young Socialists, is the SWP candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida.

“A successful struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico is in the interests of the vast majority of the people in the United States,” Sarmiento stated. She said that the resistance by working people in the United States, such as the miners’ strike in Utah and the recent union-organizing victory by garment workers in the Miami area, shows that working people in the United States are a powerful potential ally of the Puerto Rican struggle for national liberation. (See full text of her speech on this page.)

Diego Iniquez of the U.S.-based Venceremos Brigade, which organizes solidarity trips to Cuba, said that while Puerto Rico remains a U.S. colony, “Cuba was eventually able to win its political and economic independence.” He said Puerto Rico’s “commonwealth” status, which allows limited autonomy for the colonial government while keeping all fundamental decisions in the hands of Washington, was simply a “euphemism” for continued colonial rule.

Different viewpoints were expressed during the hearings on a proposal promoted by the ruling Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which supports the current commonwealth setup, to organize a “Constituent Assembly on Status” that would hold a referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status.

A representative of the pro-commmonwealth group PROELA spoke in favor of the proposal. Fernando Martín, a leader of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, and Colón of the Hostos National Independence Movement both expressed support for such a measure as a road toward decolonization.

Rosa Meneses of the Nationalist Party, along with the Socialist Front speaker, spoke in opposition to the “assembly on status” initiative. She said any such referendum would not be an expression of the Puerto Rican people’s free choice as long as the oppressor power had a gun to their heads.

As a precondition for any truly free constituent assembly, Meneses said, Washington “must withdraw all its armed forces from the Puerto Rican territory, as well as its repressive agencies and courts,” and “free all political prisoners remaining in its jails.”

At the hearings, one speaker spoke on behalf of the pro-autonomy PPD. Two others defended the position of the New Progressive Party (PNP), which calls on the U.S. government to make Puerto Rico its 51st state.

After the conclusion of the UN hearings, the discussion continued that evening at a public forum at Hunter College, sponsored by ProLibertad. Many of the pro-independence speakers took part in the panel discussion, including Velgara, Ramos, Farinacci, Meneses, Guadalupe, Sarmiento, and Iniquez.
Related articles:
Socialist backs Puerto Rican independence  
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