Based on a talk by Alejandro LaTorre on June 2nd at the PSL’s Liberation Forum in Harlem

In response to the “controversy” surrounding this year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade, recently released political prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera wrote: “I will be on Fifth Ave. not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather who at 74 continues to be committed to helping raise awareness about the fiscal, healthcare and human rights crisis Puerto Rico is facing at this historic juncture.”

In response to right wing threats and Democratic political ploys, chairperson Lorrain Vasquez Cortes and the board of the NPRDP gave into their critics at the last minute and rescinded their decision to “honor” Oscar. We are talking about a man who spent the last 35 years in prison and has sacrificed his life for Puerto Rico. Regardless of what the career politicians decide, the Party for Socialism and Liberation honors the life commitment of Oscar and will stand and march with him and thousands of fighters for Puerto Rico’s independence on June 11th and until Puerto Rico is free!

Politiqueros & respectability politics

Oscar Lopez greets supporters in Chicago

The past week, every “respectable” establishment figure–from Governor Andrew Cuomo to Police Commissioner James O’Neil–competed to be the loudest to denounce Oscar Lopez Rivera and disassociate themselves from this years Puerto Day Parade. I put “respectable” in quotes because while these politicians are “respected” in their own elite circles, in the Puerto Rican community we see them as vendepatrias (sell-outs) and oppressors.

This entire “debate” evokes the prescient words of Malcolm X:  “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” As a colonized people, all too often we Puerto Ricans have been robbed of our history and fed lies by our colonizers.

Behind the headlines, Puerto Rico is a colonized nation

While the corporate newspapers harped on “the controversy,” not once have they mentioned the context of Oscar’s imprisonment–the US’s historical exploitation of Puerto Rico.

The U.S. illegally occupied and colonized Puerto Rico in 1898 after Puerto Ricans struggled for independence for decades against Spain. The US military invaded our shores and claimed the island as their property.

The colonial power then demanded that Puerto Rico be taught only English in schools. Students and parents formed a movement to resist the purging of our native tongue (Remember four centuries before the Spanish had already decimated our Taino language).

In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates unanimously voted for independence from the United States. US Congress ignored our representatives’ decision.

In 1917, one month after the US declared it would enter into WW1, Congress passed the Jones Act. Overnight, the US Congress’s wand turned Puerto Ricans into American “citizens.” The US ruling class did not do this because of any altruistic motive. They had their own motives. They needed more soldiers to fight their wars of foreign conquest. Before the Jones Act, few Puerto Ricans enlisted in the the US military. The new law empowered President Woodrow Wilson to make military service mandatory. 20,000 Puerto Ricans were drafted into the military during WWI.  

Que bonita bandera (what a beautiful flag)

The 1947 Ley de la Mordaza or the Gag Law (Law 53) made it a crime to own or display a Puerto Rican flag. It became illegal to sing our own anthem or any patriotic tune, speak or write of independence, or meet with anyone, or hold any gathering, in favor of Puerto Rican independence. The U.S. flag was the only flag that would represent Puerto Rico. The penalty of publicly waving or owning a flag was ten years in jail. All of those actions were considered ‘seditious conspiracy,’ the same crime that Oscar was charged with in 1977.  This law was not repealed until 1957, a year before the Puerto Rican Day Parade began.

Fast forward to 2001. On June 10, after the downtown parade, we saw the reinforcement of the Gag Law. The NYPD made it illegal to carry a Puerto Rican flag in the Intervale section of the Bronx. The police cited past violent incidents to justify their censorship, harassing and macing people who held block parties and post-parade celebrations. Children ran and screamed as pepper spray filled the air. The author witnessed everyday residents turned into instant heroes because they dared to dash into the street, covered in a Puerto Rican flag. Hordes of police chased down those who defied them. The tense showdown lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Over 40 people were arrested but in the end the community won and the Puerto Rican flag waved high above our occupied communities.  

This is something everyone in Sunset Park, East Harlem, the South Bronx and wherever there are Boricuas understands. We fly our flag on 5th Ave. and across the diaspora with such orgullo y amor (pride and love) precisely because it was outlawed for so long. To this day, when you first land it Puerto Rico, you will see the American flag often times before you see our flag. And you will see tens of thousands of US troops who occupy our island. In fact, the U.S. military controls 14 percent of our land.

We are our own nation

Here are just a few examples of U.S. repression and our resistance: the Rio Piedras Massacre on October 24, 1935, the Ponce Massacre on March 21, 1937, the bombings of Jayuya and Utuado on October 1950 and the hounding, imprisonment, disappearance and torture of Puerto Rican nationalists. Our history proves that we never stopped fighting.

This is just a brief overview of what our people have endured. In 2000, 1.8 million pages of declassified documents exposed the Carpetas Program. Over the course of 60 years, the US government spied on over 100,000 Puerto Ricans. This gives you a sense of the magnitude of the true terrorist campaign, the one the corporate media conveniently glosses over.

This is the humiliation and second class citizenship Oscar and so many of our patriots would never accept. In the words of the father of our independence struggle, Don Pedro Albizu Campos: “When tyranny is law, revolution is the order of the day.”

Paper law

There is widespread international condemnation of the US’s retention of PR as a colony. The United States has never complied with the United Nations Decolonization Committee’s defense of Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination. Under international law, colonies, occupied territories and colonial people have every right to armed resistance to decolonize their nation. That being said, Oscar Lopez Rivera was charged with seditious conspiracy and no evidence of bombing civilians. The media spin doctors present it as if Oscar killed innocent people. Oscar never hurt anybody. His crime was his love for his patria boriqueña (Puerto Rican motherland). Oscar was a political prisoner, a prisoner of colonialism. The US government imprisoned him because he was a dangerous example of our people standing up for themselves.

Que Viva puerto Rico Libre!

When George Washington and Paul Revere rebelled against the British they were treated as patriots and heroes but when we Puerto Ricans rebel against our oppressors we are labeled killers and terrorists. Oscar Lopez Rivera is no terrorist. He is one of our bravest defenders. For one of the first time in 60 years, our parade has a historic significance this year. The fact that the droves of corporate sponsors are staying away testifies to his life commitment to Puerto Rico’s independence.  

Our flag has three shades of blue. The original light sky blue designed after Cuba’s flag signifies our independence. After Cuba had its revolution, the U.S. enforced a much darker shade of blue to resemble the American flag. Recently there has been an in between shade of blue to show a compromise. This is our parade. This is our flag, the sky blue flag.

No corporation or newspaper should dictate our own affairs. We will not submit to any campaign of fear and hatred. We need your support on June 11th. We need people in the streets with Oscar. We need everyone to fight for Puerto Rico’s independence.

To Goya, the NY Yankees, Jetblue, Cuomo, the NYPD we say vete pa’l carajo! (This can be loosely translated as Get out of here). Go away! Stay away. We never wanted you to here to begin with. On June 11th we will wave the Puerto Rican flag like we never waved it before. For Oscar, for Don Pedro, for Lolita, for all of our abuelos and abuelas and everyone who came before and fought for our freedom. Que viva Puerto Rico Libre!