Puerto Rico: “Freedom for Oscar López Rivera, Now!”

by Ángel Carrión · Translated by Amy Gulvin (Global Voices Online) -  On 11 June 2013

Oscar López Rivera’s [1] has already spent 32 years in prison in the United States. It is said that he is the longest-serving political prisoner in the western hemisphere. Originally, he was sentenced to 55 years for “seditious conspiracy”; later another 15 were added for a total of 70 years, due to an alleged escape attempt. The only crime he committed was to fight for Puerto Rican independence.

Puerto Rico has been under the dominion of the United States since the invasion of the Island in 1898, as a result of the Spanish-American War [2]. Since then, there has been a series of struggles by groups seeking to free Puerto Rico from United States control through armed combat, perhaps the most dramatic example of these conflicts being the nationalist uprising of 1950 in the town of Jayuya [3].

"Freedom for Oscar López Rivera, Now!" by Kike Estrada. Taken with permission from planetakike.com. [4]

“Freedom for Oscar López Rivera, Now!” by Kike Estrada.

In the case of Oscar López, even the United States government recognized, under the presidency of Bill Clinton, that the sentence that Oscar is serving is disproportional to the charges brought against him. In 1999, President Clinton offered him a pardon, but Oscar rejected it because his comrades, prisoners like him, would continue to be deprived of their freedom.

Oscar, like other comrades who have been imprisoned for fighting for Puerto Rican independence, assumed the status of prisoner of war on being an anticolonial combatant. He does not recognize the United States jurisdiction, and demands instead that an international tribunal bring him to trial, or one from a third country that is not involved in the conflict between the United States and Puerto Rico. As Alejandro Torres Rivera, writing for Red Betances [5][es] says:

De acuerdo con el Protocolo I de la Convención de Ginebra de 1949, la protección que dicho Convenio Internacional reconoce a los prisioneros de guerra, se extiende también a personas capturadas en conflictos o luchas contra la ocupación colonial, la ocupación de un país por parte de regímenes racistas y a aquellos otros que participan de luchas por la libre determinación de sus pueblos. Así lo ratifica también la Resolución 2852 (XXVI) de la Asamblea General de las Naciones Unidas de 20 de diciembre de 1971 y la Resolución 3103 (XXVIII) del 13 de diciembre de 1973, cuando establece:

“Todo participante en los movimientos de resistencia, luchando por la independencia y la autodeterminación si es arrestado, tiene que recibir el tratamiento estipulado en la Convención de Ginebra.”

De acuerdo con el referido protocolo, un prisionero de guerra no puede ser juzgado como un criminal común, mucho menos si la causa de tal procedimiento descansa en actos relacionados con su participación en una lucha anticolonial.

In accordance with Protocol I of the Geneva Convention of 1949, the protection that this International Agreement recognizes for prisoners of war, extends also to people caught in conflicts or struggles against colonial occupation, occupation of a country by racist regimes and to those others who participate in struggles for the self-determination of their peoples. It is also ratified by Resolution 2852 (XXVI) of the United Nations General Assembly of 20 December 1971 and Resolution 3103 (XXVIII) of December 13, 1973, when it is established that:

“All participants in the resistance movements, fighting for independence and self-determination, if arrested, must receive treatment as stipulated in the Geneva Convention.”

In accordance with the protocol referred to, a prisoner of war cannot be judged as a common criminal, much less if the cause of such a procedure rests on acts related to his or her participation in an anticolonial struggle. Continue reading

Grasping the Lessons of a Year of Struggle

The Lessons of 2011: Transcending the Old, Fostering the New, and Settling Outstanding Accounts

Kali Akuno, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement

Friday, February 24, 2012

The militant working class struggles of 2011 – from the strikes and occupation in Wisconsin, to the countless demonstrations against Wall Street Banks,  the direct action and broad resistance to the Keystone Pipeline, to housing occupations throughout the country, to the defeat of regressive anti-Union legislation in Ohio, to the (inter)national explosion of the Occupy Movement – demonstrated the critical fact that the multi-national working class contained in the United States can stop the” shock doctrine”  measures being imposed upon it by transnational capital and the neo-liberal state.

The initial returns on these struggles are not insubstantial. Just two months into 2012, we have witnessed ILWU Local 21 coming to an agreement with transnational conglomerate EGT/Bunge in large part due to the impact of the Port Shut Down actions in Seattle, Portland, Oakland, and Los Angeles on December 12, 2011 and the threat of mass industrial action in Longview by the Occupy Movement allied with the Million Worker March Movement and militant rank and file members of the ILWU. Inspired by the Occupy Movement, the mass action in Oakland on November 2, 2001 and coast wide actions of December 12, Truck drivers in California and Washington State took independent organizing and industrial action to win wage and safety concessions from employers and potential legislation in Washington State that that will enable the Truckers to unionize.  The victory in Longview halts the concerted drive to destroy the ILWU and further weaken organized labor and the pending Washington State legislation could potentially reverse decades of circumvention of the Wagner Act and provide an opening for sectors (and with it oppressed peoples) historically excluded from its protections.

None of this would be possible without the militant mass action of the multi-national working class, both unionized and non-unionized, acting in open defiance of the rules of engagement established between organized labor, capital, and the state in the 1930’s with the New Deal. As the power struggle between capital and the working class intensifies over whom and how the economic crisis will be resolved, the working class would do well to recall the lessons of 2011 and build on them. In addition to reaffirming the lesson that the working class must rely on militant mass action – that is strikes, occupations, blockades, general strikes and other forms of industrial action – as a primary means of exerting its own will and power, several other critical lessons we believe must be affirmed. These lessons include:

  1. That in order to halt and over turn the slide of the labor unions, the unions must wage struggle beyond the confines of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and/or the Wagner Act framework.
  2. That mass action will only be successful if it pulls in and engages broad sectors of the working class, particularly critical sectors of the 89% of the multi-national working class that is not unionized, and directly addresses their issues and demands.
  3. That new forms of working class organization must be constructed capable of organizing workers as a self-conscious class that encompasses and incorporates the broad diversity of its totality as differentiated by race, nationality, gender, sexuality, and legal status.
  4. That the multi-national working class must build, maintain, and exert its political independence from the Democrats (and Republicans), and not rely on electoral politics and processes (such as the recall efforts in Wisconsin that worked to negate mass action) to exercise its power, realize its demands, and build the society it envisions.
  5. That the struggle for equity and economic democracy necessitates struggling to reclaim and redefine as much public space as possible – particularly the Ports given their strategic importance to the distribution of the necessary goods that sustain life – in order to rebuild the “commons” and exert democratic control over various processes of social production and exchange.
  6. That the decolonization of the entity presently known as the United States national state is fundamental to the social and material liberation of the multi-national working class, particularly its subjected and colonized sectors, i.e. Indigenous Nations, New Afrikans (Black people), Xicanos, Puerto Ricans, and Native Hawaiians.

However, it should be noted that the struggles of 2011 and the lessons gleamed from them did not come out of nowhere. Continue reading

Police in Puerto Rico Accused of Abuses

[Excerpt from Repeating Islands blog at http://repeatingislands.com/2011/09/08/police-in-puerto-rico-accused-of-abuses/]

Puerto Rico police have a history of abuse, politically repressive violence, and impunity

Charlie Savage and Lizette Alvarez (The New York Times) reported today (September 8, 2011) on the United States Justice Department’s denunciation of the Puerto Rico Police Department, underlining “a ‘profound’ and ‘longstanding’ pattern of civil rights violations and other illegal practices.” Here are excerpts here with a link to the full article below:

In a 116-page report that officials intend to make public Thursday, the civil rights division of the Justice Department accused the Puerto Rico Police Department of systematically “using force, including deadly force, when no force or lesser force was called for,” unnecessarily injuring hundreds of people and killing “numerous others.” The report, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, says the 17,000-officer force routinely conducts illegal searches and seizures without warrants. It accuses the force of a pattern of attacking nonviolent protesters and journalists in a manner “designed to suppress the exercise of protected First Amendment rights.” Continue reading

Puerto Rico: 15,000 March to End Police Occupation of University of Puerto Rico

Maritza Stanchich, Ph.D., Associate Professor of English, University of Puerto Rico

February 14, 2011
Student protests at University of Puerto Rico have broadly mobilized the public against the police occupation of the campus with about 15,000 marching along the main thoroughfares around the urban campus Saturday shouting “¡Fuera Policía, Fuera!” (Get Out Police, Get Out!), in response to police brutality during last week’s volatile start of the semester.

A campus melee Wednesday of apparently indiscriminate police brutality led to more than 25 student arrests, including some who were not protesting, and with serious injuries reported. The day culminated with leaders of the professors organization APPU (Asociación Puertorriqueña de Profesores Universitarios) calling a 24-hour work stoppage, which was then supported by the staff union HEEND (Hermandad de Empleados Exentos No Docentes), to the chants of a crowd of about 1,000 students occupying the iconic clock tower housing Chancellor Ana R. Guadalupe’s office. All the students arrested that day were later released without charges. Thursday afternoon, the Hermandad extended the walkout another 24 hours, leaving the campus desolate for a second consecutive day on Friday. Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Violence Against Student Strike Escalates With Police Brutality and Rubber Bullets

Maritza Stanchich, Ph.D.,Associate Professor of English, University of Puerto Rico

Huffington Post, February 2, 2011

More than 150 students practicing civil disobedience have been arrested in Puerto Rico and riot police on Thursday escalated violent repression of a university strike with brutal arrests and rubber bullets during a sit-in demonstration at the Capitol. As President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for governmental prudence during a historic revolt in Egypt, the most basic free speech rights are under attack with apparent impunity in this U.S. territory of about four million U.S. citizens still grappling with a century-old colonial relationship with the United States.

Meanwhile, the Reaganite Republican and pro Statehood Governor, Luis Fortuño, was again traveling on Friday, with a trip to California sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, though he denied attending a controversial event nearby with the billionaire Koch brothers behind the Tea Party movement. Fortuño’s bold austerity measures and ruthlessness have made him a Republican Party darling, as strategists scramble for Latino leaders they can promote while rejecting immigration reform and with Tea Party followers spewing hate speech against Latino immigrants. Continue reading

Puerto Rico: University student protest wins broad support

December 23, 2010: Students and supporters in Puerto Rico demonstrated against police presence in the UPR and against the $ 800 fee the UPR administration wants to impose on the students. In the evening a concert took place in support of students from the UPR.

UPR supporters swell the ranks of fee protest

December 24, 2010
by Juan A. Hernandez
University of Puerto Rico students  once again received the support of thousands of people in their struggle to avert the imposition next semester of the $800 Special Fiscal Stabilization Fee.

A crowd of several thousand people demonstrated Thursday along with UPR students in a picket line that extended from the main gate of the Río Piedras campus to the intersection of Ponce de León and Gándara avenues.

“We are here with our sons and daughters to defend their education and our university,” said an unidentified woman marching among the students. “We are not troublemakers; we are parents.”

During a press conference Wednesday, labor and community leaders had called for the demonstration in support of the student struggle against the $800 special fee and the presence of police detachments on campus. Community leaders from Villa Sin Miedo (San Juan), Villas del Sol (Toa Baja), Sonadora (Aguas Buenas) and others came to express their support. At the same time, labor leaders from General Workers Union, the Puerto Rico Workers Syndicate, the Puerto Rico Workers Federation, the Electric and Irrigation Industry Workers Union, known as UTIER, and the Puerto Rico Teachers Association and Federation, among many others, also turned out to express their support. Continue reading

Puerto Rico: University students in standoff with riot police as their strike continues

http://www.prdailysun.com/news/Students-joined-by-professors-as-strike-continues

December 16, 2010

A standoff between University of Puerto Rico students and members of the police Tactical Operations Division (riot squad) marked the second day of the strike that has practically paralyzed all academic and administrative activities in the Río Piedras campus.

The standoff, which lasted over four hours and covered the streets of Río Piedras, came around 1 p.m. after a group of some 250 students stormed onto the Natural Sciences building clapping and chanting slogans along its hallways.

“We don’t want to study in a military camp … We’re on strike, there are no classes,” chanted the students as they gathered at the building’s central plaza in an effort to interrupt the few classes in session.

Several non-teaching university employees watched the student protest from a distance, without joining in, but expressing their support for the students’ plight. “We all support the students but the administration has threatened us with dismissal,” said an unidentified university employee about their presence on campus. “Otherwise we would be marching with them [the students].” Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Student strike intensifies, public education and civil rights at stake

Scene from UPR student strike in spring 2010

by Maritza Stanchich, Ph.D, Associate Professor of English, University of Puerto Rico

Coincident with massive, at times explosive, student protests in Rome and London, University of Puerto Rico has again become a flashpoint with a student strike beginning Tuesday that turned the main campus into a militarized zone of police, riot squads, and SWAT teams, complete with low-flying helicopters and snipers. What began as a conflict over a steep student fee hike is now seen as a larger struggle to preserve public education against privatization.

Resistance to the imposed $800 student fee has triggered repressive state measures: police have occupied the main campus for the first time in 31 years and Monday the local Supreme Court, recently stacked by the pro-Statehood political party in power, outlawed student strikes and campus protests. More than 500 students defied the ruling by demonstrating on campus Tuesday, brandishing the slogan “They fear us because we don’t fear them” (“Nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo”).

This current strike revisits accords to negotiate the $800 fee, which in June ended a two-month shut down of 10 of 11 UPR campuses, as UPR faces a $240 million budget shortfall precipitated by the state not honoring its own debt to the institution.

Civil rights groups have declared a state of high alert in the wake of disturbances last week and statements by leading public officials seen as creating a hostile climate that inhibits free speech rights. In response, about 15,000 UPR supporters marched on Sunday from San Juan’s Capitol building to La Fortaleza governor’s mansion, under a balmy bright blue tropical sky in this U.S. Territory of about four million U.S citizens, though little known to most Americans beyond being a tourist destination. Continue reading

Students, teachers at University of Puerto Rico-Piedras boycott classes as long as police remain on campus

Students at the University of Puerto Rico, a public university that serves 65,000 mostly working class students, have been organizing and mobilizing to defeat a government plan to increase their tuition fee by $800 in January 2011. To protest this attack on their right to education, students sat down and slowed traffic on a major highway in the capital city of San Juan in November. This Tuesday, students raised barricades t0 blockade the UPR-San Juan campus for two days, beating off attacks by police and security guards. In the spring of 2010, UPR students went out on  strike for 62 days, shutting down 10 of 11 UPR campuses and defeating most of the government’s cuts to the university’s budget and changes to the academic program.

A student, wearing a mask, sits on a barricade during a protest at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan early Tuesday Dec. 7, 2010.

Puerto Rican Daily Sun, December 10, 2010

Students at UPR Piedras hold vigil to keep cops off campus

“As long as  there is a police presence inside the University, there will be no classes,”  said the spokeswoman for the Student Representation Committee, Maria Soledad Davila. “Police have not entered the university for the last 30 years, and  when they have, it has been to repress ideas and limit the project of a public university.”

It was not business  as usual at the University of Puerto Rico Piedras campus Thursday as  students, teachers, labor groups and political organizations presented a united  fund to boycott classes.

While students gathered outside the gates, refusing to go to class, their professors met off- campus and voted not to teach as long as police remained on campus. They also postponed the strike vote they had approved last week in  exchange for the administration receiving the  students for a dialogue. Several organizations demanded that the police  be removed.

“There is no doubt that the government is frightened by the  university’s power, and the love the people have for it as an institution,” said  Maria Gisela Rosado, president of the Puerto Rican Association of University Professors, in reference to the presence of police on campus.  “We  want this fee to be canceled, or at the least put on hold, until the institution  can get on an even keel, and all of us can look for ways to resolve this,” she  said. The group also urged the people to join the march from the Capitol  to La Fortaleza scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Police suppressing dissent at University of Puerto Rico

William Ramirez Executive Director
American Civil Liberties Union Puerto Rico National Chapter   12-10-10

SUMMARY OF CURRENT STATE OF 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHTS IN PUERTO RICO
AND ROLE SECURITY FORCES PLAY IN SUPPRESSING SPEECH

The Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, has taken down University of Puerto Rico gates and has ordered armed police officers onto the UPR’s Rio Piedras campus (main campus) to assure that from now on there will no longer be any “leftist political activism” on campus and to stop any attempts to call for a student walk out. UPR students called a two day walk out, which ended Wednesday, December 8, 2010, to protest an arbitrary hike in student fees and other related administrative matters. The walk out was a continuation of an earlier UPR general strike. Last week, Marcos Rodriguez Ema, Secretary of the Governorship (Governors Mansion), in a live television interview said he would forcefully remove anyone who dared protest at UPR; that he would “kick their asses (los sacaría a patadas)” off campus.

Just days before, Puerto Rico’s police commissioner announced that he will be dismantling the controversial riot squad of the Tactical Police Unit, in response to US DOJ concerns that may be leading to a patterns and practice case by the United States. The ACLU has been filing complaints with the US DOJ for the past three years and has met with the DOJ in Puerto Rico and DC regarding the ongoing police violence and profiling.

This past Tuesday, December 7, 2010, the first day of the two day walk out, University officials brought on to campus a private security force “Capital Security” comprised of unlicensed and untrained young men recruited off the streets to control student protestors. Immediately, a violent situation emerged; many of these so called “security employees” came in with 2×4’s, wielding open knives and blackjacks, acting more like a goon squad. When interviewed by the press, some “security guards” admitted that they have no experience or training, that their only experience was kicking ass “free of charge” in the streets of their communities and that “here I will get paid for it”. This private security force was to replace the controversial tactical police unit, but has proven to be just as violent. http://www.elnuevodia.com/videos- megustadarcantazos-191847.html Continue reading

Puerto Rico: Students clash with police and security guards over proposed tuition hike

A student, wearing a mask, sits on a barricade during a protest at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico, early Tuesday Dec. 7, 2010. Students raised barricades around the university for a two-day blockade, and clashed with police and security guards in protests of a proposed $800 annual fee. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

December 7, 2010

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Dozens of students at the University of Puerto Rico have clashed with police and security guards during protests over a proposed $800 annual fee.

The students raised barricades around the school early Tuesday for what they say is a two-day blockade.

One female student was charged with assaulting a police officer and several others broke car windows with sticks and pipes.

Earlier this year, students launched a two-month strike to protest budget cuts and changes to the academic program.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press

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Puerto Rico: Students protest big tuition hikes

Puerto Rican riot police stand behind students sitting in the road in front of University of Puerto Rico during 2009 strike to stop tuition hikes

Weekly News Update on the Americas, November 16, 2010

 

Students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) slowed traffic in and out of San Juan on Nov. 9 when they demonstrated in a major highway to protest plans for raising tuition by $800 in January.

The previous night the Puerto Rican Senate had created a special fund that would provide about $30 million in scholarships to low-income students, but the protesters rejected the measure as inadequate. Students also met in assemblies at the UPR’s Río Piedras, Humacao, Cayey and Arecibo campuses on Nov. 9 to discuss the tuition hike and other issues.

These were the first student assemblies since a 62-day strike last spring that shut down 10 of the UPR’s 11 campuses and defeated most of the government’s austerity plan for the public university, which serves some 65,000 students. The UPR Board of Trustees’ proposal for a special three-year tuition surcharge—originally set at $1,100 a year—was the main issue left unresolved by the strike, but the trustees postponed the increase until January .

The administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño is apparently preparing for renewed student strikes. The Chamber of Representatives voted 35-15 on Nov. 11 to ban any student demonstration that would interrupt the activities of the university; the measure would also require any student demonstration to have the support of the majority of students, as expressed by an electronic vote. The bill was sent on to the Senate, which hadn’t acted on it when the senators abruptly ended their session the evening of Nov. 11.

“This measure is an attack on our constitutional right to free expression and is a total violation of the autonomy of the university,” Mariela Pérez, a spokesperson for the Action Committee of Arecibo University Students (CAUA), told reporters on Nov. 13.