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

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 Rican Political Prisoners: 30 Years in US Prisons

National Lawyers Guild International Committee, October 25, 2010

Jan Susler of the People’s Law Office in Chicago delivered the following speech to the National Lawyers Guild Convention in New Orleans, LA on September 23-26, 2010. Her talk addresses the continuing struggle of the Puerto Rican prisoners for justice and liberation, both from prison and from colonialism.

In April of this year, activists in Puerto Rico and several U.S. cities marked the 30th anniversary of the arrest of 11 Puerto Rican men and women accused and convicted of seditious conspiracy, and sentenced to serve the equivalent of life in U.S. prisons. They called attention to the fact that one of them— Carlos Alberto Torres— had been in prison for 30 years, another— Oscar Lopez Rivera— , for 29 years; and another— Avelino Gonzalez Claudio— , for 2. Of the 2,000 some Puerto Rican political prisoners since the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico, Carlos Alberto is the longest held.

What could motivate a Carlos Alberto, an Oscar, or an Avelino, to take action leading to such consequences? What is it about the situation of the Puerto Rican nation that could lead to people being accused of conspiracies related to winning independence, including seditious conspiracy— conspiring to use force against the “lawful” authority of the U.S. over Puerto Rico?

You may know that in 1898, the U.S. invaded and militarily occupied Puerto Rico… an occupation which, over the years, has changed and morphed in some of its details, but which has essentially continued unabated to this day; an occupation which led the George W. Bush (hijo)’s Presidential Task Force on Puerto Rico to state that Puerto Rico is a mere possession of the United States, which the U.S. could give away to another country, if it so desired. It is more than a little ironic that the U.S. would possess Puerto Rico as a colony, given that the U.S. was born of an anti-colonial struggle— an armed, sometimes clandestine, struggle against British control.

Nevertheless, the U.S. expanded its colonial empire to include Puerto Rico, controlling its borders and its economy; imposing unwanted U.S. citizenship and consequent eligibility for inscription into the U.S. military; attempting to destroy Puerto Rico’s language, rich culture and heritage. The Puerto Rican people resisted U.S. control, just as they had Spanish control, risking prison and even death to seek to control their own destiny.

Carlos Alberto Torres
Carlos Alberto Torres welcomed home Continue reading