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.