“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. “
– Fredrick Douglass
Summer 1898, during the Spanish American War a rag tag volunteer force of machete wielding sugar cane working Puerto Ricans known as Macheteros fought along side the Spanish to repel the US forces that invaded Puerto Rico on July 25th. In the center of the island just outside of the mountain town of Aibonito in the mountain pass of Asomante the Macheteros fought the advancing US military to a standstill and then to a retreat. It was the greatest victory for the Macheteros. But the victory was short lived when the Spanish surrendered to the US and the fighting ceased a few days later. In the process the island nation of Puerto Rico went from 400 years of Spanish colonial rule to US colonial rule. The true shame of it is that Puerto Rico was on the verge of gaining it’s independence from Spain when the Spanish American War broke out. On December 10th of 1898 the Treaty Of Paris was signed and the US officially took control of the Spanish colonial possessions of the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. The colonization of Puerto Rico is the adolescence of US foreign imperialism. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
March 2nd, 1917, the Jones-Sahforth Act made Puerto Ricans citizens of the US without any consultation on the part of Puerto Ricans. Two months after that 18,000 Puerto Rican men were conscripted into the US military to fight in WWI. The US military needed to swell the ranks of it’s African-American canon fodder with Puerto Ricans where they were put to fight in segregated regiments. Many of these Puerto Rican troops were sent to Panama to be human guinea pigs in US chemical gas experiments where 335 of them were wounded. The Pentagon and the War Department never kept data on how many Puerto Ricans were killed or wounded in the war. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
Post World War I the US government began a wide spread program of population control in Puerto Rico. They began sterilizing Puerto Rican women. The sterilization of these women was done without their knowledge and consent or was done by misinforming the women of the permanence of the sterilization procedure. By 1965 one third of Puerto Rican women were systematically sterilized. The imperial design of the US was that they wanted Puerto Rico but not Puerto Ricans. So what is the 4th of July to Puerto Ricans?
October 20th, 1935 the founder and leader of the Nationalist Party Don Pedro Albizu Campos gives a radio address in which he criticizes a program to “Americanize” the University Of Puerto Rico that is being instituted by US colonial interests. A group of students in support of the measure want Albizu declared “Student Enemy Number One”. On October 24th Albizu is declared “persona non-grata” at a university demonstration. Students supporting Albizu respond in protest. Four Nationalists are killed by the police on that day which becomes forever etched into the history of Puerto Rico as the Rio Piedras Massacre. Eye witness evidence of the massacre is ignored and the police involved in the killing are promoted. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
February 23rd, 1936 Colonel Francis Riggs who is the commanding officer of the police on the island is assassinated by Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp in retaliation of the Rio Piedras Massacre. The two Nationalists are caught by the police and executed without a trial right after the press takes their picture. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
March 12, 1937 Palm Sunday several hundred Puerto Ricans gathered in the city of Ponce to celebrate the abolition of slavery and to protest the incarceration of independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos on charges of sedition. Hours before the protest was to take place the Governor of the island Blanton Winship (installed by President Roosevelt) revoked the permit they had received from Ponce’s Puerto Rican mayor. In defiance to the revoked permit they marched anyway. Lines of policemen with rifles and machine guns were set up to meet the protesters in their defiance. The demonstrators would not be turned around by the threat of violence. They marched forward singing “La Boriqueña” the Puerto Rican national anthem. The police fired on the crowd then chased and clubbed them as they tried to escape the violence, 235 were wounded and 19 killed. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
June 11th, 1948 a law known as “Ley de la Mordaza” banned the display of the Puerto Rican flag, banned the speaking of independence and outlawed the struggle for independence. On October 30th in response to that and other indignities that Puerto Ricans suffered under, a woman named Blanca Canales led an armed uprising of Nationalists in the mountain town of Jayuya in an effort to free Puerto Rico from the clutches of US colonial rule. The uprising was put down and thousands of Puerto Ricans were rounded up and arrested and given long harsh prison terms. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
November 1st , 1950 Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola made an attempt to assassinate President Truman. Griselio Torresola was killed in the attempt. Oscar Collazo was caught tried and sentenced to death. In 1952 the US renamed their colonial relationship with Puerto Rico a “Free Associated State” so that the US would not seem like an imperial power in the eyes of the world. Once again this was all done without the consultation of the Puerto Rican people. Oscar Collazo’s sentence was then commuted to life imprisonment, he served 27 years before an international people’s movement succeeded in freeing him and four other Nationalists. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
March 1st of 1954 four Nationalists Andres Figueroa, Irving Flores, Raphael Cancel Miranda and Lolita Lebron fired shots into the US House of Congress while it was in session. They unfurled a Puerto Rican flag and yelled “¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre!”. The goal of the operation was to bring international attention to the fact that the US was an imperial power in Puerto Rico. Some 30 shots were fired and five congressmen wounded in the attack. They were caught and served 25 years in prison for fighting for the independence of their country. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
April 21, 1965 Don Pedro Albizu Campos the Nationalist leader dies of injuries he sustained from the radiation experiments that were conducted on him while he was serving a second prison term that held him responsible for the US House of Congress shooting. After 11 years of serving his sentence he is pardoned only to pass away a few months later in his home. So what is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?
April 4th, 1980 a group of 11 Puerto Rican members of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional – Armed Forces of National Liberation) a clandestine organization fighting for the freedom of Puerto Rico using military means and labeled by US law enforcement as a terrorist group, are arrested in Evanston Illinois. The 11 are brought up on various state and federal charges but are all charged with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government. In their trials they choose to take prisoner of war status under the United Nations Geneva Convention. As prisoners of war they refuse to recognize the US as having any legitimate power over them and because they chose this status they refuse to take part in their trials other than giving opening and closing statements. They are each found guilty and are sentenced to long harsh prison sentences. After 20 years some are pardoned and released. So what is the 4th Of July to a Puerto Rican?
April 19th, 1999 David Sanes a security guard was mistakenly killed by the US military during a bombing exercise on the island of Vieques that the US military used as a live exercise training area since 1941. His death galvanizes a successful peoples movement and Puerto Ricans go out into the military bombing zone to become human shields to get the US military out of Vieques. Although the US military has left Vieques it has not cleaned up the unexploded ordinance that litters the island. Among that ordinance is depleted uranium. The cancer rate in Vieques is 50% higher than it is in Puerto Rico. So what is the 4th of July to Puerto Ricans?
September 23rd, 2005, Puerto Rican independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios is assassinated by the FBI on a what is considered a national holiday to Puerto Ricans. On September 23rd of 1868 an uprising against Spanish colonial rule is fought in an effort to gain independence. Puerto Ricans remember and commemorate the uprising as the birth of the Puerto Rican nation. Filiberto Ojeda Rios was the father of the clandestine armed movement in Puerto Rico, he founded the Ejercito Popular Boricua the EPB, the Popular Puerto Rican Army affectionately known as Los Macheteros and labeled a terrorist group by US law enforcement. He had been a fugitive and one of the most wanted men by the FBI for fifteen years. When the FBI assassinated Filiberto they shot and wounded him but purposely decided to deny him medical attention as he bled to death for over 24 hours. So what is the 4th of July to Puerto Ricans?
This is only a select list of transgressions. This is only a random sampling of the wrong done to a people who have rightfully sought their independence as Malcolm said “By any means necessary”. This is only a small taste of the last hundred years of struggle in a nation that has fought for it’s freedom since 1493 when Columbus “discovered the Americas”. These are the fragments of a hidden history, of an ongoing struggle, for independence intentionally kept from us (both Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Ricans alike) so that we can celebrate the independence of a nation that stands in the way of another nation’s independence. As a point of clarity we Puerto Ricans are not asking for our freedom. We are trying to take it in much the same way that the US took it’s independence. The difference is that the British Empire did not pretend to be an advocate of global democracy and freedom it was an openly imperialist nation. The US on the other hand preens and primps itself as a global bastion of democracy and freedom while in the same breath holding a colony and denying the self-determination of the Puerto Rican people for over a century. Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the Western hemisphere so again I ask you what is the 4th of July to Puerto Rico? What is the 4th of July to a Puerto Rican?MACHETERO from Audio Visual Terrorism on Vimeo.