This was originally posted on 7/4/11 and is reposted here as a Public Service Announcement that American freedom is still American colonialism for others…
“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?
For more information on the struggle for Puerto Rican independence and the history that was hidden from you… September23.org
“They have nothing in their whole imperial arsenal that can break the spirit of one Irishman who doesn’t want to be broken. ”
– Bobby Sands
“It took seven of them to break my jaw but the whole American empire could not break my spirit.”
– Rafael Cancel Miranda
On the surface, at first glance, Ireland and Puerto Rico don’t seem to have much in common except maybe that they are both islands. Scratch at that surface and take a deeper look and you will see two island nations locked in a struggle to extricate themselves from the grips of imperial adventurism that has lasted for hundreds of years. In the case of Ireland it has struggled to have a united autonomous nation against British imperialism. In the case of Puerto Rico it has had to struggle for it’s sovereignty with Spain for 400 years and continues to do so now with the US. Look even further into their histories and you’ll find a commonality and solidarity between these struggles.
Pedro Albizu Campos, the founder of the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico, was an ardent supporter of Irish independence when he attended Harvard. It was there that he met Eamon De Valera the Irish independence freedom fighter. When Eamon negotiated the Irish Free State Constitution in 1922 he called upon Albizu to be one of his advisors. The Irish struggle for independence was a great influence on Albizu who patterned many of his strategies for Puerto Rican independence after the Irish struggle.
Albizu spent many years in prison for his beliefs. In 1950 Albizu and 3,000 other independence advocates were arrested after an armed insurrection in the mountain town of Jayuya on October 30th and an attempted assassination of President Truman on November 1st. Albizu was sentenced to 80 years in prison but in 1953 the first Puerto Rican governor to administer the colonial affairs of the US on the island, Luis Muñoz Marin, pardoned him.
On March 1st of 1954 four Puerto Rican Nationalists, Irving Flores Rodriguez, Andres Figueroa Cordero, Raphael Cancel Miranda and Lolita Lebron bought one way train tickets from New York City to Washington DC. When they arrived in Washington DC they went to the visitor’s balcony of the House of Congress brandishing revolvers and firing shots into the House of Congress. Lolita Lebron yelled out “Free Puerto Rico” as she fired. Five Congressmen were wounded in the shooting and the four were captured and convicted of the attack.
As the leader of the Nationalist Party, Albizu’s pardon was revoked after the attack and he served another twenty years in prison before radiation experiments conducted on him in prison deteriorated his health to certain death. He was released in 1964 only to die a few months later in 1965. The four Nationalists who attacked the House Of Congress served 25 years before being pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. At the time Lolita Lebron was the longest held female political prisoner in the world.
Bobby Sands a member of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) was in prison serving a 14 year sentence for firearms possession. It was not his first time in prison but it would be his last. In July of 1972 the Provisional IRA negotiated Special Category Status for those prisoners who were serving sentences in the British prison system for fighting for Irish independence. The Special Category Status essentially allowed those prisoners to have Prisoners Of War status as laid out in the Geneva Convention. Prisoner Of War status meant not having to wear prison uniforms, not having to do prison work, and being held in separate areas of from the general population of the prison. On March 1st of 1976 the British announced that they would took away Special Category Status to the Irish POW’s. In response to the announcement the Irish POW’s refused to wear prison uniforms and took to covering themselves with blankets in what became known as the “Blanket Protests”.
The Blanket Protests it seemed were not enough and so in 1981, Bobby Sands organized a hunger strike to reinstate Prisoner Of War status. He suggested that the other prisoners who would take part in the hunger strike stagger their start times so that their physical deterioration would last months and more attention would be raised on their plight. They had five demands.
On March 1st of 1981, twenty-six years to the day, of the attack on the House Of Congress, Bobby Sands began his hunger strike. The hunger strike of Bobby Sands catapulted the cause of Irish independence on to the world stage. On May 5th after 66 days of going without food, Bobby Sands died. He was 27.
On April 4th of 1980, 11 members of a clandestine Puerto Rican separatist group fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico, the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional – Armed Forces Of National Liberation) were arrested in Evanston, Illinois. Among the charges they were charged with was the charge of seditious conspiracy to overthrow the United States government. Like the Irish Republicans the FALN took the position that they were Prisoners Of War. The FALN refused to participate in any way in their trials refusing to recognize the US government as having any jurisidiction over them.
The hunger strike of Bobby Sands was closely followed by the FALN and other supporters of the Puerto Rican independence movement. Bobby Sands hunger strike began while the FALN were in the midst of their trials. Among those arrested FALN members were Dylcia Pagan and Carmen Valentine who were serving sentences in state prison. When word reached them that Bobby Sands had died for his freedom on that May 5th of 1981 Dylcia Pagan and Carmen Valentine immediately organized a gathering in the prison to honor him. In keeping with the defiance and autonomy that both the Irish and Puerto Rican people have demonstrated in their struggles for freedom the gathering was organized without permission from prison authorities. Dylcia and Carmen gathered with other prisoners in a circle and they remembered the life of Bobby Sands.
Nine other Irish prisoners also died in the hunger strike that Bobby Sands organized. Their names were Francis Hughes 59 days, Raymond Mc Creesh 61 days, Patsy O’Hara 61 days, Joe McDonnell 61 days, Martin Hurson 46 days, Kevin Lynch 71 days, Kieran Doherty 73 days, Thomas McElwell 62 days, Michael Devine 60 days. Officially it was said that they died of bodily starvation but unofficially many will tell you that it was a spiritual starvation for freedom that killed them…
¡Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!
Erin Go Bragh!