It being St. Patrick’s Day and all i thought i’d write a little about my experiences screening my film MACHETERO out in Ireland. In 2009 MACHETERO was invited to screen at the International Film Festival Of Ireland. Not wanting to miss an opportunity i flew out to with my brother Jonathan and Kelvin Fernandez who plays a leading role in the film. i flew into Dublin rented a car and drove down to County Tipperary to a town called Clonmel where the festival was being held. The rumors of Ireland’s beauty are in no way exaggerated. And the people are among the friendliest, generous and most gracious in the world… i met people in a pub in Clonmel at 2am like Richie Cleary who not only came out to the screening of MACHETERO the next morning at 11am but brought his whole family… That’s how they roll, out in Ireland…
It seemed that MACHETERO was sparking a lot of interest in Ireland. Festival director Will Nugent (no relation to Ted either by blood or by politic) took me to the local radio station to do an interview about MACHETERO and to talk about the kindred struggle for independence that Puerto Rico and Ireland share… Will is an Irish history buff so the history i dropped on him about Pedro Albizu Campos and Eamon De Valera was of particular interest to him. Irish filmmaker Fiona Ashe who was taking part in the festival asked me and a few other filmmakers to speak to a class she teaches on media. After the presentation many of the students were inspired to come out to the screening.
MACHETERO screened on September 12th, which is the birthday of Puerto Rican independence leader Don Pedro Albizu Campos. The screening was standing room only. People that i’d met in pubs and restaurants and gas stations and just walking around had heard all about MACHETERO and came to see what the buzz was about…. The post screening Q&A discussion was lively, informative and a lot of fun…. The Irish know how to have a good time, even in their resistance to imperialism… MACHETERO wound up winning Best First Film in Ireland which was humbling and exhilirating all at once… It was a heavy mixture of emotions to handle… At the end of the festival Fiona Ashe asked to me to do an interview with her about my experiences in Ireland and that video is below…
“Barrio in barricades without a reason round up in a midnight raid and shot for treason mothers daughters fathers sons put in detention bullets beatings torture gunstoo cruel to mention” RICANSTRUCTION – Breakfast In Amerika
“And it’s true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die”
U2 – Bloody Sunday
Imperialist powers have had a long history of blaming those they oppress for the conditions of their imperialism. There’s no better example that bears out this flawed thinking than the categorizing of violence used in service to liberation being labeled as “terrorism”. Let’s be very clear about something before we go any further. The violence of the colonized is different from the violence of the imperialist. The violence of the colonized is a response to the violence which is inherent in imperialism. Ireland and Puerto Rico, two of the oldest nations in the world, still struggling to extricate themselves from the grip of foreign imperialism, have been doing so for centuries. The parallel experiences that these nations have experienced over time has more to say about the nature of imperialist violence than it has to do with how the colonized respond to that violence.
In the 1930’s Pedro Albizu Campos the leader of the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico moved the party toward taking a more active and militant stance towards independence for Puerto Rico from US imperialism. In 1935 in an incident know as the Rio Piedras Massacre four nationalists were killed by police for attending a rally in support of Albizu. The police responsible for the killings were given promotions. The message was clear to Puerto Ricans across the island, that it was okay to kill Puerto Rican Nationalists. In 1936 two Puerto Rican Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp assassinated Colonel Elisha Francis Riggs who was in charge of the insular police force at the time of the Rio Piedras massacre. Hiram and Elias were captured and then executed by the police, without a trial. Shortly after that Albizu was arrested on charges of sedition.
On Palm Sunday of 1937 the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico planned a march in the city of Ponce to commemorate the abolition of slavery and to protest the arrest and imprisonment of Albizu on recent charges of sedition. As the Nationalists gathered to march the colonial governor General Blanton Winship caught word of the protest and sent in police, to surround the march and keep it from happening. Some of the police were armed with machine guns. The Nationalists refused to disperse and decided to march anyway. They marched forward singing “La Boriqueña” the national anthem of Puerto Rico, pushing forward against a line of armed police. The police opened fired on the crowd from all sides and for 15 minutes they terrorized the marchers with gunfire, beating them with clubs and arresting them without cause. In the end seventeen men, one woman and a seven year old girl were killed, 235 people were wounded and 150 people were arrested. No weapons were found on any of the dead, wounded or arrested but despite that fact no one was held responsible for the largest massacre in Puerto Rican history. The message was clearly sent once again… it’s ok to murder Puerto Rican Nationalists…
In the decades that followed a wave of repression by the US colonial government was waged against the Nationalists. All the while the Nationalists fought to release their political prisoners, organized and attempted to overthrow the US government in Puerto Rico, attempted to assassinate US President Harry Truman, and shot up the House Of Congress while it was in full session. When one looks back on US imperialism’s reactions to these actions by the Nationalists there’s a calculated bewilderment on the part of the US as to why these Puerto Ricans would do such things and an arrogance that denies the fact that the brutality begins with US imperialism. There is a willful ignorance to the fact that the forceful political actions of the Nationalists are a means towards ending the violence of US imperialism. To put it simply… If the US got out of Puerto Rico then the Nationalists decision to use violent actions would cease.
In the latter half of the 1960’s Catholics in Northern Ireland were coming under increased discrimination in terms of electoral politics and housing. Despite the fact that Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland were the majority, Northern Ireland was under the control of the Unionist’s, who supported British rule. The Northern Ireland Civil RIghts Association was formed to respond to theses issues of discrimination. Despite the fact that the NICRA was an organization dedicated to finding non-violent solutions to theses problem the group was met with violence by Protestant loyalists and the Royalist Ulster Constabulary at many of their protests. In 1969 a riot erupted in Derry and spread across Northern Ireland for three days. It became known as the Battle of Bogside. At the end of the rioting 1500 Catholics were pushed out of their homes and 1000 people were injured. This was the beginning of an era in Irish history known as The Troubles.
The Troubles continued in 1972 when the NICRA organized a peaceful march for Civil Rights in Derry. The NICRA forced city officials to allow the march to happen without a permit but they placed a military barricade along the route and the NICRA had to reroute the march. A splinter group of young teenagers broke off from that forced detour and continued towards the military barricade attacking it by throwing rocks which was not uncommon in those days. Rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas dispersed them but in the heat of this battle two solders claimed that some of the teens were armed and began firing into the crowd. The military opened fire on the crowd. A ceasefire order given to the military forces went unheeded and over 100 rounds were shot at the demonstrators. In the end 26 protesters and bystanders were shot by the British military, 14 of them were killed, 13 of those killed were teenagers. In the investigation that followed the British military was found to have acted in self defense despite the fact that no weapons were found on anyone who was killed, injured or arrested on that day. The Provisional Irish Republican Army which had begun a campaign against the partition of Northern Ireland only a few short years before found a boost to their recruitment in the aftermath of what became know in Ireland as the Bogside Massacre or as Bloody Sunday.
When you take a look at these incidents… when you look at these Bloody Sundays you’ll find that the colonized are doing what they can to peacefully find solutions to the problems of imperialism and are met each time with a violence escalated to the level of massacre. In both these circumstances the imperialists react to the challenges of their illegitimate authority with murder and brutality. In both circumstances more than a few of those who were more than willing to try and achieve a non-violent solution are driven to trying to achieve those goals with force. The only logical conclusion that can be drawn from these massacres on two different island nations under the rule of different imperialist powers is that this is not an issue about individual acts of violence and the responses to that violence but that this violence is inherent in imperialism.
Yet if you look at the investigations done in the aftermath of these massacres you can see the imperialists maneuvering to justify their brutality with imagined threats that shape an imperialist reality. In the Ponce massacre General Blanton Winship is sure that the Nationalists march will turn violent and then creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by opening fire on a peaceful crowd. The same is true with the Bloody Sunday massacre in Ireland. The soldiers have been indoctrinated by their imperialist masters that the protesters are coming to kill them and so they decide to kill first. The imperialist reality is a nightmare for the colonized. The imperialist reality is an illusion, locked inside a hermetically sealed vessel, in which actual reality is not allowed to seep in. This imperialist reality is imposed on the colonized despite the lack of evidence or proof or even logic.
If you somehow think that this imperialist reality is some relic of the past think of the recent US and UK imperialist adventure in Iraq and the search for weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was mostly certainly going to use. In the aftermath of that war where are the weapons? Where is the threat? Where is the justification for such actions outside of the self created illusion existing in the hermetically sealed vacuum of imperialism? It doesn’t exist because imperialism is a false reality without logical basis or empirical standing. Sunday after bloody Sunday it continues to impose this reality on the world in an effort to excuse the greed and hubris of imperialism. The question isn’t why are Puerto Rican Nationalists and Irish Republicans and Iraqi insurgents attacking imperialism… the questions is why is the illusion of imperialism, the fake reality of imperialism being imposed in Puerto Rico, in Ireland, in Iraq… Sunday after bloody Sunday…
Film of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Ireland in 1972
A quick note on the artwork at the top of this post…
The base image of a man laying dead and bloody on the ground is taken from a photo of the Bogside Massacre. The ghostly image of text sitting on top of that image is of some text (graffiti) written on the wall by a victim of the Ponce Massacre as he lay bleeding he used the blood to write ‘Long Live The Republic Down With The Assassins’. The cross in the center of the image is the symbol that was used by the Puerto Rican Nationalists.
Shortlink for Sundays Bloody Sundays: http://wp.me/p1eniL-F9
Check out MACHETERO my 6X international award winning film on the struggle for Puerto Rican independence on Vimeo On Demand…
“And I would like the delegates of Puerto Rico to convey my greetings, and those of all Cuba, to Pedro Albizu Campos. We would like you to convey to Pedro Albizu Campos our deep-felt respect, our recognition of the example he has shown with his valor, and our fraternal feelings as free men toward a man who is free, despite being in the dungeons of the so-called U.S. democracy.”
– Ché Guevara – Latin American Youth Congress, Havana, Cuba, July 28, 1960
“If you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you! We defy you! Do your worst!”
– James Connolly
Pedro Albizu Campos was a legendary revolutionary figure who influenced some of the greatest and well know revolutionary figures and movements of the twentieth century like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and the Weathermen. However very little is know about Albizu. In order to understand the influence Albizu had we need to understand what his philosophy was and how he came into those beliefs.
Albizu was born on September 12th of 1893, on the Caribbean coast of Puerto Rico in the city of Ponce. It was the end of the 18th century and a 400 year chapter in Puerto Rican history was coming to a close. In 1897 Albizu would have been four years old, and Puerto Rico was in the process of negotiating its complete autonomy from 400 years of Spanish colonial rule. A year later in 1898 the Spanish-American War broke out and the US began it’s invasion of Spanish forces in Puerto Rico. The initial US invasion was only a few miles from where Albizu was born in a town called Guanica. The invasion quickly ended Spanish colonial rule on the island nation… and almost quickly as Spanish colonialism came to an end it became the beginning of US colonial rule. This was the historical stage that Albizu was born into and the role he would go on to play would forever change the history of Puerto Rico, the US and the world.
Albizu was a gifted student and while he was in high school he was offered a scholarship to the University Of Vermont. He accepted and studied Engineering with an emphasis in Chemistry. Shortly after that he transferred to Harvard University. In 1914 he volunteered for the Army Reserve and was sent back to Puerto Rico as a second lieutenant to organize troops in Ponce. He was called back to the Army Reserve and assigned a post in the all Black 375th infantry, to serve in WWI. The racism he experienced in the 375th as an Afro-Puerto Rican made an indelible mark on Albizu. It was his experienced with racism in the 375th that led him to an understanding that began to percolate in his mind. Puerto Rico was a colony of the US and Puerto Rico needed to be free from US colonial rule.
In 1919 he returned to Harvard to study Law. He became the president of the Cosmopolitan Club at Harvard. It was through the club that he was introduced to the burgeoning independence movement in India through the guest lectures of Subha Chandras Bose who advocated for India’s independence through any and all means including the use of violence. Subha Chandras Bose was the counter balance to Gandhi’s non-violent approach towards gaining the independence of India from the British.
Albizu also met with the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore who was a follower of Gandhi’s passive resistance who was on a tour giving speeches in support of independence for India. Albizu was chosen to debate Tagore at Harvard on his ideas of nationalism. Tagore believed in nationalism in cultural terms but feared that nationalism in political terms would eventually lead to a corruption in the form of a constant desire for power. Tagore’s views were based on the ideals of romantic idealism and the idea that there was an inherent love that existed within all things that could be used to tame nationalism’s desire for power. Albizu disagreed with this view and felt Tagore ideas on nationalism were much to esoteric for him. Albizu’s ideas on nationalism and the way to achieve it, were much more in line with the Irish Republican struggle.
Albizu was introduced to the struggle for Irish Republicanism through two Catholic priests. Father Rodes introduced him to the Catalan Philosopher Priest Jaime Balmes who believed that where Catholicism brought order to Europe, Protestantism was rebellious and brought revolt to Europe. Another Priest Father Ryan introduced Albizu to scholasticism which is a means of critical thought that placed a strong emphasis on dialectic thinking. Father Ryan brought all these ideas together in a tangible way that could be used as a means of nation building in the example of James Connolly.
Connolly devoted his life to the cause of Irish Independence. He was a devoted labor organizer and an internationalist. He was a working class intellectual man of action who founded the Irish Socialist Party and was an instrumental voice in the Internationalist Workers of the World labour union here in the US. He had a clear sense of class consciousness which came from his poverty-stricken upbringing and his study of Marxist thought. It was Connolly’s class consciousness that forced the Irish Volunteers, who he felt had no analysis of class to join Connolly’s own Irish Civilian Army in taking the fight to the British. That alliance along with the Irish Republican Brotherhood brought about the famous Easter Rising of 1916 that set Ireland on a course for home rule. Connolly was badly injured in the Easter Rising and when the British finally defeated the Irish, Connolly and many of the other Irish Republicans were executed. Eamon de Valera the Irish Republican who would eventually broker a deal for Home Rule in Ireland and fought alongside Connolly was spared and sent to prison.
De Valera escaped prison and came to the US to garner support for the Irish cause. Albizu had founded clubs in Boston in support of Irish independence. When De Valera came to Boston he was greeted by Albizu. In 1921 independence came to Southern Ireland and Albizu was asked by De Valera to consult on the Free Irish State Constitution. Although Albizu knew De Valera, Albizu’s thinking was more in line with James Connolly who saw the Home Rule that De Valera brokered with the splitting of Northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland as unsatisfactory to say the least.
It was Albizu’s reading of Jaime Balmes and his experience with how the Irish used their Catholicism to distinguish themselves in their struggle for freedom that drew Albizu to Catholicism. The US was a Protestant country and by aligning the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence with Catholicism he was strengthening the distinction between the two cultures. James Connolly stressed the Catholicism of the Irish as a means of creating a clear cultural separation from the Protestant British. Albizu did the same. He stressed the Catholicism of Puerto Rico and the Protestantism of the US as a way of contrasting values. Values that the US was trying to eradicate in Puerto Rico.
In 1921 Albizu returned to Puerto Rico without his law degree due to a racist professor at Harvard who kept him from taking his final exams. In 1922 he married Laura Meneses, a Peruvian woman he’d met at Harvard. He then took and passed his final exams in Puerto Rico, finally earning his law degree from Harvard. At 30 years old Albizu had a Bachelor of Philosophy, a Masters in Industrial Chemistry and Civil Engineering from the University Of Vermont, a Doctorate Of Philosophy and Letters and a Doctorate of Laws from Harvard. He turned down many lucrative job offers to return to Puerto Rico and settled into a poor barrio in his home town Ponce known as La Cantera and began practicing law.
In 1924 he joined the Nationalist Party, a political party that advocated for the independence of Puerto Rico, and was voted vice president of the party. He traveled around Latin America garnering support for Puerto Rican independence. He went to Haiti where his interview with Haitian nationalists Pierre Paulie and Jolibois Fils became a part of Haitian history. He was well-known in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Haiti for speaking out against US imperialism in El Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Nationalist newspaper. Besides Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, Albizu traveled to Cuba, Mexico, Pananma, Peru and Venezuela. Albizu was a powerful orator and had a mind sharpened by his studies in philosophy and law. Albizu was placing the independence of Puerto Rico as continuity of the larger Latin American struggle with imperialism in the same way that James Connolly did placing the Irish independence movement within an internationalist framework.
In 1933 Albizu became heavily involved in labor issues in Puerto Rico. He led an island wide general strike against the Puerto Rico Railway Light And Power Company that paralyzed the island. The general strike launched Albizu onto a national stage in Puerto Rico. In 1934 sugar cane workers called for another general strike and came to Albizu to lead them in the strike. Albizu supported the sugar cane workers but declined a leadership role in the workers unions saying that they should be led by workers. The sugar cane workers strike was a huge success and it galvanized support for Albizu and the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico.
James Connolly who was also a great defender of the working class organized strikes in Ireland and used those strikes to foster Irish Republicanism. The tactic worked for Connolly in Ireland and it worked for Albizu in Puerto Rico. As the labor movements were guided by these men into nationalist movements both men planned insurrections against their oppressors that would eventually take their lives. For Connolly it was the Easter Rising of 1916. For Albizu it was the Nationalist Insurrection of Jayuya in 1950 and the assassination attempt by Nationalists on President Truman.
Albizu and the Nationalists staged an insurrection in October of 1950 in the small mountain town of Jayuya. The rebellion failed but Albizu’s goal was not so much to take over the country in open warfare but to bring the world’s attention to the plight of US imperialism in Puerto Rico. In effect Albizu was trying to bring global attention to the hypocrisy of the US, as it fought wars for freedom it in other nations and at the same time denied the freedom of another nation. In November of 1950 an assassination attempt on President Truman by Oscar Collazo and Grisello Torresola put Albizu back in prison. Albizu had already served 10 years in prison already for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government and for the second time in his life he found that the fight for freedom, led him to a prison sentence of 80 years.
Albizu would be tortured in prison with radiation experiments and when his health deteriorated to certain death he was pardoned by Puerto Rican governor Luis Muñoz Marin in Novemeber of 1964. A few moths later in 1965 Albizu died. It was a prolonged agonizing end to a man who would not compromise his ideals in the face of death. Like James Connolly who was so badly wounded in the Easter Rising that he needed to be carried to the firing squad on a stretcher and tied to a chair to be shot because he could not stand, Albizu had given his life over to the struggle for freedom. The philosophy and example that James Connolly and Don Pedro Albizu Campos left behind for the rest of us struggling for freedom can best be summed up by Albizu…
“Courage is the only thing which permits a man to pass firmly and serenely over the shadows of death and when man passes serenely over the shadows of death, he enters into immortality.”
Check out the 6X international award winning film MACHETERO on Vimeo On Demand. The film is a meditation on the violent struggle for Puerto Rican independence but it’s also a film that speaks to larger issues of colonized peoples around the world.
“We cannot be free until we have power!How else can we achieve it?”
– Caesar from Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes
With the new Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes film opening this weekend i’m not holding my hopes too highly that it will be as radical a piece of agit-pop as the original Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes which was a condensation of anti-imperialist sentiment. Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes is one of the most openly unapologetic politically revolutionary science fiction films ever made. The ramification of its themes about race, slavery, and revolution resonates from the African slave trade and the wholesale slaughter of indigenous peoples of the so-called “new world” to the ongoing anti-imperialist struggles being waged throughout the world.
The Planet Of The Apes was originally a novel written in 1963 by a French writer named Pierre Bouell. The novel was adapted into a film and released in 1968. It’s success lead to a series of sequels all of which contained some socio-political commentary but Conquest was the most openly radical of the series. In Conquest Of the Planet Of The Apes, apes are trained and treated as slaves by human beings. Caesar an “intelligent” ape who can speak to both humans and apes clandestinely trains the apes to fight and amass weapons and eventually leads an uprising against the humans. The casting of Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán as Caesar’s sympathetic owner doing his best to protect Caesar from the authorities who recognize the threat of a “talking ape” and the African American actor Hari Rhodes who saves Caesar after Caesar has been tortured and ordered to be killed is also significant in that they are both non-white people.
Released in 1972 the film is a great piece of agit-pop, a scathing social commentary reflecting the attitudes of the time period. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 gave rise to armed organizations defending the human rights of oppressed people in the US like the American Indian Movement, The Black Liberation Army as well as white solidarity groups like the Weather Underground. In a global context the film was a reflection of other organizations that were fighting fascism and imperialism overseas like the IRA in Ireland, the PLO in Palestine, the Angry Brigade in England, Red Army Faction in Germany and Los Macheteros in Puerto Rico. Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes condensed that sentiment into a mythology that spoke to the reality of the times. Consider the dialogue between Hari Rhodes as MacDonald and Caesar played by Roddy McDowall, when MacDonald is shocked to finds that Caesar can speak…
MacDonald I never believed it… I thought you were a myth.
Caesar Well, I’m not. But I will tell you something that is… The belief that human beings are kind.
MacDonald No Caesar, there are some…
Caesar Oh a handful perhaps but not most of them. They won’t learn to be kind until we force them to! And we can’t do that until we are free!
MacDonald How do you propose to gain this freedom?
Caesar By the only means left to us… revolution!
MacDonald But it’s doomed to failure!
Caesar Perhaps… this time.
MacDonald And the next…
MacDonald But you’ll keep trying?
Caesar You, above everyone else should understand. We cannot be free until we have power! How else can we achieve it?
The whole crux of the film has been racing towards this dialogue. The whole story has been designed and built to make this point about revolution. Caesar’s reminder that MacDonald “above everyone else should understand” speaks volumes in a few short moments. The brevity of the scene gives it a weight without being heavy handed or preachy. Right after Caesar’s last lines are said the audience is divided into three groups. Those against the cause of the Apes, those who sympathize with their cause but not their method like MacDonald’s character and those who completely identify with Cesar and his cause of liberation. This division is not one that takes place during the film because everyone is on Caesar’s side while the film is rolling, this question of what side you are on comes after the credits have rolled and the evening news presents rock throwing Palestinians in Gaza.
The film could be looked at as some sort of time capsule artifact on revolutionary thought and struggle but it’s relevance unfortunately still rings true in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria and Egypt and Jordan. Not to mention the ongoing the reunification of Ireland, the restoration of Hawaii as a nation, and the anti-imperialist struggle waged by Puerto Ricans for independence against US colonial rule.
“Puerto Rico has a history that is very heroic and prolific. Naturally, as a colony, there exists a history of double interpretation; the colony, and the history of the anti-colonial struggle. In reality, the colonial history does not apply to us. It is more fitting for the colonizer. Ours, the only one, is the anti-colonial history because it is the history of our native people who survived and are in constant battle to defeat the powerful colonial forces. It is the history of puertorriqueñidad.”
– Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
Imperialism is an ideology and an ideology needs a mythology to shape its culture. It’s the creation of an American mythology that cloaks US imperialism both abroad and domestically in a desire to “spread democracy” or “freedom” to those who are supposedly “struggling” to be free . It’s an American mythology that trumpets the hard won freedom from the British empire and mumbles the fact that it was only for white land owning men. It’s the American mythology that leads people to believe that Abraham Lincoln fought the Civil War to free the slaves. It’s American mythology that justifies war in Afghanistan to free women from the Taliban.
When the dust settles on the fallen American empire and archeologists sift through the rubble they’ll find that nothing has shaped American culture more than imperialism and that the mythology that was been built up to support that ideology was it’s greatest export. The difference between US imperialism and other empires is that it’s mythology is constructed around the deception that it’s “bringing democracy and freedom” to the world. It’s a mythology shaped around the idea that “US democracy” is democracy perfected and because the US built this perfected democracy from the ground up it is burdened to build US democracy for other nations and peoples around the world.
In affect US imperialism is a continuation of the European ideology of the White Mans Burden that justified the colonization of Africa, Asia and the Americas as well as the attempted genocide of those peoples. The White Mans Burden to educate and elevate non-whites to “civilization” is the template for US imperialism’s desire to “nation build” in non-white countries like El Salvador or Nicaragua or Guatemala or Vietnam or Korea or Somalia or Libya. US imperialism will bring democracy and freedom to our little lost brown brothers. It’s this thinking that has justified the wholesale destruction of nations in an attempt to bring freedom and democracy. The whole of US imperialism can be summed up in one statement during the Vietnam War, “It became necessary to destroy the town, in order to save it”. Whereas other empires had no clothes, were naked in their aggression, US imperialism clothes its ambitions in “nation building”. Meet the new imperialism, the same as the old imperialism.
In the wake of the US attacks on 9/11 the US government went into it’s shallow bag of tricks and dusted off the old divide and conquer techniques it had been using since the 1840’s. One of the greatest ramifications to come out of the US attacks on 9/11 was the redefining of terrorism to encompass all forms of violence against empire. It also did wonders for the evolution of the American mythology in creating a firm foundation for US imperialism’s credentials in the eyes of the world as judge jury and executioner of democracy. This American mythology that began some 160 years ago with Manifest Destiny was a foundation and the US attacks on 9/11 allowed the US to build on that mythology by becoming the defenders of democracy as it was defined by US imperialism. In defending US imperialist defined democracy it had the privilege of also defining its enemies. It gave US imperialists the latitude of labeling all those who fought against democracy, as it was defined by US imperialists, as terrorists. In essence if your struggle didn’t synch up with US imperialism then you were labeled a terrorist.
Former president Bush defined this new American mythology in one short mantra “You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists” this was the theme of the new Manifest Destiny in the age of terrorism, condensed into a soundbite. This put struggles like that of Northern Ireland with Britain, the Basque with Spain and the Palestinians with Israel between rock and a hard place. The machine of American mythology had now incorporated and equated anyone who was not “with us” as “with the terrorists”. The struggles for freedom and democracy in Northern Ireland and in the Basque country and in the Palestinian territories didn’t fit the criteria of US imperialism and so they were relegated to being “terrorists”. The fact that that there is a a world of difference between the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in the US and the struggles for self-determination in Ireland, the Basque country and Palestine was of little concern to anyone outside of those struggles. The good will and sympathy that the world had for the US after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 allowed the US to strip away dialectical critical thinking on these struggles. There was now only the polarities of “us” and “them”.
As the US feasted upon it’s new found ability to turn the whole world upside down. The bones of it were thrown to countries like Britain, Spain and Israel. The ability to take the US imperial definition of democracy and terrorism as their own and apply it to their own imperial quandaries was a godsend to them. In Ireland the IRA felt the world looking at their actions for self-determination through the prism of the post US 9/11 terrorist attacks, as defined by the US. The ETA of Basque (a clandestine Basque separatist group) also felt the affect of this new “terrorist” paradigm. While Hamas in Palestine got the rudest awakening to the new parameters of democracy.
The IRA announced that it would put it’s arms aside because of the US terrorist attacks on 9/11, fearing that the world equate the tactics of their struggle with the US terrorist attacks on 9/11. Spain used the newly defined “with us” or “with the terrorists” paradigm as an excuse to go on massive raids rounding up and arresting hundreds of Basque independence sympathizers which decimated the ETA both financially and in terms of recruitment. Hamas set aside armed struggle to politically campaigning for power in the Palestinian territory, winning that political power in an overwhelming mandate, only to find that their democracy was one that didn’t fit the definition of either Israeli or US imperialists. Putting Hamas and the Palestinians backs against a different wall and leaving them with few choices in defending themselves.
These are the unrecognized and unspoken affects of the American mythology in the post US 9/11 terrorist attacks, as that mythology adapts itself to a new zeitgeist where people are rising up and taking the freedom that was always theirs as they’re doing in Iran, Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. It’s this adaption of American mythology that further buries the naked imperialism of the US in regard to the small Caribbean nation of Puerto Rico. While the US can pretend to negotiate peace between its British ally and their Northern Irish problem and condemn the ETA for their “terrorist” tactics against their Spanish ally and feign a neutrality in negotiating a solution between their Israeli ally and the Palestinians, the US has quietly done its best, to keep the dirty little secret of a colonial relationship it has forcibly maintained with Puerto Rico for well over a century, out of the limelight in all of these situations.
The story of Puerto Rico’s colonization goes back to 1493 with the Spanish. In 1898 it went from negotiating its autonomy from Spain to being a colony of the US the after the Spanish – American War. So while the new American mythology postures itself as the generous harbinger of freedom and democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan it harbors its own colonial dilemma. What the US doesn’t want you to know is that there has always been a strong and often times violent resistance to US colonialism in Puerto Rico. A resistance it labels “terrorism”.
If there is any doubt as to how the US equates those fighting for freedom and justice with terrorism, as it has in Northern Ireland and in the Basque country and in the Paletinian territories look at the how the recent capture or kill operation on Osama Bin Laden is eerily similar to another operation that took place in 2005 with Puerto Rican independence leader Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios. Filiberto is considered the founder of the armed underground clandestine movement to free Puerto Rico from US colonial rule. He was the leader of the EPB (Popular Boricua Army) also known as Los Macheteros.
On September 23rd of 1990 while awaiting trial for the $7 million Wells Fargo robbery of 1985 and he cut off the the electronic shackle on his ankle to live a life of clandestinity. While in clandestinity Filiberto mocked the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement agencies by giving television, radio and newspaper interviews. While these law enforcement agenices searched the 100 by 35 mile island of Puerto Rico for him, Filiberto was creating a mythology of resistance by living clandestinely in the open. He publishied articles in newspapers and issued statements on the ongoing Puerto Rican colonial condition from clandestinity. He lived among his people as he evaded the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world. In doing so Filiberto was creating an alternate mythology to the dominant American mythology. It was a Puerto Rican mythology of resistance that could be used to shape a culture of resistance to the culture of imperialism.
In 2005 the FBI found Filiberto and they set up an operation to capture or kill him. Hundreds of FBI agents surrounded his house. Filiberto defended himself in a shoot out that ensued and Filiberto was wounded but the FBI refused to give him medical attention and let him bleed to death for over 24 hours. The fact that this took place on September 23rd, a day that Puerto Ricans celebrate an armed uprising against Spanish colonial rule that led to the abolition of slavery and 15 years to the day that he had escaped did not go unnoticed by Puerto Ricans. Former Puerto Rican political prisoner and prisoner of war Dylcia Pagan said it best when she said “…this is not just an attack on a leader of our movement but an attack on our very Puerto Rican-ness”.
When Osama Bin Laden was killed by the US government the similarities to the assassination of Comandante Filiberto were numerous. In the case of Pakistan the government was unaware of the operation on Bin Laden using the excuse that to do so might tip Bin Laden off to the operation. In Puerto Rico the FBI gave no warning to the colonial government of the island on their attack plans on Filiberto out of the same fear that doing so would compromise the operation. Both situations ended in what can only be described as murder. The latest story now, is that Bin Laden was unarmed and shot in the head. Filiberto was armed but wounded and unable to continue being a threat but the FBI saw fit to wait for him to bleed to death. The US equated the actions of these men because that is the paradigm of the new American mythology.
However just like there is a chasm of difference that exists between equating Bin Laden with Geronimo as the US military did in their operation to capture and kill Bin Laden, there is an equally large distance to between Comandante Filiberto and Bin Laden. That chasm of distance between Geronimo and Filiberto as freedom fighters and Bin Laden as terrorist is something that the new post 9/11 American mythology can choose to bridge. What we need to recognize is that, it is a bridge to far. What we need to do is reject the polarity and reclaim the dialectic. What we need to do is reject the development of this new American mythology with a counter mythology. One that doesn’t equate freedom fighters with terrorists.
For a quick background on the life of Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios check out the video i edited below. To hear Filiberto’s views on the colonial situation in Puerto Rico check out the series of YouTube videos FILIBERTO: THE CLANDESTINE INTERVIEW
“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.
The right not to wear a prison uniform
The right not to do prison work
The right of free association with other prisoners, and to organise educational and recreational pursuits
The right to one visit, one letter and one parcel per week
Full restoration of remission lost through the protest
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…