This month, the United Nations’ Decolonization Committee will once again review the case of Puerto Rico. Over the last year, the political dynamic in Puerto Rico has changed somewhat, necessarily bringing us towards a new and interesting analysis, one that may impact the decolonization work in the UN.
A year ago, the struggle for independence was strengthened not only by the continued intensification of grassroots organizing in communities across Puerto Rico, but also an escalation of the struggle on the international front as evidenced by the Latin American Congress in support of Puerto Rico’s independence and the Decolonization Committee’s request that our case be brought once again before the UN General Assembly, something not done since 1953.
Community struggles on the island have witnessed small victories and several incidents which served to educate and mobilize the people: demonstrations rejecting the presence of federal agencies on the island, the police murder of an innocent citizen in Humacao and the widespread general outcry that followed, the recent victory of the community of Candelaria in Mayaguez to keep their mural criticizing police misconduct, the increasing activism of the now legendary Tito Kayak and the Amigos Del Mar in support of the demolition of Paseo Caribe, the Department of Justice Report regarding the FBI murder of Filiberto Ojeda Rios condemning the FBI agents involved as liars (and the agency as arrogant and non-cooperative) and subsequent news reports highlighting those lies and premeditated plans to kill the Machetero, the indictment and low-key arrest of the Governor (and his sudden anti-federal rhetoric) and the subsequent political response of the Partido Popular Democratico (Popular Democratic Party, which supports the current Commonwealth status) demanding sovereignty in Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States, and the FBI’s arrest of Machetero Avelino Gonzalez Claudio (“FBI Arrests Man in 1983 Militant Robbery”, ABCNews.com), and its increasing harassment of independence activists across the island, including the Grand Jury subpoenas issued to activists based in New York City - and now also in Puerto Rico (“Puerto Rican Independentistas Protest Grand Jury”).
Indeed, Los Macheteros recently released a statement alerting the people to a possible FBI plot to arrest, kidnap, and possibly murder activists during what many see as a coming wave of politically-motivated arrests (“Puerto Rican Macheteros Warn of FBI Onslaught”).
These campaigns and incidents may signal subtle movement in the collective unconscious of the people of the island, colonized by the United States since 1898.
As the people move toward a slow break with the colonial mentality which once forbade them from verbally and openly attacking the colonial power (aka federal government aka incumbent power structure), the response from the incumbent power structure (read: the colonial power of the United States and its representative agencies on the island) is expected: the use of force. Nonetheless, it is clear that as the people express greater and greater outrage over their daily condition and collective experience, the politically repressive machine of the FBI increases its activity.
There are fires popping up for them daily – from Tito Kayak mounted on a crane demanding that Paseo Caribe be demolished, to the symbolic and psychological victories won by the people of Candelaria, to the demonstrations held in front of the not-so-secret offices of the FBI in Ponce, to the movement to preserve access to the public beaches across the island, to the police misconduct scandal that broke across the western part of the island that was actually revealed and criticized by progressive organizations supporting independence working in marginalized communities, to the grassroots warning concerning the resources in El Yunque and the need to protect that reserve; these must not be seen as isolated incidents of solitary struggles confined to particular regions or towns.
We must begin to view these struggles using a more long term and macro view of social and political change that is in formation and whose outcome is inevitable, given the power dynamic internally on the island and the power dynamic between the two nations of the US and Puerto Rico. The friction between the powerless and the powerful is inevitable.
The outcome is an open challenge to the power status quo leading to the re-ordering of this power dynamic, establishing complete (international and national) political power in the hands of the people of Puerto Rico, with the people leading the way in establishing the forms and priorities of their government. The shackles of international colonial subservience and internal national powerlessness must be broken and thrown off – this is what these incidents and campaigns are about and what they will provoke.
The FBI investigation into Puerto Rican revolutionary organizations is not about terrorism; it is about preventing this challenge to and break with the current colonial order.
The international struggle, long being waged in the halls of the United Nations and countless embassies around the world, has gained momentum and propelled the political status issue of the island into a position of sudden relevance. Many more countries now than ever before accept and call for the self-determination and independence of the people of Puerto Rico – surely the work of movement leadership is bearing fruit on the international front as is the negative effect of the Bush administration’s policies and reputation.
Even the United States ’ Democratic Party Presidential primary election brought attention to the colonial condition of the island. As some of its inhabitants manifest the neurosis and psychosis of colonialism by desperately campaigning for foreign Presidential candidates (whom they cannot vote for in the general election), those very candidates will keep Puerto Rican nationalists in prison, will oversee the intelligence agencies that will continue to harass and murder Puerto Rican activists, and will continue to conveniently lament the division in the island’s political climate while leading the psychological, economic, and social assault on our people that exacerbate that division. The incredibly low turnout for the primary (15% of the electorate) is evidence that Puerto Ricans still hold out for the preservation of their uniqueness, their identity, their separate nationality, and in essence their nationhood.
The synthesis of these two important facets of our freedom movement is the missing link. At home, the movement must do more to inform and win over those who do not yet believe (at least emotionally) that independence is a viable option. Abroad, the work continues to bear fruit. The damage done by US scare tactics continues to manifest itself as many people on the island continue to erroneously believe that Puerto Rico will die of starvation without the current relationship with the United States.
The organizations challenging these deep-rooted brain-washed beliefs are undertaking a tremendous and inspiring role in combating those beliefs with their education campaigns across the island. The movement must come together (not just the political party organization), offensively, and create a viable economic program – a general economic vision or a set of economic principles coupled with sets of alternative economic systems that may be implemented once independence is won. Only then will the people understand what awaits them once independence is won from the colonial power. The movement must regain and retain the nationalist argument now being stolen by the autonomists (who actually desire to remain under the tutelage of the US ) and couple that nationalism with a vision of economic security that can be explained to the people. Once economic anxiety can be ameliorated, then nationalism and revolutionary nationalism (as the bridge towards political freedom) can be safely expressed by the people as a guarantor of their rights.
Such a program can be created utilizing the same unitary principle that is being used to defend the movement against FBI intrusion and harassment. We must move from response to action, from defense to offense, from a position of irrelevance in the eyes of the people to a position of relevance and importance. Our people must lose the fear of freedom and move to openly support and protect and develop our freedom.
This is not to say that the defense of the independence movement from federal attack should not be a priority, for such self-preservation is a necessary and important part of moving our platform forward to the next phase. However, what should be recognized objectively are the subtle shifts in many different segments of Puerto Rican society that indicate a ripening of the political condition, layers of the colonial mentality that may be being shed that can and should be taken advantage of by the independence, nationalist, and revolutionary movements in Puerto Rico. Seizing upon this window of opportunity now may be the best weapon of attack against the crime of colonialism and the federal agents of terror present on our land and shores.