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Vol. 81/No. 24      June 19, 2017

(lead article)

Join fight for independence, workers power
in Puerto Rico

NEW YORK — Gov. Andrew Cuomo; big-business media like the Daily News and the New York Post; the New York cops; Ricardo Rosselló, governor of the colonial regime in Puerto Rico; and a number of major corporations have been at the forefront of a campaign smearing Puerto Rican independence fighter Oscar López Rivera as a “terrorist.” The campaign aims to convince workers not to join López marching in this year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade here.

López spent nearly 36 years in U.S. prisons — more than 12 in solitary confinement — for fighting for independence for Puerto Rico. An international campaign for his freedom won support across the political spectrum there. Rosselló even joined in. And it was gaining steam in the U.S. — where over 5 million Puerto Ricans live today, more than on the island — and elsewhere. Shortly before he left office, President Barack Obama commuted López’s sentence and he was finally released from detention May 17.

He has been touring Puerto Rico and the U.S. since, protesting U.S. colonial exploitation and speaking out for independence. The National Puerto Rican Day Parade committee here invited López to join the parade and named him a “National Freedom Hero.”

Cuomo and his cohorts thought that by slandering López they could push back discussion among working people and others on Washington’s domination of Puerto Rico, and about the common interests workers in both countries have in standing up to attempts to slash wages, pensions, jobs and essential services. The U.S. rulers have imposed a Financial Oversight and Management Board over Puerto Rico, with the power to force deep cuts in social services, jobs and education to maximize bond payments to bankers and speculators.

While López is widely known in the U.S. colony, among Puerto Ricans in the U.S. only a minority knew much about his story — not to mention the rest of the working class.

But the slander campaign helped begin to change that. “I’m Puerto Rican,” Venice López told Socialist Workers Party members who knocked on her door in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn June 1. “But until all this talk about the parade, I had never even heard of him. So I started looking up information on Oscar López on the internet.”

There are some 700,000 Puerto Ricans in New York City, the largest concentration in the U.S. and a significant part of the working class here.

López Rivera answered the slander campaign in a column published prominently in the Daily News June 2.

“This parade is happening at a time when Puerto Rico is facing a political and economic crisis that is impacting everyone on the island,” he said. “Unfortunately, the narrative around the parade is not celebration and concern for the situation on the island but rather misinformation about who I am and what I stand for.”

“I want to repeat what I have said in many interviews, both in prison and since my release,” he added. “I personally, and we as a community have transcended violence.”

U.S. prosecutors, unable to charge him with any violent act, had railroaded him to prison on charges of “seditious conspiracy.”

To “shift the focus” from himself to the plight of workers in Puerto Rico, López said, “I will be on Fifth Ave. not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather who at 74 continues to be committed to helping raise awareness about the fiscal, health care and human rights crisis Puerto Rico is facing at this historic juncture.”

López will join the “Contingent for Oscar and Puerto Rico’s Decolonization” June 11.

The same issue of the Daily News featured a letter from Osborne Hart, Socialist Workers Party candidate for New York mayor, under the headline, “Stand with Oscar and Puerto Rico.”

López was released “thanks to a worldwide campaign on his behalf — a victory for working people both in Puerto Rico and here,” Hart said. The aim of the smear campaign “is to divert attention from the growing discussion on how to end Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. colony and Wall Street’s plunder of the island’s resources.” Hart encouraged working people to join the contingent for Oscar López and decolonization.

Hart says the road to independence in Puerto Rico is through the fight for workers’ power, as they did in Cuba.

López’s decision to foreswear the honor, and his focus on the U.S. rulers’ anti-working-class offensive against the people of Puerto Rico, dealt a blow to the smear campaign. But it didn’t appease Cuomo or other ruling class opponents of Puerto Rican independence. None of the corporate sponsors who pulled out of the parade — including Goya, Corona, the Daily News, Univisión, McDonald’s, the Yankees, Jet Blue, AT&T, Coca Cola and more — have said they would return, and Cuomo says he still won’t march.

The slander campaign did affect “progressive” Democratic New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had said he would march despite López’s presence. A June 2 New York Times article entitled, “De Blasio Moves to Curb Puerto Rican Militant’s Parade Profile,” said he had threatened to pull out if López didn’t act forcefully to give up the “Freedom Hero” honor.

Eddie Borges, a self-described “reporter, advocate and policy maker,” wrote in the June 4 Daily News objecting to the fact that on his release López thanked Cuba for its support. Borges complained that “false nostalgia peddled by a shrinking minority who advocate for an independence movement that never won popular support on the island” is continuing to dominate the discussion.

For years López has pointed to the Cuban Revolution as an example for Puerto Rico and the world. He plans to visit Cuba in the fall to thank the people and the revolutionary government there for their support for him and the people of Puerto Rico.
Related articles:
Puerto Rican independence fighter welcomed in Calif.
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