BY JANET POST
MIAMI - For the first time in years, a prominent leader of the fight for Puerto Rican independence spoke at a public meeting in this city. Rafael Cancel Miranda was the featured speaker May 2 at a meeting that joined the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico and the defense of the Cuban revolution.
More than 175 people attended the meeting, held at the First Unitarian Church. The public forum, called "100 Years of Resistance," celebrated a century of struggle since 1898, when Washington's armed forces invaded and took control of Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Philippines, and Guam. Puerto Rico remains a direct U.S. colony - the largest remaining colony in the world.
The program was sponsored by the Miami Coalition to End the U.S. Embargo of Cuba; the Antonio Maceo Brigade, an organization of Cuban-Americans who support the Cuban revolution; and the Alliance of Workers in the Cuban Community (ATC). The Orlando, Florida, chapter of the National Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners played an important role in building the event, bringing a vanload of people from Orlando.
Members of the Cuba Vive group from Tampa, Florida, came to the event as well. A number of other people attended who had come from Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington, D.C., to participate the next day in a southern Regional Socialist Educational Conference.
Besides Cancel Miranda, other speakers included Irvin Forestier of the Orlando committee for Puerto Rican political prisoners, and Tony Jeanthenor of the Haitian rights organization Veye-Yo. Also speaking were Walfrido Moreno, president of the ATC, and Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and editor of the book The Bolivian Diary of Ernesto Che Guevara.
Unlike many previous political events of this kind, the May 2 meeting had been publicized throughout Miami two weeks prior. Despite the shrill publicity for a counterprotest broadcast that same day on Spanish-language station Radio Mambí, however, a picket line organized by two right-wing outfits, the Cuban American National Foundation and the paramilitary group Alpha 66, drew only 30 individuals. The rightists, behind police barricades across the street from the church, spent their time hurling insults at those attending the meeting, unable to disrupt the event.
Draped over the podium side by side were the Puerto Rican and Cuban flags, symbolic of the century-long history of common struggle by the two Caribbean peoples. Also displayed in the hall by Puerto Rican independence forces was the "Grito de Lares" flag that came out of Puerto Rico's 1868 uprising against Spanish colonial rule launched in the town of Lares.
The meeting was chaired by Andrés Gómez, national coordinator of the Antonio Maceo Brigade. Noting the range of forces represented on the speakers platform, Gómez compared this gathering to "meetings composed of similar people who 100 years ago struggled together in Key West, Tampa, Jacksonville, New York, and Philadelphia - Haitians, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans - to achieve the liberation of Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spanish colonialists. We are proud heirs of that struggle."
Gómez noted that the meeting was one of several that will take place in Miami this year during the commemoration of 100 years of anti-imperialist struggle, adding, "Tonight we have chosen to emphasize the struggle of our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters."
Haitian and Puerto Rican speakers
He then introduced Tony Jeanthenor, a leader of Veye Yo, who expressed his group's identification with the Puerto Rican struggle against foreign domination. "Resistance is not foreign to us," said Jeanthenor, who described the struggle against U.S. military intervention in Haiti and against the repression of Haitians living in the United States today. "We have been fighting for 185 years to become truly independent."
Irvin Forestier, of the Orlando chapter of the National Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Prisoners of War and Political Prisoners, invited people to join a demonstration July 25 in Washington, D.C., to demand freedom for 15 independence fighters locked up in U.S. jails and for self- determination for Puerto Rico. Demonstrations are also being organized at the United Nations and in Guánica, Puerto Rico. July 25 marks the 100th anniversary of the invasion of the island by U.S. armed forces at Guánica.
Forestier highlighted the case of Oscar López Rivera, one of the Puerto Rican political prisoners, who has been kept in solitary confinement for 13 years.
Also giving greetings to the meeting was Walfrido Moreno, president of the ATC, an organization of Cuban-Americans who oppose the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and which had several supporters at the event.
In her remarks, Mary-Alice Waters explained, "A meeting to discuss the lessons of 100 years of imperialist domination has to start with the world of today, as well as the world of tomorrow. For our purpose is not an historical discussion. The lessons of 100 years of struggle are in preparation for the battles to come."
Waters pointed to the deepening financial crisis of capitalism and resulting social devastation today. She said this is "a road that threatens tumultuous upheavals in Europe" - an arena where imperialist rivals are struggling for economic and military dominance. "These rivalries are playing themselves out already on the killing fields of Bosnia, Kosova, and Albania," she stated.
U.S. imperialism weaker today
Waters emphasized one important change in the past decades: "U.S. imperialism is weaker today, not stronger. Because its roots are sunk deeper in every powderkeg everywhere in the world. And the enemies of imperialism are stronger, more capable, and more experienced than they were 50 or 100 years ago."
She pointed to the widening working-class resistance and political struggles today, including the meatpackers strike against Smithfield/Lykes in Plant City, near Tampa, as well as the vitality of the current struggle for Puerto Rican independence.
Waters explained that this year is being marked in Cuba as the "40th anniversary of the decisive battles of the war of liberation." She said, "There could be no more appropriate name for this year. Because it was 40 years ago that the decisive battles of the revolutionary war were fought by the Rebel Army in Cuba under the command of Fidel Castro, establishing a revolutionary government that represented different class interests for the first time in the history of Latin America. A government that represented the workers and farmers in Cuba - not the imperialist families of the United States and their puppet regimes, or the allies of the puppets."
Waters closed with a question to the audience: "Has the past 100 years of resistance and struggle been worth it?" Pointing out that Cancel Miranda spent as many years incarcerated as Nelson Mandela did under the South African apartheid regime, she added, "The masters of the empire try to convince us that fighters with such tenacity and passion are crazy." Likewise, referring to the imprisonment of Oscar López Rivera, she said, "They can't understand the capacity of someone to withstand this many years of solitary confinement."
The keynote speaker was Rafael Cancel Miranda, who spent 28 years in U.S. prisons - two years for refusing to be drafted into the U.S. army prior to the Korean War, and the remaining time for participating in a 1954 armed attack on U.S. Congress by a group of young Puerto Rican nationalists.
Cancel Miranda began by saying that as a 20-year old he had been in Miami once before - at the airport after being released from the federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida, where he had served his sentence for refusing the draft. "I feel as free today as that younger man coming out of that prison," he said.
Referring to the quarter century he spent behind bars, the Puerto Rican leader remarked, "I was in prison, but I was always free." The important thing is not simply getting out of prison. "It's how you survive. It's how you come out of prison," he underlined.
Speaking about U.S. imperialism in Puerto Rico, Cancel Miranda said, "They've got all kinds of weapons, nuclear warheads, and so on, and they control the mass media. But they haven't been able to defeat my people."
Cancel Miranda explained that for the Yankee empire, Puerto Rico has long been a valuable source of profits as well as cannon fodder. "We have become the first market of the United States. We have to buy from them, and we have to die for them. What were Puerto Ricans doing in Vietnam? What are Puerto Ricans doing in Bosnia today?"
This year the U.S. Congress is discussing the possibility of orchestrating a plebiscite in Puerto Rico as a way to continue U.S. domination of the island. Puerto Ricans would vote on statehood, independence, or the current "commonwealth" status established in 1952 as camouflage for U.S. colonialism. Cancel Miranda pointed out that, given the massive U.S. military presence on the island, Puerto Ricans would be voting "with a cannon to their heads."
The imperialists "control everything in Puerto Rico. How can there be a free plebiscite under those conditions?" he asked.
Cancel Miranda: `Cuba is free'
Turning to Cuba, the Puerto Rican leader declared to loud applause, "It's been a long time since I've wanted to say this in Miami: I support the Cuban socialist revolution and I have a profound admiration for Fidel Castro."
He added, "To be here today [in Miami] standing up for Cuba is as important as being in Cuba." Dismissing the rightist counterdemonstrators still yelling outside, Cancel Miranda told his audience, "Those out there - they are dead. What's important is those who are alive, people like yourselves."
He asked, "When we fight for the Cuban revolution, what are we fighting for? In Cuba they are doing us a favor, they are helping us. We are free, in a way, because Cuba is free."
The independence fighter reminded the audience of Fidel Castro's pledge: "As long as there is one Puerto Rican fighting for independence, Cuba will support independence for Puerto Rico."
"The only sanity that exists in all of the Americas is in Cuba. In a `normal' society you have to pay a price to be sane, to be free, to be yourself," Cancel Miranda added.
Cancel Miranda explained that in addition to being an advocate of Puerto Rican independence, "I am a socialist." He added that he had begun describing himself in public as a socialist only since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, because now it was possible to do so without being identified with the regime that had existed there before 1991. And, he added, because now it is no longer fashionable to call oneself a socialist.
In the discussion Cancel Miranda was asked about the role of young people on the island. He replied, "I am convinced that the struggle for independence of Puerto Rico will be won because of the number of youth in Puerto Rico today who are being won to the struggle for independence."
The meeting was covered by Spanish-language TV Channel 23 and El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language edition of the Miami Herald. The TV reporter asked Cancel Miranda if he wanted Puerto Rico to be like Cuba.
"I would be more than proud," he responded.
Janet Post is a member of International Association of
Machinists Local 368 in Miami.
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