‘An example of revolutionary courage, discipline, integrity’

March 23, 2020

The following message to María de los Ángeles Vázquez and Rafael Cancel Vázquez, widow and son of Puerto Rican independence fighter Rafael Cancel Miranda, was sent by Jack Barnes, National Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, for the SWP National Committee.

Dear Compañera Angie and Compañero Rafael,

The flag of Puerto Rico flies high today, as Rafael Cancel Miranda said it must.

Don Rafa, as he was often called by those who loved and respected him, led a life that was an example of revolutionary courage, discipline, and integrity that will live on.

Above all, like Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, and other great revolutionary leaders he looked up to, Rafael sought to awaken his people — especially the most exploited and oppressed among them — not to their oppression but to their worth, to their capacity to fight the colonial oppressors, win, and reorganize society. He urged them to rely on the power of their own collective action, not any government, party, or institution of the oppressors.

Rafael and the four other Puerto Rican Nationalists, who spent a quarter century in US prisons for their pro-independence actions, won support and admiration worldwide because of their unyielding resistance. “We came out of prison standing, not on our knees,” as he put it.

During those years behind bars, Rafael engaged in political activity together with fellow workers of all national origins and skin colors. The experience reinforced his conviction that working people in the United States and Puerto Rico share a mutual enemy. We are allies in struggle, if we understand those common class interests and act intransigently on them together.

Rafael Cancel Miranda was an uncompromising internationalist. As he said in a letter to the Militant  newspaper in 1978, while behind prison walls, “I think of myself as part of every struggle anywhere in the world in which people struggle for freedom, dignity, and a just socio-political-economic way of life.”

For Rafael, the Cuban Revolution was his own. He defended the socialist road taken by Cuba’s working people as an example to be emulated everywhere by those fighting the brutal consequences of capitalist rule. “Cuba dignifies people,” he said, while “this system dehumanizes people — it’s dog-eat-dog.”

Few things better capture Rafael’s integrity, dignity, and lifelong record of struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence than his closing words some eight years ago at a Washington, D.C., event to build the “jury of millions” that won the freedom of the Cuban Five. “I was twenty-three years old when I walked up the steps of the Capitol,” Rafael said. “Today I’m eighty-two, and I haven’t changed the way I think about anything. Except that today perhaps I’m a little more revolutionary — because I know the enemy better.”

We honor the life of comrade Rafael Cancel Miranda by continuing to educate working people, as well as the youth who join them in battle, about the road of revolutionary class struggle, the only road to a free Puerto Rico and a socialist world.

With warmest fraternal greetings,

Jack Barnes
National Secretary
for the National Committee
of the Socialist Workers Party