SWP: ‘Independence for Puerto Rico won’t be given, it’ll be taken’

July 10, 2023
Rachele Fruit, Socialist Workers Party, speaks at rally outside U.N. decolonization committee hearing June 22. She addressed the hearing in support of Puerto Rico independence.
Puerto Rican Independence PartyRachele Fruit, Socialist Workers Party, speaks at rally outside U.N. decolonization committee hearing June 22. She addressed the hearing in support of Puerto Rico independence.

Statement by Rachele Fruit for the Socialist Workers Party to the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization hearing on Puerto Rico, June 22.

 Distinguished chairperson and committee members:

My name is Rachele Fruit, and I speak on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party. I was the party’s candidate for governor of Florida in 2022.

Since our party’s founding in 1938 we have called for the independence of Puerto Rico and all other US colonies. Over the decades we have campaigned alongside independence fighters for the withdrawal of all US troops and bases from the island, for the release of independentistas from US prisons, for an end to the colonial plunder of Puerto Rico’s resources. We have joined in solidarity with unionists, students, and others defending their living standards and rights.

As my fellow fighters here have described so graphically, nothing exposes more clearly the colonial status of Puerto Rico — denied its right to self-determination — than the US-imposed “financial oversight” board. The junta’s job is to enforce measures to squeeze workers and farmers in order to guarantee payments to wealthy US bondholders on a more than $70 billion debt. This has meant slashing jobs and pensions, closing schools, raising university tuition, hiking utility rates, and much more. We demand the US government cancel the debt now!

In the US, workers and farmers confront the same drive by the employer class, backed by its twin parties and government, to put the burden of the capitalist economic crisis on our backs. Millions face wage-slashing inflation, dangerous job conditions, brutal work schedules. We face a deadly drug epidemic. Young workers find it increasingly hard to afford raising a family.

The US rulers are stepping up their assault on our constitutional rights, including on freedom of speech, presumption of innocence, freedom from arbitrary search and seizure. The US Justice Department’s renewed use of the Espionage Act, including to prosecute electoral opponents of the current administration, is a threat to the rights of all. It goes along with efforts to clean up the image of the FBI, which will be used to step up attacks on the rights of unionists, Black rights fighters, and others.

In Puerto Rico the FBI has sought to interrogate members of the Juan Rius Rivera Brigade who traveled to Cuba last year. We salute the example of the Cuba Solidarity Committee in Puerto Rico for its refusal to be intimidated and winning broad support in this fight against Washington’s political police.

The sharpening class conflicts in Puerto Rico and the US are part of a growing world capitalist crisis. Today, the largest land war in Europe since World War II threatens the independence and sovereignty of Ukraine, and promises more wars.

All this underscores the fact that workers — in Puerto Rico, the US, and worldwide — have common interests and a common struggle.

In Puerto Rico, 1,000 workers marched on May Day, calling for removal of the junta and improved wages and pensions. Two weeks ago, electrical workers protested against the debt and in defense of their union. Hospital nurses held a two-day strike against understaffing. Today, greater numbers of working people are coming to oppose US colonial rule and looking for ways to fight in defense of their interests. The bosses will never stop pushing, but they cannot do without the working class and small farmers, who produce all the wealth — and that’s the source of our strength.

In the US too, more and more workers are saying “Enough!” New struggles, small but important, are breaking out. Workers are turning to their unions to defend their conditions and living standards. A good example is the response by workers and farmers in the rural town of East Palestine, Ohio, to the toxic train derailment in February. They’ve joined together to fight both the railroad giant, Norfolk Southern, and the US government, demanding cleanup of the soil, water, and air, as well as government-financed medical care. They’ve won solidarity from union workers in the rail, steel, and oil industries who themselves are engaged in struggles.

Through their own experiences, workers in the US can identify with the resistance in Puerto Rico. More will become convinced that we cannot be free as long as Washington maintains its colonial boot on that nation. A successful fight for independence from US rule will also strengthen working people here.

Can we win? Yes. We have a powerful living example in Cuba, where working people in their millions carried out a socialist revolution. They established a workers and farmers government, broke free from imperialist rule, and began to transform society in the interests of the vast majority. For more than six decades they’ve stood up to Washington’s brutal efforts to strangle them, while extending solidarity to others worldwide. This Sunday, many of us will be in front of the White House to demand the US government lift all its economic sanctions on Cuba — Now!

Cuba’s revolutionary example shows the road to genuine freedom and independence for Puerto Rico, which will never be granted — it must be taken.

I thank the committee for the opportunity to add our voice to those here today who are fighting for an end to Washington’s colonial domination of Puerto Rico.