This past Saturday, thousands of people marched from San Juan to Brooklyn demanding the release of Oscar López Rivera. Oscar López Rivera has served 32 years in the dungeons of imperialism for the crime of fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico as a member of the Armed Forces for National Liberation (FALN). At 70 years of age, López Rivera is recognized as one of the longest held political prisoners in the world.
Contrary to the false image of passive acceptance of colonial rule promoted by imperialism, the struggle for Puerto Rican independence has continued for more than 115 years. At times openly combative while at others primarily in more muted forms, the struggle for independence in the colonial world is a peculiar expression of class struggle. As such, it is important to view the campaign for the release of López Rivera, an important symbol of that struggle in Puerto Rico, from that perspective.
In recent years there has been increased awareness and activism around the case of Oscar. However, it is impossible to truly understand the growing support for Oscar without putting the campaign for his release in the current social and economic context of Puerto Rican society. That is to say, the renewed popular support of a militant jailed for waging armed struggle against imperialism coincides with and reflects a general disgust with a colonial system in irreversible decline. Massive, structural unemployment, as well as unprecedented levels of public and private debt have come to characterize Puerto Rican society just as the rest of the capitalist world. A decaying infrastructure, inadequate public services in the areas of public health and education, and endemic violence complete the picture of a territory once hailed by US imperialism as the “showcase of the Caribbean” during the cold war era. The result has been a constant stream of people forced to abandon the country in an attempt to secure a better life for themselves and their families. As a direct colony of the United States, the responsibility for what happens in Puerto Rico falls directly on the US ruling class and its political representatives, notwithstanding the incompetence and corruption of the colonial lackeys that administer the daily operations of the colonial-state apparatus.
It is certainly true that the expansion of the campaign to release Lopez Rivera, which includes a significant number of people that do not identify as independentistas or progressives, and much less socialists or communists, has been accompanied by a growing tendency to separate the man from the cause for which he is imprisoned. This is a deliberate strategy often used by the ruling classes to dull the militant edge of popular manifestations with the potential to radicalize consciousness. Among the 35 thousand that marched in San Juan on November 23rd, the media, as is custom, highlighted the appearance and statements of a few opportunist politicians and “celebrities” to reinforce this tendency.
Notwithstanding, the fact that the bulk of those that marched consisted of labor, both organized and non-organized members, unemployed, students, etc. proves the growing connection between the daily concerns of working people and questions of justice and the right to political independence in the collective consciousness. Over the past couple of years, Puerto Rico has been the scene of violent protests of university students that resulted in the occupation of the campus of the University of Puerto Rico, massive mobilizations against the efforts of capital to loot public pension funds, and a recent march demanding the creation of a jobs program. Although these struggles are by no means evidence of a widespread revolutionary consciousness capable of radically transforming society in the near term, they do highlight the will to fight back, to resist, to not passively accept the conditions imposed by capital in one of the oldest colonies in the world. They are the germs without which higher forms of consciousness are impossible.
The continued militancy of Oscar López Rivera, after more than three decades of imprisonment, is a living testimony of the indomitable will to resist all attempts to break the combative spirit of a man, who has become a symbol of his people, yearning for freedom.
Carlos Borrero is a New York based writer.