Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ben Lieber

Latins Demand ’Free Puerto Rico’

First Published: Columbia Daily Spectator, Volume CXV, Number 2, 24 September 1970.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The two-day National Conference of Puerto Rican Students ended peacefully in Wollman Auditorium yesterday afternoon as Juan Gonzales, minister of defense of the Young Lords, led an overflow crowd in fervent chants of “Que Viva Puerto Rico Libre!”

The conference, called to commemorate the 102nd anniversary of an abortive revolution for Puerto Rican independence, drew over 1,000 Puerto Rican and Latin high school and college students to Columbia for two days of speeches and workshops on Puerto Rican in– dependence, its sponsors included the Columbia Community Service Council and the Latin American Students Organization, along with the Movimiento por Independincia (MPI), the Puerto Rican Students Union, and the Young Lords. 

Iris Morales, education captain of the Young Lords and one of the chief organizers of the conference, told the crowd yesterday that the main purpose of the meeting was to “discuss ways we can go back to the factories and schools of our communities to organize to liberate Puerto Rico and kick the American troops out of there.”

She stated that several “Liberate Puerto Rico Now!” committees had been formed, and that a rally at the United Nations had been called for October 30, the anniversary of another abortive Puerto Rican revolution.

Yesterday’s activities began early in the morning, when a tightly-knit cadre of Young Lords, chanting and clapping in unison, marched on campus and into Ferris Booth Hall. There, members of the audience, each of whom had been frisked by the Lords before entering Wollman, heard several speakers urge independence for Puerto Rico and armed struggle by Puerto Ricans against the United States.

A speaker from MPI drew cheers from the crowd when he shouted, in fiery Spanish, “Now Vietnam is the first front in the battle against imperialism. We hope Puerto Rico will be the second front!”

Almost all the speakers stressed what they called impending “genocide” against Puerto Rican communities in America.

“When we see the Department of Defense moving nerve gas across the country and saying they’re gonna dump it in the Atlantic Ocean– that’s bullshit,” said Diego Pabon, chairman of the Puerto Rican Student Union. “You know they’re getting ready to use it against our communities.”

Gonzales, a leader of the student demonstrations at Columbia in the spring of 1968, has stressed the rapid growth of the Puerto Rican independence movement.

“Last September 23, twelve of us Lords went down to Tompkins Square Park, right in the middle of hippieville, to commemorate this anniversary. Now, just a year later, there are a lot more of us, and we’re among our own people.”

The conference, which had been self-policed by tough looking Lords wearing purple berets and equipped with walkie-talkies, was generally peaceful, although several incidents did develop between the Lords and members of the Progressive Labor-oriented Students for a Democratic Society.

On Tuesday, Mike Golash, a leader of SDS, was surrounded by s.everal Lords as he was walking across South Field. Golash was pushed and shoved by several Lords after he called the Lords “Fascist pigs in league with the cops.”

Yesterday, the same incident was repeated, when Golash tried to distribute a leaflet that read, in part, “The leadership of the Young Lords is very fearful of Communist ideas being spread among its members and friends.... Most of the people who took part in these actions (the attack on Golash and the exclusion of Progressive Labor Party members from the conference). . . were used by the leadership for an anti-communist attack.”

The Lords apologized for any inconviences the incidents might have caused to members of the audience, but maintained that their actions were necessary.

“This jive group PL has been attacking our members in the past, and they had to be dealt with,” Gonzales said.