Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Mass struggle in U.S. helped build movement that freed the four

First Published: Unity, Vol. 2, No. 19, September21-October 4, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Richie Pérez, a longtime Puerto Rican revolutionary and Marxist-Leninist, is a member of the New York Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Nationalist Prisoners. UNITY spoke with him about the Committee’s work in the movement to free the Nationalists.

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UNITY: There’s incredible excitement in the Puerto Rican community and among all those who’ve worked for the release of the four Nationalists. How do you feel about it?

Pérez: Let me start by saying that this was a tremendous historic victory and step forward for the Puerto Rican independence movement and for the Puerto Rican people. The unconditional release of the four is primarily a result of a militant mass struggle, a mass movement developed over many years.

No one group freed the Nationalists. It was the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people who had demonstrated, gone to jail, petitioned, leafleted and organized for their release – both in Puerto Rico and here in the U.S.

Without this mass movement, there would not have been an international movement of support nor would the different sectors of the U.S. bourgeoisie even had to consider what they stood to gain or lose by either keeping the Nationalists in jail or releasing them at this time.

UNITY; Can you give us some background on the Committee and why it formed?

Pérez: The Committee began in about 1973, united around freeing the Nationalists, to liberate Puerto Rico, and freedom for all political prisoners.

We’ve seen the struggle to free the Nationalists as inseparable from the struggle for an independent Puerto Rico. The Nationalists represent to us an example of the unbroken determination of the Puerto Rican people to be free.

They were imprisoned because they fought for a free Puerto Rico. The Nationalists recognized that the U.S. planned to turn Puerto Rico into a “commonwealth” in 1950, representing a qualitative step in the destruction of Puerto Rico as an independent nation. There was a major assault to replace Spanish with English in Puerto Rico, to rewrite Puerto Rican history, to convince the Puerto Rican people that they cannot survive without U.S. imperialism. There was also vicious repression against the independence movement. Rather than be jailed and slaughtered passively, an island-wide rebellion was launched – the Revolution of 1950 (Jayuya Revolution). In the U.S., Nationalists attacked Truman’s residence as part of that struggle.

The action the Nationalists took in both 1950 and 1954 were heroic actions that crystalized the Puerto Rican people’s determination to resist the political, economic, and military domination by the U.S. It is for this reason that the Puerto Rican people consider the Nationalists revolutionary heroes.

UNITY: What kind of work has the Committee done?

Pérez: We define our work as education and mobilization. We hold programs on key dates in our history, such as September 23, Grito de Lares; October 30, the anniversary of the Jayuya Revolution; July 25, the anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Puerto Rico; and so on. We try to recapture our history which has been historically and systematically denied our people, or rewritten to take the revolutionary essence and struggle out.

A second goal is to analyze the current situation as regards Puerto Rico, Puerto Rican political prisoners and government repression, and to analyze the tasks that this puts before us today. We also put out a newspaper, Valor y Sacrificio (Valor and Sacrifice) around which we’ve received a very favorable response.

We believe the purpose of education is to mobilize people to action. In that light we’ve carried out actions such as the takeover of the Statue of Liberty (in 1977), demonstrated against police repression and frame-ups, against the presence of Colonial Governor Barcelo in the Puerto Rican Day parade, for the freedom of the Nationalists and for independence of Puerto Rico.

The Statue takeover was the most well known of our actions. We issued public statements that documented the colonial reality of Puerto Rico and the national oppression of Puerto Ricans in the U.S.We called for independence for Puerto Rico, full equality for Puerto Ricans in the U.S., and the unconditional release of the Nationalists.

Although there was a blackout of our statements in the bourgeois media, news of our takeover received international attention.

We conducted a petition campaign demanding the release of the Nationalists and collected thousands of signatures reflecting the growing mass support for their release.

Finally, we have held meetings and slide shows in people’s homes, community centers, schools and with groups and individuals who are interested.

For us to carry out this work here, we also have to find a way to educate ourselves as well as the masses. For example many people in the U.S. today are aware of the dangers of nuclear contamination but very few are aware of the chemical pollution that has been destroying the environment of Puerto Rico and poisoning the Puerto Rican people for decades. In Manati, for example, the Du Pont Corporation is dumping chemical waste in the water. This has polluted the water, killed the fish, poisoned fishermen, and destroyed the way of living in the area.

UNITY: How does the Committee see the current situation in Puerto Rico? Doe the Committee have a view on how in dependence will be won?

Pérez: Although Puerto Rico is sinking into a deeper political and economic crisis, the governor, Barcelo, is trying to prove to U.S. corporations that it is “safe” and profitable to invest on the island. He is presently spearheading the drive for statehood as the “solution” to Puerto Rico’s problems. Others call for a modified form of Commonwealth. But whatever the solution, short of independence, Puerto Rico will still be oppressed and exploited by the U.S.

The U.S. will never voluntarily give up Puerto Rico. It is too valuable to U.S. imperialism as a military base in the Caribbean. It is also a captive market for U.S. goods, and it insures gigantic profits to American capitalists – 10% of U.S. corporate profits around the world are taken from Puerto Rico. There is Puerto Rico’s propaganda value. The U.S. poses it as an “alternative” to revolution in Latin America – a “peaceful revolution” and the “showcase of democracy in the Caribbean.”

The U.S. will leave Puerto Rico only when they are driven out. And that will not come through elections – they won’t be voted out – nor will it come through alliances with the U.S. ruling class. Military underground activity alone is not enough either. We believe that all oppressed people and nations have the right to struggle for their liberation, and this includes the right to take up arms for their freedom. The Committee believes the Puerto Rican people will have to take up arms to drive the imperialists out.

Within the Puerto Rican movement, there are many differences about how Puerto Rico will gain independence, and our role in the U.S. These are complex questions, and a correct, living line that incorporates concrete strategy and tactics must be developed. The strategy and tactics of the Puerto Rican revolution will be worked out in Puerto Rico by Puerto Rican revolutionaries.

In the U.S. we must build a militant mass movement to support the liberation of Puerto Rico and the right of the Puerto Rican people to determine their own future. We are not talking about a reformist movement that begs or places faith in the “sensibility” of the oppressor, or relies on politicians or alliances with the imperialists. We’re talking about one that relies on the masses and targets imperialism as the common enemy of the Puerto Rican people and the people in the U.S.

UNITY: What do you see as the role of communists in the Puerto Rican national and independence movements?

Pérez: Here, I can’t answer for the Committee, but I can speak for myself. Communists have to recognize that Puerto Rico is a direct colony of the U.S., and that places a special responsibility on us in the U.S. to unite with and learn from the just struggles of the Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalists and broad masses that are active.

They can help bring to these movements a Marxist-Leninist analysis, methods of work and contribute to summing up the demands of the people and fighting for them in a revolutionary way. Marxist-Leninists should also work to unite all who can be united in the Puerto Rican independence and national movements. In the course of building a broad, militant mass movement, they should win people to understand that only revolution can solve the oppression of Puerto Rico permanently.

UNITY: Are there any particular lessons to be learned from the struggle to free the four?

Pérez: There are very important lessons to be drawn, and this is a task for all the revolutionary forces involved in the campaign. How was it done? How was this mass movement built? What were its strengths and weaknesses? What forms of organization and struggle proved most effective at different points? How can this victory be correctly used to advance the overall struggle for the liberation of Puerto Rico and the struggle of the Puerto Rican people in the U.S.?

But even before this in-depth analysis is done, there are some points we can make right away. First, their release proved in practice that the people can free political prisoners – it shows the strength of the masses.

Second, it proved that the imperialists cannot crush the revolutionary resistance of the Puerto Rican people. The Nationalists withstood the worst the imperialists could do, short of outright murder. But they came out strong and ready to resume their places in the front lines of the struggle. The intensity (of the four’s commitment upon their release) even startled some who had fought for their release. They themselves made it clear in their speeches in New York and Puerto Rico, that it was their love for Puerto Rico, their undying belief in the need for revolutionary struggle to drive the Yankees out, and the strength they got from the many who fought for their release, that enabled them to withstand the attempts by the imperialists to break their will.

Oscar Collazo said when he was released, “This is a new beginning. This victory will definitely strengthen the Puerto Rican independence movement.”