By Gemma Cruz Araneta
Puerto Rico, our half-sister, is on my radar these days. I learned that there are more Puerto Ricans living and working in the United States of America than there are on the Caribbean island. According to reliable sources, there are approximately 5 million Puerto Ricans in the USA and New York has the biggest number, something like 700,000. Perhaps that is why, every year, on June 11, there is a National Puerto Rican Day Parade in the Big Apple. This year, there was a different twist to the parade, so its usual corporate sponsors withdrew their support — Coca-Cola, Univision, AT&T, the Yankees baseball team, Goya, Corona, “Daily News,” etc., turned off the tap.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo cancelled and so did an assortment of politicians and civic organizations like the association of Latino firefighters and police. They opted to boycott the much-awaited event simply because a certain Oscar López y Rivera was going to be present.
Who is this man? I had never before heard or read anything about him. Puerto Rican by birth, Oscar Lopez migrated to Chicago at the age of 14 and in 1966, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Perhaps because of his traumatic war experience, Señor Lopez became active in movements against police brutality, racial discrimination, unemployment, and US colonial rule in the island of his birth. Accused of “seditious conspiracy” and for heading the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), he was persecuted, arrested, betrayed by a false witness, sentenced for life, and imprisoned in 1981.
Fortunately for him, President Barack Obama, yielding to the pressure of international pro-Lopez groups, commuted the sentence and ordered his release last May 17. Already in his 70s, Señor Lopez had spent 36 years of his life in jail, 12 of which were in solitary confinement. But, he is not the only Puerto Rican who is resolutely fighting for decolonization and independence. There are more of them in Puerto Rico as well as in the USA; some are still in prison.
The “Contingent for Oscar and Puerto Rico’s Decolonization” was determined to join the 11 June parade to shower him with honors, naming him Puerto Rico’s “Freedom Hero.” However, Señor Lopez politely declined the laurels and said the parade must highlight issues crucial to Puerto Ricans like the USA’s anti-working class policies and the continued exploitation of their beloved island by Wall Street. Undoubtedly, the primordial objective should be nothing less than total decolonization.
Interviewed during the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Señor Lopez declared that most of his compatriots are not in agreement with the “Fiscal Control Board.” He was referring to the “Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico” imposed by the Obama administration which has resulted in mass layoffs of government workers and the drastic slashing of budgets for pensions and education. Many schools have had to close; the University of Puerto Rico is in a precarious state.
Though oceans apart, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines waged their revolutions against Spanish colonialism and American imperialism at almost the same time, the end of the XIX century. It can be argued that for all three, decolonization is still a throbbing concern, though in varying degrees. Will decolonization unite all Puerto Ricans and set their island free? Let us open the book of our half-sister’s past to find the answers. (more)
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