- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Wednesday, 17 April 2013 07:03
- Written by Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers
This first appeared on virginiaprisonstrike.
On Monday, April the 15th it was brought to the attention of the Solidarity with Virginia Prison Hunger Strikers Coalition that a hunger strike has been initiated at Wallens Ridge State Prison located in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Based off inside information there are at least 16 individuals participating in this hunger strike. The status of the strikers is unknown at this time.
Last May a hunger strike was initiated at Red Onion State Prison, which is located 30 minutes north of Wallens Ridge State Prison and could be considered its sister site. Between the prior hunger strike and the current one, the VADOC has conducted a new effort to transport many of the prisoners formerly held at Red Onion to Wallens Ridge. Although Wallens Ridge is a lower-level security prison it is commonly said by prisoners and ex-prisoners that Wallens Ridge is a more brutal and corrupt prison than Red Onion. Even though the technical status of Wallens Ridge is security-level 4 there has now been a new security-level designation within Wallens Ridge, in correspondence with Red Onion transfers, known as security-level S. According to the VADOC January newsletter the reasoning behind this campaign is to “give...offenders more programmatic opportunities and more pathways to lower security prisons” and that it has resulted in “..a reduction in the number of Administrative Segregation offenders, a reduction in incidents, and a reduction in offender grievances.” The fact that these young men are compelled to risk their lives in order to gain a little more fairness, a little more decency, refutes whatever the official line of the VADOC may be in its efforts to keep the population under its thumb.
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Thursday, 14 March 2013 19:12
- Written by Will of Fire Next Time
The following is an excerpt from a report by Will, a member of Fire Next Time. Will witnessed nights of protests in East Flatbush following the police killing of 16-year old Kimani “Kiki” Gray. His larger report appears here.
We hope to post more reports and information as we get them. And we urge everyone to express strong solidarity and find ways to take action to oppose the police repression and murder. Share with us your thoughts.
* * * * * * *
...The legend of the outside agitator has returned.... I was there at last night’s rebellion, and let me tell you: there were fewer then 10 white people involved in a rebellion of hundreds of young Black militants. Last night was led by young Black militants. Period.
For hours, Black politicians and activists–many of them veterans of, or influenced by, the 1968 generation–yelled and berated the young people to keep the “peace” and “respect.” The NYC Black establishment brought its best efforts to bear in hopes of keeping the affair civil. Crowds of Black men and women listened for almost two hours. They were told that the keepers of the peace felt their pain, that they understood. There was silence from the crowd of angry faces. The tension could be felt. The crowd had selected no spokesperson to respond, and none emerged organically in the moment. Will one emerge tonight?
At some point at night, the Black militants decided to march. No white people told them to march. As the march moved through the streets of Flatbush, it was Black militants who picked up bricks, cinder blocks, and beer bottles and threw them at the police. There were almost no white and Latino or African American faces involved in this. It was largely a Jamaican and Afro-Caribbean rebellion.
And perhaps that is the problem. We need to flip the script of the outside agigator. Are brothers and sisters from the Bronx outside agitators? The same people who are stopped and frisked in the Bronx become outside agitators to Jumanee Williams and his friends. It is time for the rest of the NYC working class to jump in and get involved. If the divisions of racialization are going to be broken down, white, Brown, and Black working class people must face the cops and go to jail together. New solidarities must be built. Now is the time for everyone who has felt the pain of the police to converge in Flatbush. Bring presents, bring your anger, and bring your running shoes.
The target has been the 67th Precinct all week, but we have not had enough forces to take it on. All the crews across New York should converge in Flatbush and then march towards the 67th precinct.
During Occupy, hundreds of people joined up with Occupy the Hood in hopes of building movement in working class black and brown neighborhoods. Now the opportunity is here. Will those who identify with these goals come down on the side of the people in the streets, or toe the line of the politicians? Only they can decide.
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Monday, 04 March 2013 02:15
- Written by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson
I was then confronted by a mob of guards in riot armor and gas masks with a large canister of gas and told to submit to handcuffs which I did. I was brought out of the holding cell and chained by my waist to a wall, where an argument ensued and the guards attacked me literally ripped off all my clothes, put me in a pair of underwear, strapped me into a restraint chair and wheeled me to the IMU disruptive unit (unit A), where I was dumped enraged into cell 07...
the medical staff literally tried to let me die. Their actions and attitudes made clear to me and the attending guards that they didn’t want me there because of my race. Not only did they do nothing to have the drugs disgorged from my stomach, they had me sit for two hours in a secluded room with no care, extracted only a small syringe of blood ahtough admittedly needing 3 large vials to conduct appropriate blood tests, then sent me back to the prison claiming there were no traces of pills in my system. The entire incident of me swallowing handsfull of pills was audio-video taped and confirmed by the riot armored guards who immediately removed me from the cell, including segeant Morthorst.
The following undated letter comes from Rashid, a revolutionary communist political prisoner. It includes confirmation past reports from another prisoner that Rashid was in fact drugged by the police, beaten, and intentionally denied access to healthcare. -eric r
“Keep this will need it to recollect everything. Also use it as factual basis for protest and help. I’ve begun writing this at 10:00pm on Feb. 9th 2013. At this moment I am severely dehydrated, tongue coated with white film. Staff refuse any monitoring of vital signs or care. Urine looks like rust water. kidney (left) hurts.
The following is a chronology of events leading to my present state. All are significant jointly and severally in revealing gross abuse and corruption here.
Jan. 28 (on or about) while exercising inside my cell I cut my groin area on loose nylon stitching from my pants and began bleeding heavily. On noticing the stinging sensation then, upon inspection, blood. I notified the unit guard N. Claudio who contacted medical staff. After a bit of back and forth wrangling I was taken to the SHU nursing station where a nurse (name unknown) inspected the laceration gave me a wad of gauze and ordered me given a shower. She also instructed me to keep the area clean and dry.
A couple nights later I caught the same nurse while she was passing out evening medication and got a small packet of antibacterial ointment from her.
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Thursday, 21 February 2013 02:05
- Written by zzzzz
Update: Kasama has received word that Rashid was in fact drugged against his will (but not by whom). He is now stabilizing. New x-rays have confirmed that he does not have any razer blades in his system, he has returned to drinking liquieds, and his urine has returned to normal.
Rashid has said that he is still being denied access to his literature, his mail, and his ability to write letters. People are encouraged to continue pressuring the prison to demand the he receive these things.
Kevin Rashid Johnson is a political prisoner and leader of a prison organization called the New Afrikan Black Panther Party. He is an outspoken communist revolutionary whose life is in danger.
Kasama recieved the following from zzzzz:
CALL IMMEDIATELY: 541-881-5000 and then press "0"
inspector general's line: (877) 678-4222
number for the or-doc: 503-945-9090. they're open 8am-5pm.
Kevin Johnson #19370490
777 Stanton Blvd.
Ontario, OR 97914
I have not heard from Rashid for about two weeks, which is surprising, because he normally sends me 2 or 3 letters a week, sometimes for other prisoners. I just received a letter written Feb. 11, at Rashid's request, by another Snake River prisoner, xxxxx. xxxxx's letter begins as follows (edited for spelling etc):
"This is about Rashid. We need a lot of help. They are trying to kill him. On Jan. 31 they put something in his food that made him crazy. On Feb. 2 he took 30 pills. They did not do anything to get the pills out of him.... On Jan. 4 [sic; I assume he means Feb. 4] he ate 3 razor blades. This is all on videotape. They lied and said the X-ray showed nothing. The [blades] are still in him right now. He has not eaten since Feb. 3. He has not drunk anything since Feb. 5.... He is passing out and they won't do anything to help him.... Said he is the one that won't eat or drink so they are not helping him at all. He is peeing blood and has bad kidney pains.... Med staff will not give him IV fluids.... [As of Feb. 10 he had] lost over 16 pounds. His blood pressure is 191/100 and his urine is the color of coffee...."
I phoned Snake River immediately. If you want to speak with anyone, you have to dial 541-881-5000 and then press "0". I left messages with his counselor, Alice Tomlinson and also with a staff member named José Delgado. So far I have not heard back from either of them. I then called again, saying that it's an emergency and I needed to speak to someone who would pick up (I mentioned the warden's office). They connected me with a Sergeant Di Andrea. He looked up Rashid on his computer and said he was "all right"; I said I wanted to know more specifically, so he put me back onto the counselor's answering machine. Obviously he is not "all right"; on the other hand, I think that if he had died, they would have had to tell me. I will keep trying. We should make many calls, reaching as high up as possible.
There are obviously a lot of questions here. How could it have been on videotape? How could he have obtained all those pills? etc etc. The idea that he would try to destroy himself is totally out of character; on the other hand, I suppose that with certain kinds of drug, many strange things are possible. Let's all stay in touch if we get any news.
I am sending this both to the listserv and to the individual addresses I have, just to make sure everyone gets it.
Ironically, just 2 days ago I mailed Rashid the proofs for the article of his that we will be publishing in the July issue of Socialism and Democracy.
Let's all write to him (address below). Even if the letters aren't delivered, the officials will know that a lot of people are ready to protest whatever abuses they inflict.
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Wednesday, 13 February 2013 06:10
- Written by Leila Atassi
If anyone thought it was "corruption in the LAPD" or a few isolated instances of bad cops: here you go. It is a daily lynching of a Black person, and in this instance, by an unbelievable show of armed lynch mob force.
Thanks to Devin B for sharing this. It first appeared at cleveland.com.
Cleveland probe into deadly police shooting continues; at least 115 officers and personnel involved in chase
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- More than a third of Cleveland police personnel on duty the night of Nov. 29 played a role in the high-speed chase that ended in a hail of gunfire and two dead suspects.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced during a news conference Tuesday that 115 patrol officers, supervisors and dispatchers will be interviewed as part of an administrative probe, seeking to piece together the events that led police to chase and eventually fire 137 shots at Timothy Russell and his passenger, Malissa Williams. Both were unarmed at the time of the shooting.
Police spokesman Sgt. Sammy Morris said in an interview that 244 officers were patrolling the streets that night, with another 46 supervisors and 17 dispatchers on duty. That means that about 37 percent of those on duty were in some way involved in the chase that lasted 30 minutes and concluded in an East Cleveland middle school parking lot.
City officials have not said how many of those were officers who left their routine patrols to chase Russell's 1979 Chevrolet Malibu. But at least 63 cars either joined the pursuit through their respective districts or blocked side-streets to facilitate, Jackson said.
Police policy limits the number of vehicles directly engaged in a pursuit to two, "except under unusual and well-articulated circumstances."
The mayor and Police Chief Michael McGrath initially estimated that 26 officers were involved and predicted that the administrative review and a state-led criminal investigation would wrap up by month's end.
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Tuesday, 12 February 2013 21:34
- Written by MXGM
As we go to press, a huge manhunt consisting of local, state and federal police has succeeded in murdering Christopher Dorner. But what has been created by these events will not die.
The following statement (coming before Dorner's death) comes from the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. - Nat Winn
Dorner, Racism, and Police Repression
The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) maintains that regardless of what one may think of Christopher Dorner and the rights or wrongs of his actions, we want to call attention to the truth's stated in Dorner's manifesto regarding the pervasiveness of racism in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
As many historians and commentators have pointed out since the release of Dorner's manifesto, the LAPD is a notoriously racist institution. The Ramparts Division scandal of the late 1990's is one recent reminder of how racist and corrupt the institution is, and to what extent the judiciary and other branches and institutions of the US government support its actions.
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Sunday, 10 February 2013 12:53
- Written by George Ciccariello-Maher and Mike King
What do the recent events involving exLAPD member Christopher Jordan Dorner and the brutally oppressive LAPD represent? What does Dorner's break, seemingly the break of a man who went into the repressive apparatus of the state with the intention of doing right and who came to a realization that the it was utterly wrong, tell us about the times we are living in? What does the Dorner episode say about our society in general? How is Dorner different than Adam Lanza or any other of the frequent mass shootings now occuring in the United States? What does the response of the LAPD say about how they look at the rest of society juxtaposed to themselves and the rich they protect? What should we be learning from this event? These are open questions. This event concentrates much. The following article by George Ciccariello-Maher and Mike King that appeared on Counterpunch seeks to speak to some of these questions. Hopefully many of you will as well. -Nat Winn
by GEORGE CICCARIELLO-MAHER and MIKE KING
Yesterday was not simply a day like any other, and yet an entire system is grinding into motion to ensure that the peculiarities of the day be promptly forgotten: another crazy person lost it and committed unthinkable acts. The act of killing stands in and speaks for the person: look what he has done, of course he must be crazy. Case closed.
What they want you to see is just another Adam Lanza, just another inexplicable act, and when the act speaks for the assailant, words are secondary and there is no need to listen. But this is not, and has never been, a good way to understand reality.
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Thursday, 24 January 2013 06:04
- Written by Amil K.
This comes to Kasama from the Canadian communist organization Revolutionary Initiative. The essay originally appeared under the title: "Idle No More: Lessons and Questions" -- in other words, this not so much a report on the powerful upsurge started among the First Nations in Canada, but a discussion of what such a movement means for revolutionary strategy.
In a recent piece I wrote, called “Mass Work and Proletarian Revolutionaries”- where I was trying to open a discussion on where to find the “advanced masses” in Canada based on the contradictions in Canadian society – there were some points raised on the question of Indigenous anti-colonial struggles that I think we should revisit. That whole excerpt is reproduced at the end of this article.
In the context of the rising Idle No More mass movement – an unprecedented convergence and upsurge of Indigenous struggles in “Canadian” history – I would like to review some of the main points I made in that passage to open up a discussion amongst our forces and amongst revolutionaries in general that is urgently in need of elaboration. The points I bring out here reflect some of the discussions and thinking circulating within our organization on the question of the struggle of Indigenous Nations for self-determination and decolonization – thinking which has to rapidly catch up with the emergence of the Idle No More movement, and the grassroots militancy that has been released under its banner. An earlier compilation of previous passages and excerpts of ours on Indigenous liberation can be found here.
In the context of Idle No More, there are three points in the excerpt below that I’d like to highlight and build upon for the important questions that they provoke at the current conjuncture:
Point 1: The anti-colonial movement – what is popularly called a movement for “decolonization” – is limited in its ability to defeat Canadian imperialism without revolutionary unity with the rest of the proletariat. “Any form of indigenous self-determination that keeps Canadian imperialism in tact will be nothing but neo-colonialism.” This is not a critique of native militants, their initiative, and their anti-colonial work – since these mass struggles have proved to be the most militant and sustained for decades. Rather, if anything, it’s a call to proletarian revolutionaries “to effect a convergence between the anti-colonial movement in Canada with the anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements”. It is not the place of the non-indigenous part of a united revolutionary movement to dictate what form the national liberation movement will take for any given nation of indigenous people. It’s the task of the proletarian revolutionary movement to assert the need to build a revolutionary united front with the Indigenous national liberation movement, struggling to unite the movements of the most oppressed and exploited settlers and immigrants with it.
- In this very moment, where the question of Indigenous nationhood cannot be ignored, how do non-Indigenous revolutionaries provide support to the grassroots militancy rising under the banner of Idle No More? Is it limited to attending rallies, or even getting on the front lines of the blockades? That’s important, that’s something – but is that all we can be doing?
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Sunday, 20 January 2013 19:21
- Written by Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson
The following comes to Kasama from Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson, a prisoner and member of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party-Prison Chapter.
UNITY—STRUGGLE—TRANSFORMATION: LEADERSHIP & CADRE DEVELOPMENT (Right On! #27, Spring 2012)
The object of a revolutionary organization is to unite (and unite with), mobilize, organize, and lead masses of oppressed people to achieve fundamental economic, political and social change and collective security. Founded in 2005, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter (NABPP-PC) arose within the most oppressed strata of U.S. society, the imprisoned masses, to take up the banner of revolutionary struggle on behalf of New Afrikans and all oppressed and exploited people. We aspire to become, but are not yet, a functional vanguard party of the oppressed.
We will be formally constituted once we transition to the outside, build bases in the oppressed communities, hold a founding convention and elect a free world central committee and an executive committee (politburo). We will be functionally constituted only when the oppressed urban masses embrace us as their revolutionary leadership.
Even while we remain a primarily prison-based organization, we have an important revolutionary role to play which is to transform the slave pens of oppression into schools of liberation. This is the first phase of our Party's strategy, along with transforming the oppressed communities into base areas of cultural, social and political revolution in the context of building a worldwide united front against capitalist-imperialism. The two aspects of our strategy are dialectically related and will advance the overall strategy of advancing the World Proletarian Socialist Revolution.
At this point, comrades are learning and struggling for ideological and political clarity on how to build and consolidate the Party's structure and a mass anti-racist, anti-imperialist and revolutionary movement around it. There are issues we need to work out relating to organizing on both the inside and outside. There are issues, some of them long-standing, that have been raised by our supporters and detractors we need to address. Some of these people do not understand, or refuse to accept, the need for revolutionary leadership, discipline and organization. There is also the question of who should be in leadership positions and how to achieve a balance between democracy and centralism.
On Organization and Security
The term “organizing” is often used loosely on the Left, especially by those who oppose forming, joining or subordinating themselves to any sort of disciplined political organization. Although they may exhort the virtues of “solidarity,” they actually practice extreme individualism, which runs counter to building a movement for collective social change.
Obviously, one cannot be a political organizer and not be part of a political organization. One implies the other. An organization is a body of people—not one person acting alone—who share common purpose and goals and have an organizational structure. The members must perform certain functions assigned to them that advance the purpose of the organization. This calls for leadership and a degree of discipline or everyone will be acting individually without accountability or responsibility, which is the definition of disorganization, and this leads to the opposite of “solidarity.”
Joining and remaining in an organization involves important considerations, such as whether one trusts, believes in, agrees with, and understands the organization's purpose and goals. To the more mature and committed members, these are issues of special concern and determine whether they will whole-heartedly commit themselves on a long-term basis to the organization and its goals and purpose. Transparency is therefore important so people know, understand and trust the organization and what it is about. Without this, the organization cannot have even the foundations for 'security.'
Comrade Safiya Bukhari, a former BPP and BLA cadre explains:
“By definition, security means freedom from danger, fear and anxiety. Individual and organizational safety and well-being begin with the knowledge of what you're about, what the organization is about, your limitations, your strengths and the organization's strengths. Knowledge is the key to security. History has shown that the best security depends on the internal strength of the organization and the internal principles of the people who make up the organization.”1As an example of solid organizational and individual principles, she points to the creed of the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), which states, “I will steal nothing from a brother or sister, cheat no brother or sister, misuse no brother or sister, inform on no brother or sister and spread no gossip.”
These principles, she observed, express...
- Category: Race & Liberation
- Created on Sunday, 20 January 2013 01:36
- Written by Mike Ely
Part 1 of our series is “Puerto Rico’s Fight for Independence.”
This work is presented by the Kasama project.
The Early Years — 1898-1954
by Mike Ely
July 25, 1898–thousands of U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico’s southern coast from the sea–landing at the small port of Guánica and then in the larger town of Ponce. A force of 16,000 moved onto the island, commanded by U.S. General Nelson A. Miles. In Puerto Rico, African slaves, Native peoples and Spanish immigrants had already forged a unique people and rich culture during 400 years of Spanish colonial rule. A million people lived on the island, mainly scattered in small villages, fishing and farming to gather the food they needed. These Puerto Rican people had long fought their oppressors.
The Taino Indian people had fought from the beginning–in the face of genocidal policies that drove them into the highlands and left few of them alive. The captive Africans had risen up in repeated uprisings against their enslavement. And, in 1868, the independent Republic of Puerto Rico was first proclaimed in the famous armed uprising against Spain — El Grito de Lares, the Cry of Lares.
The U.S. high command had chosen to land their troops on the island’s southern coast because the people were known for their resistance to the central colonial authorities. When the U.S. troops landed, many Puerto Rican people welcomed them. Everyone knew that the U.S. had also once been a colony. And they believed that its armed forces had come to end Spanish oppression. In towns like Ciales, Adjuntas, Yauco, and Mayaguez, Puerto Rican guerillero bands took up arms against the Spanish. But when a treaty was finally signed on December 10, 1898 in Paris, passing the Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to U.S. control, the people of those countries were not consulted or involved. Their local governing bodies were ignored.
When the Spanish flag was lowered at San Juan’s La Fortaleza palace, it was the Yankee Stars and Stripes that took its place. There was some armed resistance to the new U.S. domination. It was four years before it was finally silenced. As Maoist revolutionaries say: While the tiger was driven out the front door, the wolf had slipped in the back.
A Prize of War
“Cuba and Puerto Rico are natural appendages of the United States.”
John Quincy Adams, 1823, then Secretary of State to President Monroe
“We have not come to make war upon the people of a country that for centuries has been oppressed, but, on the contrary, to bring you protection, not only to yourselves but to your property, to promote your prosperity, and to bestow upon you the immunities and blessings of the liberal institutions of our government.”
Proclamation by General Nelson A. Miles to the people of Puerto Rico, 1898
“English spoken here”
Sign posted by U.S. troops in Ponce 1898
“An island or a small group of islands acquired for naval purposes does not differ greatly from a war vessel or fleet at anchor. It would be as improper to transfer the administration of such an island or island group from the Navy to another department as to turn over war vessels to any other than the Navy Department.”
Major General Frank McIntyre, head of U.S. War Department’s Bureau of Insular Affairs during World War 1
The U.S. ruling class had coveted Puerto Rico from the early days of the North American republic. And despite its claims to oppose colonialism, its troops came as new conquerors. Even before the July 25th invasion, the decision had already been made to take Puerto Rico as “Spanish war indemnity.” Senator Perkins described the island as a U.S. “prize of war.” The new U.S. rulers insisted that the Puerto Rican people needed “protection” and “tutoring.”
In crude racist language, Puerto Ricans were described as a “mongrel people” who needed to be taught “civilization.” Someday (it was implied), the islanders would be “ready” to govern themselves. This was classic colonialist self-justification. In 1900 this colonial rule was formalized. The U.S. Congress passed the Foraker Act–which decreed that Puerto Ricans would be ruled by a governor appointed by the U.S. president. A century has now passed since the U.S. invasion–and Puerto Rico is still not free. And the official life of this island continues to be dominated by the decisions made in this foreign and distant U.S. Congress. In 1917–as World War 1 was raging–the U.S. decided to tighten its legal annexation of Puerto Rico. U.S. citizenship was imposed on the Puerto Rican people by the Jones Act–without their consent and over the unanimous objection of the island’s House of Delegates.
In other countries, like Cuba and Panama, the U.S. was refining a system of neo-colonialrule, where they controlled countries through phony “independent” governments. But in Puerto Rico, they chose to impose colonial rule–a sign that they intended to directly rule the Puerto Rican people forever. This same Jones Act created a new toothless legislature for Puerto Rico. This body asked the U.S. Congress five times to take up the question of Puerto Rico’s status–Washington didn’t even answer the letters.
The real control of the island was handed over to the Navy and the U.S. War Department who ruled it until 1934. The Puerto Rican independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos used to say in the 1930s that these invaders were “interested in the cage, not the bird.” The U.S. strategic planners intended to hold Puerto Rico’s territory and make it a key military base for dominating the surrounding region.
Satisfying the Empire’s Sweet Tooth
“There is today more widespread misery and destitution and far more unemployment in Puerto Rico than at any previous time in its history.”
Harold Ickes, Secretary of the Interior for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1935
U.S. capitalists quickly followed their troops into Puerto Rico, eyeing their new possession for ways to make money. Step by step, U.S. corporations snatched up the best land. The homegrown owning classes of Puerto Rico were bought out and shoved aside. Many working people lost their small farms and growing numbers were forced to work on huge Yankee-owned plantations as wage workers or sharecroppers. They often made as little as $1 a day, and lived with bitter poverty and hunger.
Meanwhile, the U.S. colonialists sent missionaries and enforcers to undermine the language and culture of the people. Puerto Rican teachers were ordered to teach children in English. The economy of the island was twisted to serve U.S. interests in the world market. And the rich land no longer produced the food that people ate. Production went for export, and the people were forced to buy U.S. products for their basic needs. Then in 1929 the Great Depression brought a sharp decline in the sugar economy–and the people were left with almost nothing. The suffering was intense. Oppression gave rise to resistance.
A radical new Puerto Rican independence movement was born. Pedro Albizu Campos rose to the leadership of the island’s Puerto Rican Nationalist Party (PNP) in 1930. Inspired by the anti-British struggle of Ireland, he led his followers onto a daring path of militant and uncompromising resistance.
The Nationalists were a revolutionary movement most firmly rooted among the middle classes of Puerto Rico. It did not have a clear perspective of how to win independence from the Yankees, and did not have a clear sense of the kind of society it would build after independence was won.
But the PNP did make several far-sighted and path-breaking contributions to the politics of the Puerto Rican people. The Nationalist Party promoted the principle of retraimiento–rejection of official politics and colonial elections. They boldly proclaimed that U.S. domination of Puerto Rico was illegal and illegitimate–and refused to recognize the colonial authorities, their courts or laws. They pointedly accused the U.S. of causing the ruin and poverty of Puerto Rico’s people. And they sought international recognition for Puerto Rico’s right to independence. Most daring of all, they taught that Puerto Rican people had a right to wage armed struggle against the U.S. invaders.
Albizu Campos declared he was working to form a revolutionary army to drive out the North Americans. Knowing that they were challenging a ruthless and powerful military power, the movement trained its members in an intense sense of moral righteousness and fearless self-sacrifice. The poet-revolutionary Juan Antonio Corretjer talks of the movement’s “mixture of nationalism, mysticism and revolutionary fervor.”
The Revolt of the Jíbaros
In 1934 a major turning point arrived. In early January, thousands of jíbaros, the landless peasants of the island, walked out of the sugar cane fields of the Armstrong-owned plantation in Fajard. Their furious wildcat strike spread.
The farmworkers were disgusted with their sellout leadership–and they sought out the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, asking Albizu Campos to lead them. The Nationalists wholeheartedly threw themselves into the strike–and the combined movement shook the island. The colonial rulers were terrified at the specter of a mass revolutionary movement.
Agents of U.S. corporations formed the “Citizens Committee of One Thousand for the Preservation of Peace and Order” who cabled the U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to report, “A state of actual anarchy exists. Towns in state of siege, police impotent, businesses paralyzed.” General Blanton Winship was appointed governor to suppress the people. His top aide, the soon-notorious Colonel Francis Riggs, became the island’s police chief. The authorities moved to calm the movement with a series of concessions, while they prepared to break up its most organized forces using brutal means. The island’s police were quickly militarized.
Teams of FBI agents secretly arrived on the island to target the independence movement. Wherever the new independence movement raised its head, these forces responded with harassment and killings. Several attempts were made on Albizu Campos’s life. After repeated police murders of Nationalists, Albizu Campos announced that his movement would respond by targeting representatives of the U.S. imperialists. In October 1935, three Nationalists were killed by police bullets outside the island’s main university. On February 23, 1936, Colonel Frances Riggs–head of this counterrevolutionary campaign–was shot dead. The two young Nationalists who killed him, Elias Beauchamp and Hiram Rosado, were then murdered in the police headquarters shortly after their capture.
On March 5, 1936, the Nationalist leadership was charged with seditious conspiracy–conspiring to overthrow the federal government in Puerto Rico. The first trial (in the English-only federal courts) ended when the seven Puerto Ricans on the jury of 12 refused to convict. In a crude act of railroading, the authorities then handpicked a new jury with 10 Anglo-Americans and condemned Albizu Campos to federal prison in late 1936.
The Ponce Massacre
“Viva la República. Down with the assassins.”
Written on a wall by a dying Puerto Rican fighter, Ponce, 1937
The authorities moved to suppress the remaining movement by force. The Nationalist Party called for a march to commemorate the abolition of slavery on the island. It was planned for Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937, in the southern city of Ponce. The local authorities first granted a permit and then, on orders from General/ Governor Winship, the permits were withdrawn.
Hundreds of police were rushed to Ponce to carry out a planned ambush. On the appointed day, PNP’s youth group defied the ban on the march and lined up in ranks along Marina Street. About 80 young men stood proud, dressed as Cadets in black shirts and white pants. Then came a bold contingent of young women dressed all in white. Following them was a five-piece band playing La Borinqueña, the island’s anthem. The crowd cheered. Suddenly, police lines moved into place, both in front and in back.
The cops were heavily armed–including a special squad of nine men with Thompson submachine guns. The unarmed youth stood their ground bravely, without panic. The police simply opened fire on the march, and kept shooting. Marchers, supporters, bystanders, even small children went down before the police bullets. Then the cops rushed the survivors, shooting some at point blank range, and clubbing others.
Twenty-two were killed and over 100 wounded. Defying the threat of new police attacks, more than 15,000 attended the funerals at Ponce, and more than 5,000 in Mayaguez. The victims of the massacre were tried for conspiracy to commit murder. Permits were denied to future Nationalist marches.
More police killings followed. President Roosevelt refused to recall Winship. On July 25, 1938, Winship organized a military parade though Ponce to celebrate the U.S. invasion of 1898. It was intended as a show of force.
Rejecting the Blood Tax
Under intense attacks, and with much of their leadership in prison, the remaining Nationalists continued to struggle. World War 2 soon broke out, and thousands of Puerto Rican men were ordered into the military. On President Franklin Roosevelt’s orders, steps were taken to create the world’s largest naval base on the eastern side of the island.
The Nationalists denounced the military draft as a colonial “blood tax” on their people. They organized the island’s youth to resist the draft. This consistent anti-imperialism was considered shocking–even by many leftists of the time–and the Nationalists were even accused of being “pro-fascist” for refusing to join the U.S. imperialist military. Scores of young Puerto Rican draft resisters were actually condemned to federal prisons. Many suffered extreme punishments. Some were even killed. Their stand inspired future generations–and helped give birth to the powerful movement of draft resistance that grew up in Puerto Rico during the Vietnam War.
Defying the “American Century”
World War 2 brought intense changes to the world–and to colonial countries like Puerto Rico. The U.S. emerged as the world’s biggest imperialist power and wanted to establish neo-colonial domination of many countries throughout the world. It was going to be, the U.S. imperialists said, the start of an “American Century.” As they pursued these plans, the U.S. imperialists found their open colonial rule in Puerto Rico to be an embarrassment. So they wanted to work out a new political arrangement with the appearance of local self government–while maintaining the reality of rule from Washington.
Meanwhile the plantation economy of Puerto Rico had forced many people off the land into growing slums like La Perla (the Pearl) and El Fangito (Little Mud). The imperialists were determined to better exploit these propertyless Puerto Ricans. The government launched a major campaign to create sweatshop factories–called “Operation Bootstrap.” In Puerto Rico itself, many people had a radically different idea of change. The whole world was rumbling with major anti-colonial struggles. In 1949 the Chinese revolution led by Mao Tsetung achieved victory over the forces of imperialism. And many thousands of Puerto Rican soldiers came back from war to a country without jobs–after eye-opening experiences with U.S.-style racism. A new movement for liberation stirred.
In 1947, an unrepentant Pedro Albizu Campos returned to the island from federal prison. He immediately crisscrossed the island speaking passionately against the reorganization plans of the imperialists and against the suffering of the Puerto Rican people. The authorities permitted moderate political forces on the island to discuss various neo-colonial visions of “independence.” But they were determined to keep control of Puerto Rico forever. They responded to Albizu Campos’s activities with intense repression. In 1948, the authorities passed the Ley de la Mordaza, the gag law. La Mordaza made it illegal to advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government in Puerto Rico. It was also known as “the Little Smith Act” because it was patterned after a similar fascist law passed for the mainland. In practice, such things as pro-independence speeches and poetry and even raising the Puerto Rican flag were treated as illegal.
The imperialists simply criminalized the politics of Puerto Rican liberation. And La Mordaza was immediately used to attack the PNP and eliminate its leadership. Albizu Campos was placed under intense police pressure. Police patrols followed him openly, occasionally in jeeps with mounted machine guns. Every person he talked to, even clerks in stores, would be visited by police and harassed. In 1948, Nationalists called on the Puerto Rican people to boycott the elections of a colonial governor. Almost half of the people stayed away from the polls. The U.S. ruling class was finalizing their plans to impose a new colonial arrangement on Puerto Rico. They wanted no militant, organized campaign against this new setup. And so, in April 1950, President Truman ordered his agents to destroy the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. The fascistic campaign that followed foreshadowed in many ways the murderous cointelpro operations unleashed against the Black Panther Party almost 20 years later.
The U.S. Secretary of War, Louis Jiohnson, went to Puerto Rico and met with U.S. military leaders for three days in April. Like Mafia godfathers, they met with the governor, Muñoz Marin, and gave him the order: either break up the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party or kill their leader, Albizu Campos. The Nationalists learned about this plot from their informants within the government. And they worked to alert the people of the danger. However, newspapers refused to carry the information–and would not even accept a paid advertisement. So the PNP organized a campaign of public meetings starting in Manati on June 11, 1950.
The Nationalists were determined to resist by any means necessary–and to take arms if they were denied peaceful avenues of resistance. On October 27, 1950, the police stopped a Nationalist car caravan near Panuelas. Four Nationalists and two police died in the resulting firefight. Albizu Campos called on the people to take up arms.
Taking Up Arms
On October 30, 1950, Puerto Rican fighters attacked police headquarters in Jayuya. They set fire to the building and destroyed the government offices in town. They proclaimed the Second Republic of Puerto Rico and raised their revolutionary flag.
The U.S. air forces bombed from the air, as National Guard troops advanced to take back the village. Blanca Canales, a woman who helped lead the Jayuya revolt, described how the U.S. forces massacred those who surrendered during the nearby uprising in Utuado. Similar armed revolts broke out in Arecibo, Mayaguez, and Naranjito. In San Juan, independence fighters attacked the governor’s palace–La Fortaleza, a symbol of colonial domination.
This was a time when the U.S. imperialists were perhaps at the most powerful and arrogant moment in their history. And in the face of such power, the independence forces of Puerto Rico dared to rise up in a powerful armed manifesto–a Grito de Jayuya. Altogether it was the most powerful uprising in Puerto Rican history, and the largest armed revolt on U.S.-claimed territory since the last wars of the Native Peoples in the 1890s. At the same time, it was a difficult moment to actually carry a revolutionary struggle through to victory–to the seizure of nationwide power. The armed fighting proved impossible to sustain. The various centers of revolt were put down one by one, as columns of National Guard troops moved across the island. The colonial police besieged Pedro Albizu Campos in his house for two days before the Nationalist fighters there laid down their arms and surrendered. Even then, the fighting was not over. November 1, 1950, the world was stunned to hear that the independentistas had taken the armed struggle to the U.S. mainland. Two Nationalists, Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, attacked the temporary residence of President Truman in Washington’s Blair House. Torresola was killed at the scene and Collazo was wounded. Though the imperialist media had worked to suppress news of the uprisings on Puerto Rico itself, they could not ignore this armed act in their capital. At least 21independentistas gave their lives in the uprising. And the whole world was made aware of the independence struggle of Puerto Rico. The U.S. imperialists unleashed an intense reign of terror on the people of Puerto Rico. Three thousand people were arrested–including virtually all known members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, and even many members of the reformist Puerto Rican Independence Party, which had always rejected armed struggle. Police were issued blank arrest warrants to seize anyone they chose. An internationalist Anglo-American, Ruth Reynolds, was seized by the authorities after the historic uprising of Jayuya.
Trials lasted for three years. The hundreds of people on trial were almost all convicted and condemned to prison. In some cases, people were reportedly imprisoned simply because some government spy testified that they had shouted “Viva Puerto Rico Libre!”
One example: The independentista Carlos Feliciano and twelve other people were convicted of killing four cops in Arecibo. Feliciano was sentenced to 465 years in prison. (He later joked, “They thought I was Methuselah.”) A state witness later testified that Feliciano had been in his home town, Mayagüez, when the cops died. And the conviction had to be overthrown. The government refused to release him, but instead set up new charges of “advocating the overthrow of the government” and sentenced him to prison for his views. Membership in the PNP was itself a felony.
The colonialist police, working with the FBI, developed a huge blacklist of independence supporters who were pursued over the coming years.Independentistas, their families and employers were harassed. In 1988, when this blacklist was challenged in court, it contained more than 100,000 files.
The Lie Did Not Go Unopposed
“The Popular Democratic Party desires to have a banana republic with United States air conditioning.”
J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI
The colonial Popular Democratic Party rose to power in the new elections and on July 25, 1952 (again the anniversary of the notorious U.S. invasion!), they and the U.S. proclaimed the so-called Estado Libre Asociado (ELA) or Commonwealth.
This put in place the political arrangement the U.S. has used to exploit and dominate the Puerto Rican people for the last 46 years. Historian Afredo López describes it as “a sophisticated colonial enterprise where everything–laws, administrative organization, even popularly accepted ideology–works toward the efficient exploitation of the land’s natural resources and labor.” This new arrangement set up a phony political system in Puerto Rico that was modeled on electoral politics within the U.S. And based on this set-up, the U.S. pushed through a UN resolution in 1954 that removed Puerto Rico from the official list of “non-self-governing territories.” In other words, the U.S. (and the United Nations) were trying to claim that Puerto Rico was no longer a colony. Puerto Rico independence fighters again took up arms to answer this lie. On March 1, 1954, four Nationalists–Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores and Andrés Figueroa Cordero–walked into the gallery of the U.S. Congress and opened fire on the congressmen below. They were in the middle of a debate about immigration, and one politicians had just referred to Mexicans as “wetbacks.” Five congressmen were wounded.
The four independentistas were captured. The attack marked a third proclamation of the free and sovereign Republic of Puerto Rico. In prison, Albizu Campos faced intense mistreatment. He accused the authorities of bombarding him with radiation–causing painful illness. Afraid to have him die in prison, the authorities released him, a few months before his death in April 1965. The movement he had built suffered heavily from the ruthless repression of U.S. imperialism. But just as he died, the 1960s were heating up. And a whole new generation all around the world was rising in struggle against U.S. imperialism.
Deeply inspired by Albizu Campos and his fighters, many people, both on the island and on the U.S. mainland, stepped forward to advance the cause of Puerto Rican liberation.
- Doña Licha’s Island–Modern Colonialism in Puerto Rico, Alfredo López, South End Press, 1987
- Prisoners of Colonialism-the Struggle for Justice in Puerto Rico, Ronald Fernandez, Common Courage Press, 1994
- Puerto Rican Nationalism: A Reader, edited by Jose E. Lopez, Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Chicago, 1977
- Puerto Rico–A Political and Cultural History, Arturo Morales Carrión, Norton, 1983
An early version of this piece appeared in the Revolutionary Worker newspaper in 1998 Published online: December 2007
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