September in Puerto Rico

Oct 17, 2015
2:37 PM
Shaded relief map of Puerto Rico (U.S. Geological Survey)

Shaded relief map of Puerto Rico (U.S. Geological Survey)

A shorter version of this essay first appeared on La Respuesta.

Puerto Rico last month celebrated one of its most cherished yet most denied historical events — el Grito de Lares of 1868 — while at the same time commemorating one of the most controversial acts of U.S. political repression carried out on the island — the 2005 targeted assassination of patriot Filiberto Ojeda Ríos.

El Grito de Lares was an uprising that occurred in Lares, Puerto Rico that sought independence from Spain as well as the abolition of slavery. For three days, patriots fought local Spanish militia, took over the town, celebrated mass, and proclaimed the Republic of Puerto Rico with the abolition of slavery its first ordinance. The provisional government even counted with a president and sent out its rebel army into neighboring towns to continue to insurrection. Spanish authorities neutralized the rebellion but the event was seared into island history as the foundation of the Puerto Rican identity and of its modern independence movement.

Filiberto Ojeda Ríos was a Puerto Rican patriot who had been organizing radical activists on the island since the 1960s until his arrest for revolutionary activities in 1970, at which point he went underground to continue organizing armed resistance to U.S. colonialism on the island. He helped organize Los Macheteros in 1978, who then achieved notoriety after their audacious 1981 attack on a federal airbase on the island. The FBI launched a massive raid against independence supporters on the island in 1985 during which their attempt to arrest Ojeda Ríos resulted in a gun battle, for which he was tried and later acquitted. Upon filing further federal charges against him, Ojeda Ríos in 1990 broke off his ankle monitoring device and returned underground. He remained underground leading Los Macheteros until a renewed attack by the FBI on September 23, 2005, in the town of Hormigueros where he was shot and left to bleed to death by federal agents, causing widespread protests across the island.

As part of the commemorations this year, island progressives held a series of groundbreaking activities analyzing the history and role of independence activists and revolutionaries.

Pedro Albizu Campos, leader of the Nationalist Party, speaks to striking sugar cane workers in Guyama, Puerto Rico in 1934 (Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños/Hunter College/CUNY)

Pedro Albizu Campos, leader of the Nationalist Party, speaks before striking sugar cane workers in Guyama, Puerto Rico in 1934 (Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños/Hunter College/CUNY)


The first of these was held on September 17 at the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus and featured a majority of the island’s veteran freedom fighters — all of them former political prisoners. A surreal experience for island and Diaspora activists alike, the conference, titled “Struggles from the Past, Present, and … Always? The Puerto Rican political prisoners and their legacy among newer generations,” featured several panels regarding colonialism, the role of women in the struggle, the use of the arts in the struggle, and community organization and the struggle. These former prisoners formed a cross section of the radical political struggles of the island from the 1950s through today: combatants from the 1950 Nationalist insurrection; veteran activists linked to armed revolutionary groups such as Los Macheteros; other activists coming from the Vieques freedom campaign; activists related to the Young Lords and other community struggles in Puerto Rican and Latino communities in the United States; and an array of former prisoners linked to the FALN, an armed revolutionary organization that took credit for a slew of bombings in the United States in the 1970s calling for the independence of the island. The report backed by these veterans served as a point of analysis for those present and was then supported in each panel by young island-based activists who also presented on their particular organizing experiences within that radical historical context.

In 2015, 16 years after the release of most of the FALN prisoners by President Clinton in 1999, the issue remains as passionate and as urgent as ever, as one last freedom fighter remains behind bars: the beloved Oscar López Rivera, whose freedom campaign has witnessed no limits. As a prisoner of conscience, his liberty is demanded from all corners of the globe and is supported by all sectors of Puerto Rican society irrespective of ideology. For this reason, the conference was dedicated to both López Rivera and Ojeda Ríos.

The conference, part of a series of activities leading up to the 10th anniversary of the targeted assassination of Ojeda Ríos in 2005, then featured artist Yasmin Hernández dedicating a special painting, “Somos Muchos” (We Are Many), she created for the conference featuring the image of Oscar López amid a myriad of images of historical figures in the Puerto Rican independence movement. The painting was used as the official poster of the conference.

Ojeda Ríos’s wife and founder of the Filiberto Ojeda Ríos Foundation, Elma Beatriz Rosado, then took to the stage to deliver a message taken from revered Puerto Rican Nationalist Pedro Albizu Campos. Albizu, she said, once stated that had his country not been enslaved, he would have dedicated his life to the arts and sciences. Instead, he used his keen intelligence to promote the freedom of his country, much like the patriots present at the conference. Rosado was adamant that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights applies to Puerto Rico and its current colonial condition and added that there exists “a need to struggle for national salvation” and that the island “should not have external forces telling us what we can or cannot do”. Referencing Ojeda Ríos, she stated that he used all forms of struggle and that he did not reject any one method of struggle, utilizing armed struggle only as a last resort. Rosado closed by telling everyone present that “we need to be citizens of the world,” saying that Puerto Rico’s international relations are an important piece of its development.

Beloved Nationalist icon Rafael Cancel Miranda opened the colonialism panel with a videotaped message. Cancel, part of the 1954 Nationalist attack on Congress, declared that “Puerto Rico is a militarily occupied country” and, as such, “independence is necessary.” Cancel summarized the violent history of repression against the independence movement by American authorities and stated that “Puerto Ricans have always resisted and combatted the invasion … and this colonial slavery.” Cancel also recounted the many acts of heroic resistance by the Nationalist Party, saying that “we have a right to struggle for our independence … It is a question of dignity.”

Oscar López Rivera, former FALN member and political prisoner of the United States since 1980

Oscar López Rivera, former FALN member and political prisoner of the United States since 1980

Recently released veterans Norberto González Claudio and Avelino González Claudio, both linked to Los Macheteros — infamous for their audacious 1981 attack on an American military base on the island — also offered messages with theoretical and structured presentations on the need for continued anti-colonial organization and action. Comrade Avelino reminded everyone present that Ernesto “Che” Guevara once gifted Ojeda Ríos with a special Cuban-Puerto Rican flag, confirming what has been said before about Che inviting Filiberto to join in the Cuban struggle with the latter choosing to return home and continue his fight here on the island. Comrade Norberto declared relatedly that “revolution is a commitment to love” and that “revolution is true democracy,” denouncing colonialism as “the exploitation of you and me and the working class.”

Nationalist combatant Heriberto Marin, a participant in the Nationalist insurrection of 1950 in which he and Blanca Canales were able to successfully proclaim the independence of the island while hoisting the then-outlawed Puerto Rican flag over the town of Jayuya, presented next. He detailed how he met and knew Albizu Campos, including personal anecdotes about the Nationalist leader and other figures such as Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola (the combatants who attempted to assassinate President Truman in 1950). He expressed how he witnessed the effects of the torture of Albizu with radiation in his prison cell, saying that the Nationalist Party president was “burned alive” at the Oso Blanco prison. He closed with a moving anecdote on life with his beloved late wife, which included humorous tales of how they met and how she unexpectedly waited for him to complete his prison sentence after the insurrection, leading to their marriage and life together and ending with her untimely recent passing.

Veteran activist Norberto Cintrón Fiallo also presented on themes of anti-colonial struggle within the context of a crumbling capitalist and colonial system imposed on the island. Cintrón also paid homage to Ojeda Ríos — saying that Ojeda knew that armed resistance, electoral politics and grassroots struggle all contribute to the liberation movement — but also called for unity across sectors pointing out that the next stage of struggle would be directed by a such a structure. Vicente “Panamá” Alba, former Young Lord and respected community activist in New York City was also present to discuss community struggles as part and parcel of anti-colonial struggle. Panamá, who pointed out that he was accused of planting a bomb for the FALN but was acquitted in 15 minutes, recounted the sociological and political experiences of the Puerto Rican communities in the 1970s and ended with the challenging question: “They are violating your mother country! What are you going to do?”

Local activists Coraly León and Javier Smith presented on the panel as well, with León pointing out that “imperialism on the island has resulted in dependency” and exploitation by Wall Street. León also honed in on themes of patriarchal oppression, giving examples of forced sterilization, experimentation on women and deepening poverty rates in the colonial context. Smith underscored Filiberto’s understanding of how colonialism results in psychological dependency and lack of self-sufficiency. Correspondingly, he pointed out the need to decolonize not only our means of production and institutions, but our psychology, capacities, development and visions for the future, while reiterating that statehood for Puerto Rico is not a true decolonization option.

The next panel, “Women in the Struggle,” featured Alicia and Lucy Rodriguez, imprisoned for their activities with the FALN in the 1970s, as well as island-based comrades Nilda Medina and Rita Zengotita. The young activists segment was represented by Dania Garcia and Rosemarie Vazquez who analyzed the political situation on the island from a feminist perspective, highlighting issues of patriarchy in Puerto Rican society and pointing to sexism prevalent even within leftist circles on the island. An interesting aspect of this panel was Lucy Rodriguez’s choice to focus on the issue of “Mother Earth,” leading to a powerful plea to respect the power of nature and the environment as a natural expression of maternity and continuity, and of the power, importance and centrality of women in society and in the struggle for survival and freedom. Alicia discussed her experience with “patterns of conduct that were racist and colonialist” while growing up in Chicago, noting that she and her comrades represented a challenge to the colonial system. She denounced the domestic violence experienced by most incarcerated women, mentioning how this is reproduced inside prison walls, citing forced body cavity searches as an example, and ending by proclaiming that “another world is necessary … Filiberto Vive! … Free Oscar!”

Nilda Medina spoke about the Vieques struggle and how that community chose to use civil disobedience in occupying military lands and not leaving until the U.S. Navy decided to withdraw. She offered historical accounts of resistance by Taínos and Africans in Vieques and of women migrants from other Caribbean islands who later organized to protest conditions there. Medina spoke of the role of women during the Vieques struggle, playing diverse roles within the movement and engaging in direct action. Rita Zengotita, social worker and a former prisoner incarcerated for her alleged role in armed actions in support of independence, summarized how Puerto Rico falls into a historical context of anti-colonial struggle like the Cuban Revolution and spoke of her experience of radicalization, including work in international social work associations where she learned about the murder of innocents across Latin America by U.S.-backed dictatorships. Zengotita recounted her experience being arrested and jailed twice for weapons charges, interrogation experiences, FBI visits and social and legal work within prison as well as the work of solidarity groups on the outside. Zengotita declares, “We have to be resistant. If we have to die for a cause, then let it be the cause for which we live.”

The “Arts in the Struggle” panel featured a previously recorded video message from Carlos Alberto Torres, who was linked to the FALN and released in 2010. Due to constraints imposed by his parole condition, Torres was not able to participate in person and as such sent a videotaped message. Interestingly enough, later that same week it was reported that he had officially concluded his time under parole conditions and would no longer have to restrict his activities. His message explaining the spiritual freedom obtained via his artistic work while in prison, and how this freedom propelled even more artistic expression, was particularly poignant. In a prison context where individual expression is crushed, it was powerful to hear his description of the arts as an expression of freedom and freedom as a sensation of creating, with a symbiotic relationship between the two. Torres is now based on the island and is an artisan known for his work with ceramics.

Orlando González Claudio, co-founder and former leader of Los Macheteros, presented on his post-release work with children and the theatre. He has developed intriguing methods of theater work that incorporate themes of struggle and social justice that are developed and led by children, including detailed work in lighting and directing. Young activists Eury Orsini, Zuleira Soto and Raúl Reyes spoke about the need to agitate and provoke collective critical thinking using the arts and supported the idea of public spaces being used and transformed via the arts for community use and benefit. Former prisoner Adolfo Matos also presented in this forum, similarly describing the oppressive experience of jailers attempting to crush creative expression by destroying his work, which led him to create two to three copies of each piece he made. This repression also led to his work with copper, the medium for which he is known currently on the island. Finally, former prisoner and renowned artist Elizam Escobar spoke about his beginnings doing caricature work in New York for publications linked to Puerto Rico’s Socialist League. He explains that “art has its own politics, its own levels … You cannot reduce art solely to an instrument of ideology … Art functions to break fears and limits, has pedagogical purposes that can add to liberation work.” Escobar says that politics pertain to culture, not vice versa, and that “art as a code can either liberate us or imprison us.”

Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, late commander-in-chief of Los Macheteros

Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, late commander-in-chief of Los Macheteros

The final panel, “Community Organizing,” featured Ricardo Jiménez, Luis Rosa, Edwin Cortés and Alberto Rodríguez, all convicted for seditious conspiracy and other activities linked to the FALN; Federico Cintrón Fiallo, a veteran radical activist in Puerto Rico; and Juan Segarra, imprisoned for his activities with Los Macheteros. Luis Rosa spoke about the importance of community empowerment as a continuous process that requires passion, sweat and hard work in order to break the chains of oppression, and recounted the community struggles in Chicago at the time of his involvement there. Rosa stated, “Struggles are not just for survival but to overcome … and we had to create mechanisms to be able to overcome.” Speaking on the point of acting and not merely complaining, Rosa talked about the foundation of an alternative school in Chicago founded by Oscar and José López that still exists today, saying that to break the chains of oppression means that “we need to act, to make things happen .. to make freedom happen.” Rosa asked if the movement has begun to plan “our government, the government of the [future] Republic [of Puerto Rico], and who, for example, will form the leadership.” He also followed this up with the query: “why not? Everything must commence with our own belief and planning” as with community struggles.

Edwin Cortés also recounted experiences of community struggle in Chicago and denounced the political assassinations of the FBI. Cortés says that “we should return to the basics” with young people helping bring new ideas and means, that the basics could include the offering of specific services to the (Puerto Rican) community, via medical, educational centers and the arts. He clarified that such programs should be created as “we want to redefine the role of the Puerto Rican community in the States,” with the population reaching five million people at this time. As an example, Cortés stated that young people could play a decisive role in the liberation of Oscar López through the use of civil disobedience.

Federico Cintrón spoke of the issue of community struggles vis-à-vis important anti-colonial theorists (i.e., Frantz Fanon) and described the differences between reformist community work and transformative popular education. Cintron reiterated the importance of transformative community work that supports community-based leadership, in which solutions reside in the people, and that also struggles to do away with colonialism.

Alberto Rodríguez also discussed community-centered struggles in Chicago as well as issues relating to the colonial mentality and the necessity to break dependency in order to effect self-determination. He expressed that the Diaspora has an incomplete view of Puerto Rico and that Puerto Rico has an incomplete view and understanding of the Diaspora, reminding everyone that “the Diaspora does not cease to form a part of the Puerto Rican nation just because they have moved.” Rodriguez closed by discussing the discrimination many in the States endure and remarked that “we are witnessing the end of the achievements of the political work of previous Puerto Rican generations” and now need a new generation dedicated to undertaking that task.

Juan Segarra explained that his experience with community organizing comes from his time in prison, not during his time in Los Macheteros as he was working within its military structure. He says he had the good fortune of being a Puerto Rican political prisoner at the time that he was due to the respect inmates had for former Nationalist prisoners. Segarra spoke about the organization and celebration of cultural activities as a way to create a shield that enables prisoners to endure tolerate incarceration. He additionally spoke of the positive impact of the prison organization Ñetas who have waged a struggle to change the conditions and treatment of prisoners in the United States.

Ricardo Jiménez, speaking generally, theorized that the reason the Diaspora community was so much more radically anticolonial was due to racism in the United States, an experience of life in the United States not completely understood by Puerto Ricans on the island. Jiménez described how Puerto Rico does not know its history, does not control its educational system, and this is why its people do not rebel. Jiménez stated that the island’s debt was created by the colonizer not by Puerto Ricans, laying responsibility squarely at the feet of the United States. In terms of the educational system, Jiménez says that Puerto Rico’s curriculum should be centered on Puerto Rico and its history as part of a movement towards a new Puerto Rico. Antonio Camacho Negrón sent in a written statement to the conference which also addressed anti-colonial and transformative community based work. Finally, young local activists Kiria Hurtado and Luis Mercado presented on different community-based activist campaigns, mentioning agro-activism, environmental protection and feminist-based work against patriarchy.

The daylong event, historical in that such a conference of this magnitude featuring this array of former political prisoners in one place, had never been done before. Both daunting and courageous — considering the logistical and security aspects involved — it succeeded in providing those present with a snapshot of the issues close to the heart of these veterans and offered a brief opportunity for newer generations of activists to connect with them and find common ground.

The tomb of Ramón Emeterio Betances in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico with the flag of Lares

The tomb of Ramón Emeterio Betances in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico with the flag of Lares


Less than a week later, the island commemorated the 147th anniversary of its most dramatic uprising against colonial rule, which resulted several years later in the abolition of slavery. The Grito de Lares, celebrated every September 23rd, has become a pilgrimage for many independence supporters, with Pedro Albizu Campos once referring to the town as “the altar of the homeland” where one should enter on one’s knees in almost religious fervency. This year the event took on added significance as it also marked the 10th anniversary of the assassination of Machetero leader Filiberto Ojeda Ríos by the FBI, an event that sparked outrage by the Commonwealth and widespread protests by islanders. The assassination, which was condemned internationally and was investigated by the island’s Commission on Civil Rights and Department of Justice, was weakened by the FBI’s refusal to cooperate, leading many at the Grito de Lares event this year to proclaim that the murder had gone unpunished.

Eduardo Villanueva, former president of the Bar Association of Puerto Rico and spokesperson of the Committee on Human Rights, spoke that day regarding the need to support the ecological movements on the island, especially when it comes to the defense and preservation of water sources. He also urged unity among organizations and reiterated a common claim among independence supporters: that the current crisis Puerto Rico is experiencing is based on the unresolved status issue, saying that Puerto Rico cannot demand that Congress be charged with resolving the issue but should instead demand that the island be released from its colonial status and freed. Other calls to protect the environment from damaging contamination were made by Aleida Centeno of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, claiming that there was more mercury contamination in the island’s El Yunque rain forest than in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as denouncing high rates of electromagnetic contamination on the island as a contributing factor to rates of leukemia. Centeno also repeated a common theme of the day: that the island’s debt is the responsibility of the United States and that organization efforts should be directed towards rejecting it outright.

The Puerto Rican Independence Party’s representative at El Grito this year was Hugo Rodríguez, who highlighted the PIP’s role in working the international arena of the struggle, obtaining support for the island’s independence especially in Latin America. Saying that Latin America was in a stronger position and was actively supporting Puerto Rico’s struggle for independence, he stated that “El Grito de Lares continues to run through the veins of all independentistas.” Julio Muriente of the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano — an organization that carries the name of 19th-century educator and independence leader Eugenio María de Hostos — noted, referring to the assassination of Ojeda Ríos, that people will remember what they were doing and where they were when they heard the news: “Each one of us has an anecdote from that day, with the speeches here, and the temporary cancellation of the activity due to torrential rains, and how we received the news from Hormigueros.” Paying homage to the fallen revolutionary, Muriente demanded there be no sadness for Filiberto but “joy and victory” and moved the crowd to follow chants of “Todo Boricua Machetero,” ending by declaring that those nations that give birth to patriots like Betances and Filiberto earn the right to achieve glory.

The day was not complete without a communiqué sent by the clandestine organization Los Macheteros. In it, they proclaim that 10 years ago, on September 23, the “empire attempted to terminate the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence, silencing the voice of the Commander of the Ejercito Popular Boricua-Macheteros, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos,” who they refer to as the most eloquent and committed representative of the claim to and defense of Puerto Rico’s inalienable right to independence and sovereignty during the last third of the 20th century and first decade of the 21st century. Los Macheteros reported that on that day they received a call indicating that “they are already here and are shooting. Call the press,” and proceeded to implement their security protocol to protect the organization and other individuals and privileged information. For almost a year, they report, their commander had come to understand that the time was near, due to increased vigilance and surveillance of many independence activists, even if they were not involved at all with him. He was calm, and rejected suggestions he leave the country to save his life, instead coordinating security protocols and saying that if he was to die, he would do so in Puerto Rico and in combat. “There will always be Macheteros”, he retorted, convinced that the organization would live on after him.

The communiqué celebrates that one of the silver linings of the assassination is that the country is no longer afraid to speak the name of Filiberto nor of Los Macheteros and chant the organization’s slogan: “Todo Boricua Machetero” (All Puerto Ricans are Macheteros). The communiqué ends by reiterating, as they have done before, that during these trying times of exploitation, they are with the people and their respective struggles, and once again says that they will do what needs to be done at the appropriate time. To this they add, “And you, for whom our Comandante gave his life, you…what will YOU do? For you, for your children, for your country?” The communiqué, read by an activist aloud at the events, is signed by Los Macheteros comandante Guasabará (a Taíno word meaning “war”) of their National Central Command.

The Grito de Lares event this year achieved what it set out to do: commemorate the most important historical uprising and demand for freedom in the history of the island and denounce once again the impunity which continues to reign over the targeted assassination of one of the island’s foremost revolutionaries.


Later that evening, the house where Ojeda and Rosado were attacked by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team was opened to the public for first time since that day. For years after the attack, during which Ojeda was shot with a single bullet by federal agents who then denied him medical attention and allowed him to bleed to death until the following day, commemorations were held monthly on the 23rd in order to honor his memory. Annually this was also done on a larger scale. This year, however, a much more solemn observation took place with no structured program of events. In its place, a steady stream of silent visitors quietly toured the house, observing the bullet holes and shredded glass windows. Children and adults recited poetry and musicians sang with guitars in hand. Visitors smiled at each other and some attendees shed tears of anger and outrage which was palpable in the house all night. Couples, groups and friends passed through the house in respectful silence, to remember, to witness and to add their energy to the collective outrage. A pictorial history of the country’s angry responses to the killing was available to view gallery-style, and the drawings of local children were also posted before being sent off to political prisoner Oscar López. It was a familial yet sober environment to remember a legendary organizer, revolutionary, combatant and martyr for the cause of Puerto Rico’s independence.

The Rectoría at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez

The Rectoría at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez


Finally, on September 24 one final panel presentation was offered regarding the future of the struggle for the island’s independence. Organized by University of Puerto Rico professor and author Michael Gonzalez, it featured UPR economics professor Ricardo Fuentes, humanities professor José Atiles and former Puerto Rican Socialist Party leader Ángel Agosto.

Mr. Atiles discussed the criminalization of the independence movement showcased by the massive FBI arrests of independence supporters on August 30, 1985, and by the assassination of Ojeda Ríos in 2005. Atiles highlighted the interesting dichotomy of folks who consider Ojeda a criminal versus those who consider him a hero given Ojeda’s political philosophy. This included the use of armed struggle, which placed him and the struggle outside the realm of accepted legal discourse by the state. The 1985 arrests of members of Los Macheteros led to their declaration as political prisoners as opposed to prisoners of war, which meant that they would defend themselves in court with the political objective of using the process as a means to highlight the colonial problem and advance their struggle. Filiberto was tried on charges of resisting arrest and was acquitted on the basis of self-defense. Atiles highlighted the symbolism of September 23 being chosen as the date for the assault on Filiberto’s home, since he was the symbol and heir of the armed struggle tradition. His murder sparked outrage due to human and civil rights violations, Atiles clarified, and urged that the moment is now to reflect on and strategize next steps. The future of the movement, he said, rests with a process that needs to delineate decisions regarding the politics of the movement and the issue of legality of the means of struggle.

Professor Fuentes presented an angle not often tied to Ojeda Ríos: that of Ojeda as an economic theorist. Drawing parallels to Che Guevara, who is more often known for his guerrilla campaigns, Fuentes observed that Guevara is also one of the most important economists of the 20th century when viewed within the doctrine of heterodox economics. Guevara contributed greatly to the economic debates and decision-making processes in Cuba regarding the economy of the Soviet Union, while Ojeda Ríos also demonstrated great economic prowess with his 2005 predictions of the crises of the capitalist economy. He predicted increases in the cost of living on the island, with increased crime associated with economic realities, and participated in the public discourse regarding the need to restructure the economy away from a capitalist model, denouncing foreign capital as an obstacle to the country’s development. Ojeda, he remarked, supported the creation of a new economy by islanders themselves that would be democratic and participatory. Ojeda’s plan, the United Front for National Salvation, consisted of gathering forces across all sectors considered victims of the colonial capitalist system, not necessarily independence supporters only. In terms of next steps, Fuentes stated that past ineffective efforts should not be repeated, and that short-term objectives should be outlined such as building unity among workers and workers’ groups, including feminist groups and others historically victimized by the system, with the particular aim of intensifying class struggle.

Mr. Agosto begins by clarifying that he was sub-secretary of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and was charged with the underground armed wing of the organization. Agosto explained that it can take years of quiet, behind-the-scenes work to organize a revolution, requiring both anonymity and the support of people who are committed to the future. He says that the working class can make it happen once the reformist conceptualization no longer functions, but also warned that revolutions can become bureaucratic if their organizations continue to exist simply for the sake of existing, which has happened to many armed organizations across Latin America. Agosto spoke about the formation of Los Macheteros in 1976, about how folks wanted to create a party of the working class as well, and clarified that if the Socialist Party had not been so effectively organized, they would not have been able to offer their trained cadres as founding members of Los Macheteros at that time. Mentioning how Ojeda Rios did not believe in ruling out any one form of struggle, preferring to state that different methods could be used at different times, Agosto stated that armed struggle requires political direction at all times, and theorized that a best practice in this regard would be to develop a clandestine rapid response unit.

Agosto laments that the workers’ struggles of the 1970s were not more fruitful due to lack of sufficient support from armed organizations and proposes this as another best practice, especially when faced with the historical context of violence from right-wing Cuban extremist groups during that time. Agosto mentioned a current news report highlighting levels of poverty on the island, with approximately 900,000 people living below the poverty line, something he claimed presents a new revolutionary situation that requires confrontation and a mass uprising that could become revolutionary if given proper direction and organization. For this, Agosto outlines six necessary elements: 1) leadership that has gained the respect of the people, 2) the establishment of appropriate organizations and structures, 3) an infrastructure that is able to protect the masses, 4) a revolutionary cadre already in place within colonial structures that can be mobilized, 5) the capacity to provide a sufficient response to incidents, and 6) the ability to effectively denounce in international arenas any direct intervention by the United States. Agosto reminds those present that U.S. authorities wanted to assassinate Ojeda Ríos but could not trust local island authorities to carry out the task, so they had to undertake the task themselves. As far as next steps, Agosto urged the public to learn from the experiences of other revolutionary movements as well as assuring multiple levels of organizing efforts.



September has truly become synonymous with Puerto Rican history and, in particular, progressive and radical Puerto Rican history. From the September 12 birthday commemoration of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos to the Grito de Lares and Filiberto Ojeda Ríos commemorations on the 23rd, the month of September brings with it the passionate responses of an embattled nation seeking to secure its freedom and dignity.

The commemorations this year, however, reflected a special kind of energy and unique sense of outrage. Puerto Rico is undergoing a truly profound systemic and economic crisis with sociological and political repercussions that will surely reach years into the future. For progressives on the island, then, it is no surprise that the commemoration of El Grito de Lares — which represented a rebellion against unfair and dehumanizing economic and political policies including slavery, indentured servitude and colonialism — continues to spark such deep admiration and idealization. Relatedly, the 10th anniversary of the FBI murder of Ojeda Ríos, undoubtedly Puerto Rico’s most renowned revolutionary figure at the close of the 20th century, brought with it impassioned demands for unity, organizing work and justice.

The events of 147 years ago and 10 years ago continue to remain relevant as the island struggles to determine how to deal with its crushing debt and paralyzing colonial system. As during the events of El Grito and as predicted by Ojeda Ríos, the severe economic depression is having political repercussions as more and more activists align themselves with the slogan posted at Lares this year: “La Deuda es del Imperio” (The Debt Belongs to the Empire). Indeed, in a previous communiqué this year, Los Macheteros warned that due to the island’s colonial status, its debt would become “permanent” and would then asphyxiate the island and condemn it to an eternal indentured servitude under Wall Street.

Notwithstanding the dire predictions and troubling statistics that have deteriorated into an odd form of terrorism against the island’s residents, pockets of hope and determination are evident. The events held in September demonstrated once again the resilience of this island and its people, as represented by its most progressive and committed sectors organizing and agitating in the hopes of creating what they call “a new Puerto Rico.” Beyond reformist policies, activists all across the island — from agro-ecological groups to feminist organizations and student movements, as well as the underground revolutionary stalwarts — one can indeed observe that Puerto Rico is experiencing a slow but progressive rebirth, towards justice, toward self-determination and towards freedom.


Juan Antonio Ocasio Rivera is a social worker, professor, activist and writer currently based in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico. He has done activist work with various organizations in New York and Puerto Rico and has contributed articles to online media such as CounterPunch, NY Latino Journal, Socialism and Democracy, and the North American Congress in Latin America.