Hours before President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday, members of the Frente Independentista Boricua (Boricua Independence Front) gathered in front of the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., across from the Capitol Building, to call on the federal government to decolonize Puerto Rico, a U.S. possession since 1898.
Some protesters played percussion instruments while others held a large black banner that read “USA OUT OF PUERTO RICO, END COLONIALISM AND OCCUPATION, YANKI GO HOME.” Another banner read “STATEHOOD = COLONIALISM,” while still other protesters held placards reading “NO TO STATEHOOD” and featuring the original flag of Puerto Rico—the current, colonial flag of Puerto Rico was designed to match the U.S. flag.
“We have come to Washington DC from different parts of the United States to send this government a clear message: Puerto Rico has the right to self-determination and independence,” said Fernando “Ponce” Laspina, president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party (PNPR), New York Junta, and founder of El Maestro, a boxing gym and community center in the South Bronx. “The 124 years of colonization, which began with an invasion and occupation and continues today, has not erased the inalienable right of our people to be free. Our rights derive from international law, morality, and social ethics; laws affirmed by sovereign nations and affirmed by the United Nations.”
For years Cuba has introduced, and the UN Special Committee on Decolonization has approved, a resolution calling on the United States to decolonize Puerto Rico, which the U.S. asserts is a self-governing “commonwealth.” Last year’s resolution was joined by Mexico (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Syria, and the Russian Federation.
Tuesday also happened to be the anniversary of the Puerto Rican nationalist attack on Congress in 1954, when four members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party — Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irvin Flores Rodríguez— unfurled the original flag of Puerto Rico and fired 30 rounds from the visitors’ balcony in the House of Representatives, wounding five lawmakers: Alvin Morell Bentley (R-Michigan), who took a bullet to the chest, Clifford Davis (D-TN), Ben F. Jensen (R-IA), George Hyde Fallon (D-MD), and Kenneth A. Roberts (D-AL).
“I did not come to kill anyone,” Lebrón famously said as she was carried away by police. “I came to die for Puerto Rico!”
“March 1st is a glorious date on which we Puerto Ricans affirm the historical acts that our people have done to resist and defend what is rightfully ours,” read a Tuesday press release by the Frente Independentista Boricua. “The attack had the purpose of denouncing to the world the Puerto Rican colonial crisis and the US government’s deception of our reality before the international community.”
“Colonialism under the American boot has plunged Puerto Rico into a deep economic and social crisis,” said Edil Sepúlveda, co-founder and spokesperson for Boricuas Unidos en la Diaspora. “Sixteen continuous years of economic depression, and years of massive emigration, looting and deterioration of all resources, have an entire people at the precipice of irrevocable outrage and discontent against the United States.”
“Puerto Rico today is fighting against a dictatorial board, imposed by Washington to arrange the payment of an illegal debt generated by unscrupulous governments, in collusion with the vultures of Wall Street, America’s financial capital,” said Briana Ramos Alvarado, head of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, Washington D.C. Committee. “To such an imposition, which today includes an austerity plan that will further impoverish our working class at the cost of paying malicious creditors, the United States has found itself pitted against a brave and committed people, a combative youth, brave women and men, and militant workers.”
“We are a people that has awoken and that rejects abuse, injustice, displacement, and foreign domination,” she added. “We reject the colonial state and we aspire for freedom.”
For its part, Power 4 Puerto Rico, a group comprised of diaspora leaders and allies that advocates for Puerto Ricans on the island and abroad but did not participate in Tuesday’s Demonstration, released its own press statement ahead of Biden’s address to the nation, calling out the President for his failure to follow through with promises he made on the campaign trail.
“Over the past year, the Biden Administration has taken important and needed steps to alleviate the situation of Puerto Ricans—from condoning $300 million in Community Disaster Loans (CDL) made to Puerto Rico municipalities, to pushing for parity in Medicaid funding, lifting punitive and political Trump-era restrictions on federal aid, and making disaster assistance available for the earthquake that hit in 2020,” the group said, before listing a number of broken promises.
“President Biden promised to support a fair and inclusive self-determination process, yet his White House Task Force on Puerto Rico is excluding this from its scope of work,” the group said. “The President stated that he would reverse the austerity measures imposed by the unelected Junta, aka the Financial Oversight and Management Board (FOMB), and bring transparency to an unaudited debt. Yet nothing has happened on this campaign promise. Additionally, the Biden Administration continues to uphold that the U.S. Supreme Court has the authority to deny Puerto Rico residents Supplemental Security Income (SSI). This, as it also continues to embrace what is essentially a $1.5 billion annual tax —to the benefit of a corporate duopoly— on the backs of Puerto Ricans via the Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act).”
“The injustices that Puerto Ricans have been pushing to the front —from the harmful policies the colonial board is imposing on generations of Puerto Ricans, to the delay and denial of fair, transparent and inclusive self-determination— cannot remain the status quo,” read the statement. “As President Biden remarks on democratic and human rights values, he should reflect on how the United States contradicts those values in its continued subjugation of Caribbean and Pacific Island peoples. The time to rectify this is now.”