On Sept. 23 thousands of Puerto Ricans went to the town of Lares to commemorate the 137th anniversary of the revolutionary uprising against Spanish colonialism. These protesters also demanded the end of today’s U.S. colonial domination of this Latin American island nation — Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rican revolutionaries of 1868, headed by Ramón Emeterio Betances, did not simply fight to replace one set of rulers with another. They fought for a whole series of changes as outlined in Betances’ “The Ten Commandments of Free Men,” including freedom of expression, press, civil liberties and religion. But number one among these was the abolition of slavery.
Just five years later, in March 1873, Spain abolished slavery in Puerto Rico as well as the “passbook” labor system, where free workers, both Black and white, most of them peasants, were required to carry a passbook signed by employers certifying that they worked.
Today, just as 137 years ago, the same Puerto Rican progressive movement that still fights for independence and self-determination — a right recognized by the UN Decolonization Committee, the Non-Aligned Movement, the socialist countries, as well as the majority of Latin American countries — also leads the trade union, peace, ecological and women’s struggles, among others.
Because of U.S. colonial domination, the people of Puerto Rico have suffered. Their land has been used as a military base, their people have been poisoned by toxins from military exercises, their women have been used for birth control experiments, and their workforce has been exploited to the point where for every dollar paid in wages, U.S. companies get back over $10 in value.
While Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are an important part of the anti-ultra-right coalition, progressives should not entertain any ideas of making common cause with the right-wing statehood movement, rationalizing that Puerto Rican senators and representatives would shift the balance of forces away from the extremist GOP.
The only real alternative is independence for Puerto Rico with reparations from the U.S. The people of Puerto Rico should be able to freely choose their place among the world’s nations.