Hundreds of visitors came out to the village of Lares, Puerto Rico, to celebrate the anniversary of the revolutionary uprising of September 23, 1868, an attempt to liberate Puerto Rico from Spanish colonialism.

This is the third year of united celebrations, with different Puerto Rican pro-independence organizations speaking from the same platform.

Vieques was again front-and-center at the celebration, as was a repudiation of the Bush administration’s plans to attack Iraq.

Blaming U.S. imperialism, veteran Puerto Rican independence fighter Juan Mari Bras criticized Bush’s moves toward war. Mari Bras, who was the main speaker, was a founder of the Movimiento Independentista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Independence Movement), which later became the Puerto Rican Socialist Party.

Mari Bras said that the struggle for peace in Vieques was the beginning of “a new patriotic offensive,” and Puerto Rico, an island nation of almost four million, is united with other countries of the Caribbean and Latin America in “raising up a great movement of national liberation.”

Julio Muriente, president of the Nuevo Movimiento Independentista (New Independence Movement) spoke about the need for all those in favor of Puerto Rican independence to unite. Muriente said that there are more factors uniting “boricua” (Puerto Rican) patriots than differences. Muriente said that his organization and the Congreso Nacional Hostosiano (Hostosian National Congress) are seeking ways to unite.

María de Lourdes Santiago, vice president of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Independence Party), said that “500 years of colonialism have not been able to extinguish” the Puerto Rican independence movement. Santiago declared: “They have not been able to erase the meaning of Lares, and they have not been able to erase what Lares teaches us.” She reminded her audience it was “Puerto Rican and Cuban patriots” who rose up against Spanish imperialism.

Santiago said that if the Navy does not leave Vieques, her party will “call for a National Plan of Peaceful Resistance, and we will enter the prohibited zone in mass, and we will protest in the street, in the communities, in the workplaces, in Puerto Rico and outside of Puerto Rico.”

A few weeks ago, the mayor of Vieques, Dámaso Serrano, headed a march of hundreds up to the entrance of the restricted zone, where they simulated an entry into the military camp. Serrano declared if the Navy did not leave by May 2003, he would lead a crowd into the military-occupied area.

In other related news, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), one of 30 Congressional representatives who sent a letter to Bush requesting the promised naval withdrawal by executive order, received a letter from H. T. Johnson, a Navy officer, stating that Bush cannot simply order the Navy to withdraw from Vieques.

The author can be reached at jacruz@attbi.com

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