“We are united with the same end in common — the independence of our motherland,” Elma Beatriz Rosado told several thousand people who gathered on Sept. 23 in the Plaza of the Revolution in Lares, Puerto Rico, to commemorate the 139th anniversary of the island’s rebellion against Spanish rule. The annual observance, known as El Grito de Lares, drew people from across the island.

The various forces that favor an independent Puerto Rico celebrated the event in unity despite the ideological and tactical differences that have kept them apart in the past. They had heeded the words of Rosado’s late husband, Filiberto Ojeda, who had called for the unity of Puerto Rico’s patriotic forces to move the national liberation struggle forward. Ojeda, an underground pro-independence leader, was killed by FBI agents in a house raid on Sept. 23, 2005.

Hector Pesquera, a leader of the Hostos National Independence Movement, welcomed the united action, noting that pressure from rank-and-file Puerto Ricans also contributed to its success. Pesquera said the unity of those who favor independence should be extended to include all Puerto Ricans who identify with the country’s nationhood.

Senator María de Lourdes Santiago spoke for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) at the event. She said Puerto Rico is closer to gaining its freedom. She noted that a U.S. presidential task force that was formed to deal with the question of Puerto Rico has admitted that this Caribbean nation is a colony and that its status must change.

Santiago also pointed out that in recent congressional hearings on the status of Puerto Rico, Ruben Berríos, chairman of the PIP, told the U.S. lawmakers, “You are not going to give us statehood.” Representatives of the pro-statehood and autonomist political parties agreed with that assessment.

Under the U.S. Constitution, only Congress can admit Puerto Rico as a state. No Congress, whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans, has shown any inclination to do so.

Santiago said that the U.S. does not want Puerto Rico because the U.S. federal system “is incompatible with the annexation of a Latin American and Caribbean nation.” However, she said, “the real wall against statehood is the existence of a strong, organized independence movement which answers to no one and has not let itself be seduced by confusion.”

Pro-statehood forces in Puerto Rico have recently suffered some setbacks.

For example, although pro-statehood forces have been courting the Republican Party, and Luis Fortuño, the island’s non-voting delegate to the Congress who meets with the GOP caucus, introduced the “Puerto Rico Democracy” bill aimed at making Puerto Rico a state, an editorial in the conservative, pro-GOP Washington Times last week came out squarely against statehood.

Moreover, polls in the U.S., including recent ones, have never shown majority support for Puerto Rican statehood.

On the international front, last year leaders from Latin American political parties — five of them leading their governments — met in Panama to declare their support for a sovereign Puerto Rico. This year the UN Decolonization Committee agreed, once again, to send the colonial case of Puerto Rico to the General Assembly.

Because of factors such as these, Santiago said, the agenda for Puerto Rican national liberation is in a position to advance.

Santiago also criticized recent efforts to destroy the PIP, including an attempt to have it decertified as an electoral party by the Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party (PPR), an ecological “green” party.

The PPR’s legal attack on the PIP has failed in every Puerto Rican court, but the PPR has now filed suit in the U.S. federal courts, knowing that the PIP does not recognize the authority of the federal courts in Puerto Rico and won’t appear before it or give up any documents. Under these circumstances, the PIP stands to lose by default.

If the PIP were to be decertified, the PPR would get office space, money for staff and other benefits under Puerto Rico’s electoral system.

Santiago defiantly vowed to defend her party’s legality and standing in Puerto Rican politics, saying, “They know where our National Committee is — let them come and arrest us.”

The other organizations that took part in the Sept. 23 event, which was also dedicated to Puerto Rican political prisoners and the Cuban Five, were the Nationalist Party, Caribbean and Latin American Coordinating Committee of Puerto Rico, and the Socialist Front, a coalition of pro-socialist forces that includes Communist Refoundation.

jacruz @pww.org