Full disclosure: I am an American living in Puerto Rico. I am not of Puerto Rican descent, which is why I feel my views on this topic are especially poignant.
Depending on one's political leaning and their understanding of events—both historical and current—Oscar López Rivera is either a hero or a terrorist. Outside of Puerto Rico and perhaps pockets of Puerto Rican communities in the United States, few had heard of recently released political prisoner Oscar López Rivera—until recently.
In truth, I don't think many non-boricua even care who Oscar López Rivera is, until it comes to debating the events that landed him in prison. Then many people suddenly become experts, condemning him.
To understand the actions of Oscar López Rivera, we need to understand the politics of the U.S. and Puerto Rico and what led to his actions. We need to understand who the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN) is, why they were formed, why Oscar López joined this organization and why they're responsible for more than 70 bombings in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Chicago.
Is Puerto Rico a Colony, Commonwealth, Territory or Protectorate? Understanding the Distinctions and Rhetoric and How It Relates to Oscar López Rivera.
Rarely does mainstream media refer to Puerto Rico by its rightful relationship to the United States. They (CNN, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, et al) refer to Puerto Rico as a U.S. territory or a commonwealth. Sometimes they'll use the word protectorate.
These are semantics at best and bullshit in reality. They do nothing to describe the actual relationship Puerto Rico has with the country that controls every aspect of our lives. By doing so, people outside of the island (even to some extent some of the Puerto Ricans who live stateside) don't get why Puerto Ricans have been angry and why the situation is so bad here.
Many Americans focus on the fact that Puerto Ricans living on the island receive billions of dollars in food stamps and have access to medicaid, section 8 housing and disability. Puerto Ricans are called lazy, sponges and a number of other things.
I used to write for Off the Grid News and while I quit long before this misleading article that paints only a fraction of the real picture of Puerto Rico was published, it's an example of what made me abruptly quit writing my bi-weekly alternative health column for them. Articles that were filled half-truths, poorly researched and racist rhetoric are what this publication and others live for.
Because publications like Off the Grid News appeal to people who seek articles that fit with their limited and skewed views of the world. Half-truths, poorly researched and racist rhetoric are what they use to inform them about world events.
But articles like this speak to two larger issues: the widespread ignorance about Puerto Rico's dire situation and the ease with which the U.S. can pull the wool over the eyes of people on both sides of the political aisle.
And the other: leaving aside for a moment that many Puerto Ricans accept food stamps and other help from the United States, ask yourself why the United States gives Puerto Rico this money? As powerful a nation the U.S., don't you think they, not Puerto Rico, is calling the shots on this? When the U.S. doesn't want to give aid to a country or one if its colonies, it simply doesn't.
If it wanted Puerto Rico to be independent, to function on its own, it wouldn't need to give Puerto Ricans money. Or it would with plans to support Puerto Rico toward its independence. No, by giving Puerto Ricans billions of dollars a year in aid, it buys silence, complacency and complicity so it can do whatever the fuck it pleases.
While it doesn't surprise me that people whose views are shaped largely by Faux News think Puerto Ricans are a bunch of lazy sponges, what does surprise me is how easily supposedly liberal democrats can turn a blind eye about what's going on in Puerto Rico and what's been going on for more than 100 years.
Which is where the whole colony vs. all these other euphemisms come into play.
To understand why the FALN was formed, you need to understand the truth behind the lies about Puerto Rico's colonial status. It's complicated and it will require you to save your thoughts and opinions, open your minds and even close your bleeding hearts long enough to understand how we got here.
Over the last 100 years, there are numerous instances where the United States has gone to extreme and violent measures to show Puerto Rico who's boss.
There are a few that are really important to understand when drawing a conclusion whether the FALN is justified in the more than 70 bombings it carried out in New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Without facts, without the history and context, it looks like FALN were a bunch of terrorists out to do harm to innocent people. But in reality the United States government isn't innocent of anything and while I hate the innocent people died then and die when bombs go off anywhere around the world, people who do this don't operate in a vacuum. They don't just wake up one day and for no reason start bombing cities. One maybe can be attributed to mental illness or some other external factor, but 70 or more?
The Real History of Puerto Rico
Given the fact that only forty-three percent of Americans know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that most Americans would be entirely unfamiliar with the following list of edicts, events and policy initiatives*. But to Puerto Ricans they represent the story of our dispossession:
- The Jones Act of 1917 that granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans so the island’s young men could be sent off to die on the battlefields of World War I
- The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, which made it impossible for Puerto Rico to carry out free and open trade with any nation besides the United States
- The bank foreclosure conspiracies of the early 20th century that drove local farmers off the land and allowed the sugar syndicates to sweep in and control everything
- Dr. Cornelius Rhoads’ (1931) extermination plan, in which he purposely infected Puerto Rican patients at San Juan’s Presbyterian Hospital with cancer cells
- Ley (Law) 53, the so-called “Gag Law” of 1948 that made it illegal for Puerto Ricans to protest our ongoing repression and exercise our First Amendment rights
- The October 30, 1950 simultaneous uprisings in Utuado, Jayuya, San Juan, Mayagüez, Arecibo and Naranjito that brought in the National Guard, P-47 Thunderbolt bomber planes, and resulted in many in the nationalist party dead, with many more arrested.
- Governor Emmet Montgomery Reily’s 1921 English-language enforcement edict, which tried to prevent Puerto Ricans from learning or speaking the Spanish language
- The Rio Piedras Massacre of 1935
- The Ponce Massacre of 1937
- The 1941 seizure of the island of Vieques, which was used as a bombing range by the U.S. military for 60 years
- The 1978 Cerro Maravilla police ambush, massacre and FBI-led cover-up
- The 30-year torture, persecution and unjust imprisonment of legendary labor organizer and political leader Pedro Albizu Campos
- Operation Bootstrap, the forced industrialization campaign instituted in the 1950s
- The 40-year (1930-1970) eugenics / depopulation campaign that resulted in the sterilization of up to one-third of Puerto Rican women of childbearing age
All of these outrages (and the dozens not listed) are deserving of exposure and if there were truly justice in this world, many would result in the payment of reparations to the families of the abused and to everyone else whose lives were forever affected by these shameful episodes. Collectively, they tell the tragic tale of a people whose basic freedoms and rights of self-determination have been spat upon and trampled in the dust in order to serve political, corporate, military and financial interests in the mainland U.S.
*For more information about Puerto Rico's brutal history at the hands of the United States government, the book The War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis documents it great detail.
Putting it all in perspective, this is why I support the actions of the FALN and Oscar López Rivera. Moreover it's why I support the decision by the New York City Puerto Rican Parade to Honor Nationalist Oscar López Rivera as a Hero. It's why I have even more respect for New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio to both attend the parade and defend the Puerto Rican Day Parade's choice to honor Oscar López Rivera. He is a hero.
In light of The Puerto Rican Parade's decision to honor Oscar López Rivera, Latino police associations and Goya Foods are boycotting the New York Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Well, all I can say to them is Adíos cabrons!