Boricuas speak out during day one of the DNC
Even with Monday's sweltering heat, people took to Thomas Paine Plaza, across the street from City Hall, to participate in a day of action for Puerto Rico.
Organized by PA for Puerto Rico, the event hoped to continue launching the issue of Puerto Rico into the mainstream.
With all eyes on Philadelphia due to the beginning of the Democratic National Convention, organizers thought it was a great opportunity. Monday was also Puerto Rico's Constitution Day.
A large crowd gathered to hear Puerto Rican leaders speak in favor of changing the island's current political status, which prevents it from taking action on its own to fix the current debt crisis it faces.
Along with speakers, which included Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortés and Nilda Ruiz CEO of Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha, there was a march that circled City Hall. Protesters called on President Barack Obama to release Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist who has been held in federal prison since the 80’s for conspiracy due to his participation in the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional.
“Today is a day for unity for Puerto Rico,” said Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez. “We wanted to welcome all of the delegates that are here for the Democratic Convention and our Puerto Ricans brothers and sisters who have come to us from all around the country.”
Quiñones-Sánchez explained that the event had two goals. First, they wanted to show those watching that people from multiple backgrounds and political stances can come together to agree on something, the future of Puerto Rico. Second, they wanted to call on Obama to take action to release Rivera.
“We’re here united,” she said. “We need our candidates to pay attention and see what we are asking for. Oscar is our last political prisoner. His continued imprisonment shows the hypocrisy of the United States when they talk about democracy and justice. You have someone who has served his time and because of protocol, they won’t take action to pardon him.”
The atmosphere had an air of revolution as those present voiced their discontent with the American government over the political and economic situation in Puerto Rico.
Present was Danny Rivera, a Puerto Rican singer and songwriter. Rivera is known for his political activism and call for Puerto Rican independence.
“This is another chapter in our mission to impose a resistance to the fact that we have been a colony of the United States since they took over,” said Rivera. “Since they first invaded the island, many Puerto Ricans have died because of the policy of colonialism that the U.S. has imposed on us.”
Rivera said he was not there representing a party. Instead he said he was there as a “free citizen” advocating for a change of thinking when it comes to the island. Through his culture and song, Rivera said he hopes to one day see the Puerto Rican people achieve a cultural awakening where they realized that must fight for themselves and their island.
“It is an identity that I always have carried with me,” he said. “One that I hope all Puerto Ricans will carry some day. To be proud of who we are, but also where we came from and to defend it.”
Rivera said it's important to understand that at this point, the future of Puerto Rico is tied to the U.S.. It would be difficult to separate the two after generations of Puerto Ricans growing up as Americans.
“I understand the want to stay fraternal with the United States, but they have to understand that we have a right to demand the liberation of the Puerto Rican people and decolonization. I know that it will take a long time and a lot of work. But it all starts by removing the colonialism that lives in all Puerto Ricans collectively. That of identity. First we need to eliminate that. To me, this is the best chance we’ve had in a long time to bring back our identity.”
Puerto Rico owes more than $70 billion in debt and its governor has said that the government will not be able to pay it off. As such, almost a year after the defaults started coming, Congress passed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act, also known as Promesa. This law establishes a fiscal control board on the island which hopes to restructure and pay off the debt.
However, many Puerto Ricans were upset with the legislation as they saw it as part of the continuing legacy of colonialism the island has faced during U.S. rule. The current debt crisis invigorated the question of Puerto Rican identity and political status. Many Puerto Ricans believe this is finally an opportunity to change the status of the island because of the severity of the debt crisis.