[News] Puerto Rico Update

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 7 10:37:49 EDT 2010

Puerto Rico Update

By Judith Berkan, Jan Susler and Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan

Lawyers Guild International Committee (May 4, 2010)

Puerto Rico Status Bill

On April 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill, 
promoted by those who supported statehood for Puerto Rico, which 
purports to "provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination 
process for the people of Puerto Rico." It does nothing of the sort, 
and wholly ignores applicable international law governing 
decolonization, which applies to the case of Puerto Rico.1 San Juan's 
main daily newspaper, not known for its progressive stance on the 
status question, called the bill "one more inconsequential episode in 
a long path leading nowhere," given that U.S. Congress is not bound 
by the results of plebiscites to be held on the island.2

For the text of the bill:


University of Puerto Rico Student Strike

University of Puerto Rico's students have been on strike for two 
weeks, resisting attempts by the pro-statehood administration of the 
colony to slash the budget by $100 million; raise tuition;  eliminate 
or limit the tuition waiver program; and potentially privatize the 
university system. The students enjoy the support of virtually the 
entire society- unions, including the professors and the non-teaching 
university staff; artists; churches; civic and political groups; the 
Bar Association; etc. Gates to the main campus are surrounded by riot 
police, as the administration and the students negotiate and litigate.3

The Puerto Rico Supreme Court, now packed with supporters of the 
current colonial regime, has continued its practice of reversing 
lower court determinations against the government.  In an 
extraordinary effort, pro se law students obtained a lower court 
ruling to keep the campus open for their protests, only to be 
reversed within hours, through a special certification proceeding 
filed before the Supreme Court.4
Campus administrators then employed the Tactical Operations Unit 
against the students, resulting in violent clashes on May 4, 2010.5

Puerto Rico's Broken Banking System

U.S. federal regulators brokered the sale of three banks in Puerto 
Rico late Friday in an effort to fix the commonwealth's broken 
banking system. The New York Times reported that Puerto Rico's "high 
unemployment, plummeting property values and gaping fiscal deficits 
have worsened the island's ailing economy and added new urgency to 
the efforts to shore up its banks. As their losses piled up, nearly 
all local lenders pulled back on lending."6

The Martin PeZa Land Trust v. Fortuno

The First Circuit ruled against the appeal of the Fideicomiso de la 
Tierra del Ca o Martin Peza (Martin Peza Land Trust), finding that 
the government satisfied the "public use" requirement pursuant to the 
doctrine of Kelo v. City of New London. Community activists have 
vowed to continue the fight to preserve the land trust and their 
collective ownership of land as a means of assuring the continuation 
and integrity of their community and the collective benefit of the 
increase in value of these lands in the heart of San Juan. The legal 
team is currently considering filing a petition for rehearing en 
banc, as well as a case before the Puerto Rico courts.  Meanwhile, 
the government has stepped up efforts to destroy the community and to 
break its spirit, attempting to undo years of community efforts and 
open up the area for land speculation and profiteering.

The Puerto Rico Bar Association Fights for Survival

The Colegio de Abogados (the Bar Association) is still fighting for 
its survival in the face of efforts by the administration to destroy 
it. The Colegio de Abogados has, for almost two centuries, 
represented one of the few independent voices against repression and 
colonialism, and has offered a voice to sectors of Puerto Rican 
society which struggle for economic and social justice. It has 
challenged legislative measures aimed at stifling that voice, 
eliminating compulsory bar membership and placing draconian 
restrictions on the institution, including an express prohibition 
against speech reflecting any political views and the prohibition of 
any funding to any groups, such as legal services or legal aid, which 
maintain any connection whatsoever with the Colegio.  While the 
Colegio is challenging the laws as unconstitutional bills of 
attainder and violations of equal protection and freedom of 
expression and association, a massive membership campaign has 
demonstrated the overwhelming support of members of the bar for the 
institution and repudiation of the government's attempt to destroy 
it.8 The International Committee of the National Lawyers Guild plans 
to file an amicus in the litigation.9

Vieques v. the US Navy

On April 13, a judge in the U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico 
dismissed a suit on behalf of over 7,000 residents of the island of 
Vieques who alleged that U.S. Navy activities on their island 
poisoned them, pointing to U.S. government admissions that napalm, 
agent orange, depleted uranium, white phosphorous, arsenic, mercury, 
lead and cadmium are all present on the former bombing range, and the 
EPA's identifying Vieques as a Superfund site.10 The court granted 
the Navy's motion to dismiss under the defense of sovereign immunity, 
recognizing the discretionary function exception, and ruling that the 
pleadings failed to meet the heightened standard of Iqbal and 
Twombly. Plaintiffs plan to appeal, arguing that the Navy acted 
beyond its discretionary function and breached the duty to warn 
residents of hazardous biochemical warfare being tested on their 
island. The International Committee of the National Lawyers Guild is 
working with the lead counsel on the case and advocates to craft a 
strategy for seeking amici for the appeal.

30th Anniversary of Arrest of Puerto Rican political Prisoner, Carlos 
Alberto Torres

April 4 marked the 30th anniversary of the arrest of Puerto Rican 
political prisoner Carlos Alberto Torres, making him the longest held 
Puerto Rican political prisoner in Puerto Rico's history. May 29 will 
mark the 29th anniversary of the arrest of Puerto Rican political 
prisoner Oscar Lopez Rivera. The anniversary inspired activists in 
Puerto Rico, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago to participate in art 
installations, voluntarily locking themselves into mock jail cells in 
storefronts or in the middle of public events, making the prisoners a 
current conversation.11 The U.S. Parole Commission has not yet ruled 
whether it will accept its hearing examiner's recommendation to 
release Torres. In Connecticut, on May 26, Puerto Rican political 
prisoner Avelino Gonzalez Claudio is scheduled to be sentenced in 
federal court in the 1983 Wells Fargo expropriation.12 Supporters are 
planning rallies in several cities.


             1Special Committee on Decolonization Approves Text 
Calling on United States to Expedite Self-determination Process for 
Puerto Rico, Special Committee on GA/COL/3193, Decolonization 5th & 
6th Meetings (AM & PM), June 15, 2009, 

                 2"Episodio est ril sobre el status," Editorial/ El 
Nuevo D a, 3 mayo 2010


                 3See, e.g., "Cerrados todos los recintos de la UPR," 
D alogo, May 4, 2010,

Perla Franco, "Firmes en la huelga a n con los portones abiertos," 
Claridad, April 29, 2010,

"Police block UPR campus gates on 1st day of strike," Puerto Rico 
Daily Sun, April 24, 2010, 

                 4"Triunfo legal de los estudiantes," Claridad, April 
"Judge: UPR must be reopened by Monday," Caribbean Business, April 
28, 2010, 
Nydia Bauz , "Aseguran que la huelga no terminar hasta que el 
estudiantado lo determine,"

Primera Hora, May 1, 2010, 
                 5Maritza D az Alcaide, Maelo Vargas Saavedra y Leysa 
Caro, "Huelga en la UPR de R o Piedras, D a 12, Minuto a minuto," 
Primera Hora, May 4, 2010, 

                 6Eric Dash, "F.D.I.C. Brokers the Sale of 3 Banks," 
New York Times, April 30, 2010, 
                 7Limarys Su rez Torres, "Boston falla contra el 
Fideicomiso del Ca o," El Nuevo D a, April 29, 2010, 

                 8Daniel Rivera Vargas, "Supremo rev s al Colegio: 
Defensores de la colegiaci n de la abogac a evaluar n los pasos a 
seguir, El Nuevo D a, December 10, 2009,


                 9Inter News Service, "Abogados de EE.UU. consideran 
acto de "represalia" eliminaci n de colegiaci n en la Isla," Primera 
Hora, March 29, 2010,

                 10Jos A. Delgado, "'No' a los viequenses, El Nuevo D 
a, April 13, 2010,


                 11"Jornada 360 Events across the US and in Puerto 
Rico Huge Success! (Video Virtual Tour)," National Boricua Human 
Ram n W. Ortiz Rosario, "Plenazo pa' los presos pol ticos 
puertorrique os," Claridad, April 8, 2010, 

                 12C ndida Cotto, "Gobierno EEUU reconoce motivos pol 
ticos de Gonz lez Claudio en acci n Wells Fargo," Claridad, February 
11, 2010, 

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