[Ppnews] Interview with Puerto Rican Antonio Camacho Negrón

Political Prisoner News PPnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 6 08:32:29 EST 2006

The Militant
    Vol. 70/No. 2           January 16, 2006
‘My trench in fighting imperialism:
independence struggle’
Interview with Puerto Rican independence
fighter Antonio Camacho Negrón
(feature article)

The following is an interview with Antonio 
Camacho Negrón, a longtime leader of the struggle 
for the independence of Puerto Rico from U.S. 
colonial rule. One of the Puerto Rican 
independence fighters convicted on frame-up 
charges in connection with a 1983 robbery from a 
Wells Fargo depot in Hartford, Connecticut, 
Camacho was locked up in U.S. prisons for 15 
years and was released in August 2004. Martín 
Koppel and Róger Calero conducted the interview December 12 in New York City.

Question: Could you tell us about the fight for 
the release of all the remaining Puerto Rican 
political prisoners, both the longtime 
independentista prisoners and those jailed for 
taking part in the successful struggle to get the 
U.S. Navy out of the island of Vieques?

Answer: There is an ongoing campaign, both in 
Puerto Rico and the United States, for the 
release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners. 
Three have been locked up in U.S. prisons for 
more than 20 years because of their actions for 
the freedom of Puerto Rico: Oscar López, Carlos 
Alberto Torres, and Haydée Beltrán.

They are serving long sentences. Oscar López, for 
example, would not be released until 2027, so it 
will take a political campaign to force the U.S. 
authorities to free him and the others.

Of the compañeros who were jailed for actions 
demanding the U.S. Navy get out of Vieques, two 
remain in federal prison. We will celebrate the 
release of José Vélez Acosta on January 27. José 
Pérez González is serving a sentence until 
January 2008, and we demand he be released immediately.

Q. The FBI killing of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, 
leader of the Macheteros pro-independence 
organization, on September 23, sparked protests 
and outrage among many Puerto Ricans. Could you comment on this?

A. When the U.S. government assassinated 
compañero Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, they made a big 
mistake. They always underestimate the national 
sentiment and the moral fiber of our people. They 
underestimated the capacity of the Puerto Rican 
people to react in face of such a vile murder. 
They are blinded, by their arrogance and class 
mentality, to the social demands and aspirations 
of freedom of oppressed peoples. So they are 
surprised when our people turn out in defense of 
one of their sons, recognizing Filiberto Ojeda Ríos as a national hero.

U.S. imperialism has dominated Puerto Rico 
politically and economically for more than a 
century. They try to make us believe they are 
giving us something, that they are sustaining us. 
But the opposite is true­they are exploiting us 
in every sense of the word. Puerto Rico’s labor 
is plundered. Unemployment is officially 16-17 
percent, but real unemployment is about 40 percent.

The imperialists have tried to destroy our 
national identity as a people. They have tried to 
force us to speak English. They have tried to 
deny us access to the history of our great men 
and women and the major events in our struggle 
for national liberation. They have tried to 
destroy our values of unity, fraternity, and 
humanism, and instead foster the mentality of the 
market and capitalist exploitation.

This has led to a new generation of rebel youth 
who react against this, who refuse to have their 
Puerto Rican identity uprooted.

Q. How do you see Puerto Rico in the world today?

A. I view the struggle for independence in the 
context of the worldwide fight against 
imperialism. I fight for the independence of 
Puerto Rico because it’s my trench in this 
struggle. But I would fight in any other country 
for the social demands and the liberation of that people from imperialism.

The Puerto Rican independence struggle has been 
tied from the beginning to the Cuban struggle for 
liberation. The Grito de Yara in Cuba took place 
right after the Grito de Lares in Puerto 
Rico­these were the two pro-independence revolts 
against Spain in 1868. Today we see the 
continuation of the Cuban people’s support to the 
independence of the Puerto Rican people. We 
recognize the Cuban government’s cooperation, 
aid, and commitment to our struggle.

Q. Tell us about your own experience in the 
struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence.

A. I was born on Oct. 15, 1945, on my family’s 
coffee farm in the mountains near the town of 
Yauco, Puerto Rico. As a youth I began to notice 
the dichotomy of having two flags and two 
national anthems. I saw U.S. military police 
persecuting neighbors who refused to join the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

These are some of the experiences that led me 
from an early age, although my parents were not 
independentistas, to question something that was 
abnormal. I began to explore Puerto Rico’s 
situation through reading, and had the 
opportunity to meet leaders of the independence 
movement such as Juan Antonio Corretjer. In 1965, 
when I was 19, I attended the funeral for 
[Nationalist Party leader] Pedro Albizu Campos.

At the time I was in seventh or eighth grade, at 
the end of the 1950s, people did not talk about 
independence or freedom. The mentality of many 
Puerto Ricans was affected by what was called 
“the little Smith Act,” the Gag Law [modeled on 
the thought-control Smith Act in the United 
States] that had been used to repress the 
independence movement in the 1950s. As I and 
other students gained awareness of the political 
situation, I began to speak openly about these 
questions in the classroom, in the school. The 
teachers would try to keep me from talking about these things.

Little by little, study circles began to be 
organized in my school. They were disguised as 
cooperatives, sometimes with the names of 
patriots who were also known as poets or writers. 
Through those circles we began to discuss and 
organize around the question of independence for 
Puerto Rico. Later at my school these groups 
became part of the youth organization of the 
Puerto Rican Socialist League (LSP), led by Juan 
Antonio Corretjer. That was in 1960-61.

After I graduated in 1965, for financial reasons 
I went to New York, where I worked various jobs 
in factories. While there I was drafted into the 
U.S. Army. I was in the army for two years, from 
1966 to 1968, stationed in Germany.

After getting out of the army I entered the 
University of Puerto Rico. I became involved in 
the student struggles, which were very intense. 
Later I graduated and entered law school, but 
after a few years I realized the career of a 
lawyer was not for me. I didn’t want to become a prop for this system.

Q. Tell us a little more about your arrest and imprisonment.

A. The FBI carried out a massive raid in Puerto 
Rico on Aug. 30, 1985. There were more arrests in 
March 1987, when I was detained. Nineteen people 
were charged in connection with the $7.2 million 
robbery from a Wells Fargo depot in Hartford, 
Connecticut, in 1983, by the Macheteros. Two were 
acquitted and the rest were convicted. This was 
part of the U.S. government’s war against the 
Puerto Rican independence struggle.

I was convicted in 1989 and jailed for 15 years 
in different U.S. prisons, mostly at the federal 
prison in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. I was not able 
to see my children for nine years.

A major international defense campaign was waged. 
It created a popular ferment, demanding the 
release of the political prisoners, that had not 
been seen in Puerto Rico in decades. Hundreds of 
thousands signed appeals for the release of the 
political prisoners. There were marches of more 
than 100,000 in Puerto Rico, as well as protests 
in New York, Chicago, and other U.S. cities. All 
this contributed to the release of 11 political prisoners in 1999.

The 11 compañeros were freed on parole under 
extremely onerous conditions. I did not accept 
the conditions that the U.S. government demanded, 
so I remained in prison. I had been sentenced to 
15 years and had the right to parole after 
serving a third of the sentence, but I didn’t 
appear before the parole board. So I was first 
released in 1997, after serving nine years. I 
refused to report to the federal authorities 
because I didn’t recognize their authority in 
Puerto Rico, so within a month they locked me up again.

In 1999 I rejected the conditions the U.S. 
government demanded for releasing us. First, they 
demanded that we accept guilt. I don’t have to 
acknowledge guilt for fighting for the 
independence of Puerto Rico. Second, they 
demanded periodic drug testing. Third, they 
demanded I report any visits to my home and all my movements.

Fourth, I would be barred from speaking to any 
person with a federal conviction. In other words, 
I couldn’t greet Rafael Cancel Miranda, Lolita 
Lebrón, or other independentistas who had been 
freed, including my own brother Isaac Camacho, who was released in 1995.

I was released again in 2001, and spent 11 months 
out of prison. Without reporting to the 
authorities, of course, and taking part in 
political activities in Puerto Rico. So they 
locked me up again and I served out the remaining 
two years, and was released on Aug. 21, 2004.

The U.S. government still claims I owe them 76 
days in prison. Federal marshals in Puerto Rico 
have told my attorney, Linda Backiel, that they 
have an arrest warrant against me. We’ve shown 
that their calculations are incorrect and that I 
completed the sentence. They still say I must 
report to federal authorities in Puerto Rico but I never have.

Q. Can you describe your current activity?

A. Right now I’ve been devoted to the building of 
a new organization, the National Congress for the 
Decolonization of Puerto Rico, CONADE. It’s an 
umbrella organization whose goal is to unite all 
Puerto Ricans who genuinely believe in the 
decolonization of Puerto Rico, regardless of 
their current political affiliation. This effort 
has been well received among diverse sectors in 
Puerto Rico. We will hold the First Congress for 
the Decolonization of Puerto Rico on March 28-30, 2006.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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