Puerto Rican Revolutionary Nationalism: Armed Struggle, Intellectuals, and Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War

Michael González Cruz

Nacionalismo revolucionario puertorriqueño: la lucha armada, intelectuales, y prisioneros políticos y de guerra [Puerto Rican Revolutionary Nationalism: Armed Struggle, Intellectuals, and Political Prisoners and Prisoners of War] (San Juan, PR: Editorial Isla Negra, 2006).

A national culture is not a folklore, not an abstract populism that believes it can discover the people’s true nature. It is not made up of the inert dregs of gratuitous actions, that is to say actions which are less and less attached to the ever-present reality of the people. A national culture is the whole body of efforts made by a people in the sphere of thought to describe, justify, and praise the action through which that people has created itself and keeps itself in existence.Frantz Fanon

In this book on Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalism (soon to be published also in English), Michael González Cruz engages in this very process of describing, justifying, and praising the actions through which a people creates itself and keeps itself in existence. More importantly, he also begins the process of bridging the gap between issues that are considered taboo, that are veiled in secrecy, and issues that merit serious study and examination.

Certainly, in a post-9/11 world, any examination of themes such as revolutionary nationalism and armed struggle are anathema to popular culture and may not be accepted in conservative circles as scholarly work. However, given the research undertaken by the author, and the methods and sources he uses to develop his hypotheses, it is unlikely that anyone will question the historical integrity, validity or accuracy of what he reports. This is simply because the work presented in this book, itself an act of revolutionary nationalism, is groundbreaking.

González Cruz details the historical trajectory of the modern Puerto Rican revolutionary Nationalist movement, drawing on its 19th-century roots and connecting important figures and organizations. Synthesizing this trajectory, the author is able to clearly illustrate a strong revolutionary continuity from El Grito de Lares – the 1868 independence rebellion centered in the town of Lares, Puerto Rico – to the partidas sediciosas (rebel bands) active in resisting the US invasion of 1898 to the Nationalist Party resistance of the 1930s to 1950s, finally highlighting the emergence of a new revolutionary vanguard beginning in the mid 1950s.

Those familiar with the themes of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional / Armed Forces for National Liberation, pro-independence group which conducted a series of bombings in New York City and Chicago during the 1970s), of Filiberto Ojeda Rios (former leader of Los Macheteros, responsible for dozens of attacks against US military and government installations in Puerto Rico since the 1970s, until his assassination at the hands of the FBI in 2005), or even of the struggle over Vieques will be interested to review the context of those particular campaigns and themes vis-à-vis this Nueva Lucha (new struggle) taking place from the mid-50s through 2005. Against this backdrop, the struggle for Puerto Rican independence takes on a highly structured and dynamic character.

No longer to be seen (by some) as a weak, divided minority, this movement emerges here as what it was meant to be: a planned though adaptive long-term revolutionary struggle for independence and social justice. This last element is a crucial point driven home repeatedly throughout the book: that struggles for independence and their actors have always been rooted in and connected to struggles for social justice (issues such as labor rights, environmental issues, women’s rights, etc.). The underground armed movement has been strictly anti-colonial in nature and action, attacking military and government installations and taking care not to harm people.

One of the more salient successes of this work is that González Cruz rightly recognizes the contributions to the liberation movement of the Puerto Rican Diaspora – those communities exiled into the ghettos of America who not only continue the struggle for the freedom of their homeland but also fuse that struggle with the campaigns they wage to gain social justice rights in their local communities.

Indeed, his review of the background of each of the former political prisoners and prisoners of war highlights not only the direct role played by Diaspora communities in the revolutionary freedom movement, but also how the fusion with local community issues (e.g., campaigns against police brutality, efforts to create ethnic studies programs, and other organizing efforts) cemented community fervor and support for the larger national struggle. This, in turn, as the author suggests, helped to shape the Puerto Rican nation and national identity. The author uses direct interviews of most of the former prisoners in order to show this connection.

González Cruz details the major actions of the revolutionary movement with particular attention to the FALN and Los Macheteros. These are anti-colonial urban clandestine organizations taking direct revolutionary action to address communities’ sense of exploitation (in the Diaspora) and to repel the violence of the colonial power’s acts of repression. The direct action draws on lessons derived from Nationalist Party tactics of earlier decades.

Aware that most revolutionary fighters of this Nueva Lucha are intellectuals formed in the universities of Puerto Rico and of the United States, González Cruz distinguishes between intellectuals at the service of the status quo and those aligned with mass struggle and social justice. He is clear that the latter have consistently served to better the condition of the people of Puerto Rico, both on the island and in the Diaspora. Finally, he reviews different native cultural expressions of revolutionary nationalism to show how this sentiment has taken root in Puerto Rican nationality and identity.

Whatever your point of view regarding the selection of tactics and strategy and the issue of armed struggle, it is imperative to document a country’s centuries-old national liberation movement. Going beyond all that has been said and written about other forms of struggle, this book provides a much-needed starting point for the discussion of armed struggle in the Puerto Rican context. As the movement for Puerto Rico’s independence continues to build support and gain international attention, and considering the inclusion of Puerto Rico in the agenda of the United Nations’ Decolonization Committee (within the framework of UN Resolutions regarding rights to self-determination, independence, and armed struggle), this work is an indispensable addition to that knowledge base.

It is clear that the people of Borinquen have acted to compel recognition of themselves and their rights to freedom. They have, as Fanon explained, indeed created themselves and kept themselves in existence. Nacionalismo revolucionario puertorriqueño heroically rescues a splintered nation’s ‘forbidden’ history, demanding further study and propelling it forward with infinite validity and dignity.

Reviewed by Juan Antonio Ocasio Rivera
activist and social worker, New York City

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