Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Sept. 26, 1996 issue of Workers World newspaper
El Grito de Lares--the outcry of Lares--is the most widely acknowledged and respected holiday in Puerto Rico. On this day, Sept. 23, 1868, a popular uprising affirmed the Puerto Rican revolutionary tradition.
Puerto Rico was colonized by Spain in 1493, a year after Christopher Columbus' first voyage. The Spanish ruling class immediately tried to enslave and exploit the indigenous Taino people. They also kidnapped Yoruba people from Africa and shipped them to Puerto Rico to meet the same fate.
The temperament of the class struggle was established among peoples who had never before been oppressed. In the year 1511 the Tainos rebelled. In 1515 African slaves rebelled.
Ever since, Puerto Rico's history has been filled with episodes of resistance. Escaped Tainos and Yorubas hiding in the central mountains frequently attacked Spanish settlements together.
Over the next two centuries, the people of Puerto Rico-- and the rest of Latin America--evolved the characteristics of nationhood. Although the island was under the economic control of feudal Spain, a native capitalist economy developed that gave birth to the Puerto Rican proletariat.
Increasing resistance to colonialism accompanied these socioeconomic developments. In New York City a clandestine group of revolutionaries calling themselves the "Society for the Independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico" met to draw up plans for insurrection on both islands.
Under the leadership of Ramon Emeterio Betances, cell groups were formed throughout Puerto Rico to organize the revolt.
On the morning of Sept. 23, 1868, hundreds of insurgents on foot and horseback stormed the city of Lares. As the army of freedom fighters approach ed, workers and African slaves staged an uprising that weakened the Spanish military garrison.
Gunfire was heard everywhere as the fighting spread to nearby parts of the country.
Government and military officials were hanged for their long history of abuse. The colonized people announc ed their victory by raising the flag of the newly proclaimed Puerto Rican republic at the town plaza. The Spanish flag, a hated symbol of tyranny, was lowered and burned.
The people rejoiced as they heard for the first time the solemn words of the outcry, "Que viva Puerto Rico libre!"-- long live free Puerto Rico.
The victory was shortlived, crushed by bloody suppression. But El Grito de Lares still symbolizes the power of an oppressed people once they strive to achieve self- determination.
Today Puerto Ricans suffer from more intense foreign oppression under U.S. rule. Puerto Rican political prisoners remain in U.S. prisons. Every aspect of the island's social and economic life confirms the existence of U.S. colonial domination.
U.S. corporate profits taken out of the island have climbed to $6 billion a year. But 63 percent of the population lives at the poverty level, wages average one- third less than U.S. standards and unemployment is at 30 percent.
The new U.S. welfare law will surely devastate the 62 percent of the population who survive on various forms of public assistance.
And where will the dollars go that now provide food and shelter to thousands of impoverished families? They will be used to subsidize U.S. corporations there and pay for the continued military occupation of Puerto Rico.
This year, many Puerto Ricans, both on the island and on the U.S. mainland, will celebrate El Grito de Lares. They will remember how their ancestors dared to raise their hands to the Spanish oppressors in 1868.
They will discuss and think deeply about how, in this age of U.S. domination, they can recreate the glorious moments of El Grito de Lares so that this time, Puerto Rico can be free of colonialism forever.
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