This is the second half of an interview with Don Rafael Cancel Miranda, an elder statesman and key figure of the Puerto Rican independence movement. He was interviewed by Juan Antonio Ocasio Rivera, a Puerto Rico–based activist, social worker, and professor, who has written for several online publications, including CounterPunch, Upside Down World, and New York Latino Journal. The first part of the interview was published on the NACLA Website in June, 2012.
(Referring to an error of word usage in Part I of the interview, which mentions that he was “pardoned and released by President Carter” in 1979 for his participation in nationalist activities within the United States, Cancel Miranda writes, “ In the case of the unconditional release of the Puerto Rican nationalists in 1979, President Carter signed a ‘sentence commutation’ for time served. The five nationalists never requested pardon, nor would we have accepted it.”)
We are with the Puerto Rican Nationalist leader and patriot Rafael Cancel Miranda. Don Rafael, with regard to the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence, in your own political trajectory you have experienced many things. How would you describe the development of the independence movement throughout the years? What is it moving towards? How do you see that development?
Well, there is always the constant threat that we disappear as a people. We struggle against that very threat. The fact that there are still Puerto Rican men and women in struggle fills us with hope that they will not succeed in silencing us as a nation. Don Pedro [Albizu Campos] said years ago that the American is not interested in the birds but instead in the cage, meaning Puerto Rico’s territory. Its people they are not interested in except to use our young people in wars against people that have done nothing to us.
You know, the first time I was jailed was because they wanted me to be a part of the armed forces of that very gang that invaded my country, because those who invaded my country in 1898 were a gang of uniformed delinquents, representing whoever, but nonetheless a gang that invaded my home, being that my home is Puerto Rico, my family being all Puerto Ricans, and that gang invaded my home and then expected me to become a part of that North American army in order to kill Koreans. If the Korean people had done nothing to me, then why did I have to kill them? They weren’t the ones to invade my country. They weren’t the ones who bombarded my country on May 12, 1898 killing Puerto Ricans. It was the North American Navy. And later still they committed the massacres and persecutions and the crimes that they have committed against us and yet they expected me to become a part of that army. For me it would have been treason against my own dignity and humanity, you understand? That’s what it would have been. And so I was inside for two years and a day for that.
And the trajectory of the movement since then?
In other words, we are in constant danger. While the North American government exercises its power here directly through the FBI and its lackeys, we will always be in danger: danger of extinction. They want to convert us into hybrid beings, and they are attempting right now to take our culture from us, de-Puerto Ricanize us, force their language upon us the hard way, and so therefore we are in a critical situation. You have to see that because in order to combat this you must see the reality of what you are combating, the dangers, the threats, and your capacity for struggle. You must see the critical situation of our struggle for the survival as a people. Right now there are more Puerto Ricans in exile than in the homeland, while our homeland is being filled with gringos. For example, the town of Rincón is 20% North American. In other words, the Anglo-Saxons are doing with us what was done in New Zealand, in Rhodesia, in South Africa, and in other countries where they have stayed. You and me they remove and they remain and take everything, those lands, and they are doing the same to us Puerto Ricans, and we must remain alert to that or when we finally wake up we will have no homeland. That would be really terrible. The United States will never be our homeland. It is that of the Anglo-Saxons, they who run things there.
Don Rafa, for the Readers of NACLA, and for visitors to this website who may read the interview, for their benefit: Why independence for Puerto Rico?
Why independence for the United States? Why independence for the 190 free and independent countries? Why? How many so-called “commonwealths” are there in the world? They say that we are a possession of theirs, that we are neither a country nor a nation, that we are simply their property and that they can sell or trade us off to any other country as with merchandise or livestock. They use us in their wars; they set up military bases here in PR without our permission, and pass laws to send our young people off to their wars as they attempted to do with me in ’49. In other words, they have all the power. Commerce laws they control, too. We have no power. The only way that we would be able to organize our lives is if we had the power to be able to do so.
They destroyed the Puerto Rican economy that we once had! The small businesses and stores have folded, and in their place we have their corporations, those mega-stores, the multinationals, and we work for them as in the days of slavery. We work for them, and then we have to buy from them what they sell us. Our country only produces 15% of what we consume and the other 85% we have to buy from them and they then take $22 billion that returns to their country. If there was a blockade against American ships, since we are forced to transport only in American ships due to the commerce laws, Puerto Rico would not last, we would have to take to Santo Domingo for example, since in Santo Domingo they produce what they consume, but PR only 15%. See what this implies? And we are a country that would be able to sow all kinds of things here!
Independence would mean that we would be able to organize our lives in accordance with our needs as Puerto Ricans. Right now we do not control communications, radio, television—none of that. We have to ask their permission. So we do not have this power and only independence can give it to us. That is why so many countries have risked the lives of their men and women struggling for independence, even before Bolívar and since then, because without your independence you have no future that is not the future of those who dominate you, who dictate to you.
What do you think about the work being done by independence supporters throughout Latin America and the United Nations, in order to advance the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence?
It’s been since 1979. I know that there was already work being done with the [UN] Decolonization Committee, which was able to have the committee declare Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination and independence. There have been efforts made attending other international conferences and with the Non-Aligned Movement. There our voices have been heard. Raúl Castro, in a speech made regarding the meeting of the countries in Cartagena, the Summit, mentioned that the countries of Latin America should continue to monitor the situation in Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico is a Latin American and Caribbean country. We are part of the Great Homeland mentioned by Simón Bolívar in his struggle and part of his agenda. And due to the control of the media that the Yankee has imposed upon different international media including CNN, they sell the idea of Puerto Rico as having the American flag even superimposed upon our own selves.
Don Rafael, in recent years we have lost various icons of the independence and nationalist struggle in Puerto Rico such as Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, leader of Los Macheteros, Lolita Lebrón, Juan Mari Bras…. What is your wish and hope for the new generations of activists who support independence for Puerto Rico?
First, as Don Pedro once said, in those countries where heroes and martyrs are not born they do not deserve them, but Puerto Rico deserves them because we have had them. But they try to hide from us our own heroes and heroines so that we do not emulate them and not feel pride. For example, I have visited various universities where there are Boricuas, Puerto Ricans, and I have asked if they know who General Valero de Bernabé was and, no one knows! And these are university students! And in one university the history professor did not know either who Antonio Valero de Bernabé was! Who was General Antonio Valero de Bernabé? He was one of the liberators of Gran Colombia, which was the goal of the struggle of Simón Bolívar. There are words said by Bolívar speaking of Valero Bernabé, who fought in the battle of Ayacucho, and has a place in the homelands of our Americas. He is one of the Liberators together with Sucre and San Martín, with Bolívar. In Venezuela he has a monument, and he was from Fajardo, Puerto Rico!
He was one of the “hardfaces” as we say about people from Fajardo! There is a statue of him there, in Fajardo, on his horse. And there are books about him and no one knows because they do not want us to know. And how many people know who Juan Rius Rivera was? Don Rius Rivera during the times of the Mambises in Cuba? It was he who relieved General Antonio Maceo with the struggle of the mambises against Spain. They hide our heroes. Here they speak of [Dr. Ramón Emeterio] Betances, of the street named around there, not of who Betances was, whose documents are still conserved by France, and they do not teach us this because they do not want you to be feel pride for your people. Because when you have pride there is no power that can make you kneel before them. But if you have no pride then even a roach can manipulate you. And so they take from us our own pride. And they don’t want Puerto Rico to be raised up. Just like that, although we miss them, we do not lose them, those who gave their lives as they lived, the great leaders you mentioned: Corretjer, Filiberto, Juan Mari Bras, Lolita Lebrón, Blanca Canales, Doris Torresola, we don’t lose them, because they lived and stayed.
Don Rafa, thank you very much for allowing us this interview. A final comment or message that you wish to offer?
That we are struggling against Yankee imperialism that exploits our peoples including those of Puerto Rico, but we are not fighting the American people. Two of my grandchildren are half American and half Puerto Rican, and I love them. But the American people should look for their truth because the military-industrial forces that control and dominate them are deceiving them. I understand why they are now taking to the streets, thousands of them, because they are seeing the 1% control the 99% as they say and it is a question of dignity. The oil executives, the North Americans, the imperialists, the right wing, however you wish to call them, affect them as well. And so, I ask them to look for their truth. They just have to go further than the newspapers that are also controlled by the interests that dominate them, and if they want to really know about Puerto Rico they need to look for that truth, as well as why we nationalists, Macheteros, and combatants exist. That it is not for pleasure but a necessity for our survival as a people. I consider myself their brother, not their enemy.
Juan Antonio Ocasio Rivera is a Puerto Rico–based activist, social worker, and professor. He has written for several online publications, including CounterPunch, Upside Down World, and New York Latino Journal, and was active in the New York–based All of New York With Vieques.
Read the part I of the interview with Rafael Cancel Miranda from June, 2012.