Rubén Berríos, president of the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño (PIP), looked down proudly over the speaker's podium into a sea of green and white PIP flags. While a small number of statehooders and commonwealth supporters celebrated elsewhere the independence of America, 25,000 independentistas of all political and tactical views marched for the independence of Puerto Rico.
Organized by PIP, it was the most colorful procession I had ever participated in. The main theme was the threat of the United States placing nuclear weapons in Puerto Rico in violation of the Tlatelolco Treaty for a nuclear-free Latin America. This was viewed as a direct threat to peace in the Caribbean, and to the safety and survival of Puerto Rico in the event of a nuclear war. Marchers carried mock atom bombs, and coffins draped with Puerto Rican flags. Weeping mourners in black followed a float carrying the representation of a cemetery. A masked "Reagan" embraced a skeleton carrying a huge bomb.
"July 4," Berríos proclaimed during the speeches that followed the march, "is a glorious date for the independence of the entire world, but a shameful one for those who oppose independence."
I next saw Berríos in the formal setting of his senatorial office as he sat behind an impressive executive desk. After several years of trying to secure an interview with the elusive Berríos, I was finally granted a half hour during his lunch hour.
As a social democrat, Berríos holds himself aloof from Marxist-Leninist organizations. Though his aim is to establish in Puerto Rico a free, socialist, democratic republic, he adheres strictly to a nonviolent approach. He shies away from efforts towards unification of the independence movement. He chooses to hold his political activities separate unless, as in the case of the march for independence, other factions wish to participate.
As a lawyer and professor of law at the University of Puerto Rico, Berríos has faith in the legislative process. In PIP's thirty-eight years of existence, it has worked towards legislative representation. Berríos was recently elected senator. Another PIP leader, David Noriega, is serving as representative in the Puerto Rican legislature.
One proposal he plans to make is a request to change the U.S. maritime laws that force Puerto Rico to import and export goods on U.S. ships which increases the price of products entering or leaving the island. He believes, also, that U.S. Selective Service laws should not be applied to Puerto Rico without the consent of the Puerto Rican legislature.
Rather than depend on the United Nations for international support, Berríos deals directly with other countries in an attempt to bring international pressure to bear on the United States. He has traveled extensively in Europe and Latin America. He was recently elected vice-president of COPPAL (Conferencia Permanente de Partidos Políticos de América Latina), an organization representing democratic and anti-imperialist parties of Latin America, and is also one of five vice- presidents of Comité de la International Socialista para América Latina.
Berríos has confidence that a balance of circumstances can be created to the point where the United States would be willing to relinquish its hold on Puerto Rico.
"No nation can hope to remain as virtually the sole colonial power where over seventy-five countries have gained their independence since World War II," he asserted in a Foreign Affairs address. "More and more [people]" he believes, "are accepting independence as the only responsible, natural, sensible way out of the colonial quagmire."
In answer as to how to work towards independence, Berríos replied, "The more we can convince our people to struggle for independence, the more we can convince people in other countries to be friends of Puerto Rican independence." He admitted that it was not easy to accomplish this, because of economic dependency and lack of self-confidence.
As for preparing people psychologically for independence, he replied, "Of course this is possible. Just make them into independentistas. De-colonize them individually."
I wondered if there might be small steps that could be taken immediately towards economic or political independence. He felt this was impossible and would only fool and confuse people into thinking that they were gaining freedom.
Berríos opposes statehood as being an easy way out, with continued dependency on food coupons. He believes in the dignity of the work ethic. "Statehood," he asserts, "would only create a permanent ghetto, with the loss of international prestige."
PIP opposes military conscription, recognizing the fact that Puerto Ricans are being recruited to fight "Yankee" wars. He sees the danger of Puerto Ricans being called for military intervention in Latin America or in the Caribbean.
Berríos sees no definite date ahead for independence, since the process of liberation is slow. "We will continue our struggle for whatever time it takes. We can only hope that independence can be achieved before social disintegration forces the country into chaos."
"It must be a civil struggle without deviation," Berríos asserted at a Grito de Lares observance, "but difficult because the adversary is the strongest power in the world." Eschewing violence, he believes that the greatest valor of man is to restrain himself and bridle his passion.
To the question of his phone being tapped, he shrugged his shoulders. "Yes, in all probability." And as for death threats, "Oh, yes, that too." But he forges ahead regardless of personal danger.