In my correspondence with Puerto Rican political prisoners, one of the most vocal was Alberto Rodríguez. I decided to ask about his background. He replied in some detail from his prison cell in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
"I worked as a teacher-counselor at Northeastern Illinois University," he wrote. "I worked with students who needed special help to stay in school, because of academic deficiencies. Sometimes the problems were financial, family, or personal. I loved the job.
"In the community I worked with a group that created a culture center. I also helped organize several community news-sheets. Even from here I write for them. I also worked with the National Committee to Free Puerto Rican POWs (prisoners of war). I worked around issues of repression, particularly police brutality. At the time of my arrest, I had been active in community work in Chicago for about five years.
"Before that I was active at the University of Illinois while I was studying there. I worked against the Vietnam war, pro-Cuba, pro-Allende, Pro-Angola. Also around Puerto Rico, Culebra, Vieques, etc. It was in high school, however, that I became active for Puerto Rican independence. It was around the time of the Young Lords.
"I came from a family of fourteen. My father came from Puerto Rico but my family moved to Chicago before my first birthday. I come from a very strong Catholic background. Religion was a very big part of my life in my early years.
"My commitment to the use of revolutionary actions to further political objectives comes from my firm belief that, faced with oppression, colonial subjugation, and inhumanity, one must resist or else perish as a people. I look at the experience of Native Indians in this country and fear the same happening to my people."
Alberto told a story he had heard from an elderly Mexican living on his block. "There was once a man who struggled for independence. He was a man of such principles and ideas that the oppressors could not handle him. Knowing the love this patriot had for his father, they arrested the father. The oppressors threatened to kill his father if the patriot did not surrender. The patriot's answer was that while he loved his father with all his heart, his country came first." Alberto said this story had never left him. Later this love of country compelled him to act for justice and freedom.
Alberto was arrested in Chicago for "seditious conspiracy" against the government of the United States, along with Alejandrina Torres, Edwín Cortés and José Luis Rodríguez. In June of 1953, the arrest came in what he termed a "Gestapo raid" on the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in an attempt to cripple the entire independence movement in Chicago. Seditious conspiracy is the agreement among two or more people to oppose the authority of the government by force. In 1901, the United States passed a sedition act against the Filipino people who were waging guerilla war on United States occupation. Since 1937, this charge has been used excessively against the Puerto Rican independence movement. Puerto Ricans maintain that such a charge is impossible, since Puerto Rico belongs to the United States, but is not a part of it. Many Puerto Ricans in the independence movement deny any legitimate authority of the United States over them, and believe that they have a right to oppose United States authority by any means necessary.
In writing for Libertad, Alberto describes imprisonment as creating conditions aimed at the psychological destruction of the POWs. He finds total repression there and the dominance of the lowest human and moral values. Racism is encouraged, working a hardship on Puerto Ricans. Alberto sees the need of POWs to maintain the spirit and fortitude necessary for liberation. "Everything we do, think, study and plan is for the day we return to the struggle," he writes.
He finds prison officials attempting to create conditions and situations in order to justify their own violence. This the POWs must avoid, adopting a policy of stoic resistance.
He recalls the words of the Irish patriot who died on the 74th day of his fast in prison. "It is not those who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most who will conquer."
He sees much of the struggle for liberation as nonviolent: workers' strikes, students' demands for better education and the democratization of universities, protests around environmental issues, governmental corruption, militarism and state repression. But increasing repressive violent response by the colonial regime will convert those peaceful struggles into violent ones, he warns.
He sees the necessity of all independence forces uniting. "United States imperialism is unleashing a wave of ruthless repression," he warns, "which will not abate until the movement is destroyed or we destroy them."
A recent communication from Alberto relates with delight that his wife and two children are moving from Puerto Rico to Chicago, where they can visit more often. "Even after three years," he writes, "I have not completely accustomed myself to the reality that my children are growing up without me. I try to continue to be a part of their lives, but it is very difficult. As for my wife, she is very supportive of me and in agreement with my position."
He speaks of the immorality of United States' acts, such as dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and funding the Nicaraguan contras. "But in face of their immorality, we must seek a higher morality. For us to become immoral ourselves, even if justified by their acts, we truly become no better than they."