For 19 years, thousands and thousands of people have fought to
reverse a great injustice: the imprisonment and intense mistreatment
of Puerto Rican independentistas in U.S. prisons. For a moment this
month, it seemed that the imprisoned fighters might be about to
taste freedom--as the news flashed that "President Clinton was
giving clemency" to these political prisoners. In 1979 four Puerto
Rican nationalists were released after years in prison for the
armed struggle.Was this a similar moment of victory? But then
the details sank in. Clinton did not agree to free the prisoners
by commuting their sentences unconditionally. The White House offer
is that these prisoners be released from prison, but serve the remainder
of their sentences on the outside. This sets up the legal basis
for a series of "conditions." These prisoners would be under
the close supervision of the state for the remainder of their
sentences (which in many cases means the rest of their lives).
Those "conditions" amount to a demand that these prisoners
give up their cause publicly before the world and the people
of Puerto Rico. It is a cruel and unjust offer for prisoners who
have spent so many years suffering isolation, confinement, sensory
deprivation and the whole range of official punishment and brutality.
Clinton's offer reportedly insists that the prisoners (personally,
individually and in writing) "renounce the use, attempted use,
or advocacy of the use of violence as a condition for release.
The U.S. imperialists have never renounced the use of violence
against the people of Puerto Rico --and, in fact, one Puerto Rican
civilian was recently killed by U.S. bombers during war games on
the island of Vieques. Is it not a great injustice (and hypocrisy)
to demand that the people renounce the use of arms in their
struggle to be free from U.S. domination? Clinton's offer demands
that the prisoners accept the conditions imposed on paroled
"felons." This is typical of the U.S.--which denies that there
are any political prisoners--and claims it is imprisoning political
opponents for "criminal" offenses. In fact, these independentistas
were imprisoned for fighting for the liberation of Puerto
Rico and in many cases were charged with "seditious conspiracy"
which makes it a crime to even discuss revolutionary acts.
And, in practice, the parole conditions the government would
impose on them are also highly political. The federal parole
commission would have direct and close control over their
lives, activities and travel--and would constantly hold the
threat of returning them to prison if they did not do as told.
These parole conditions would mean that the prisoners would be
forbidden to associate