Demonstrators share protest mode without incident
Common goals: free prisoners, end colonialism
June 15, 2011
Of The Daily Sun
Some protested in the name of political
prisoners, incarcerated decades ago. Others
wanted President Barack Obama to understand their
desire for independence for the island. But
whatever the reason, wherever they stood,
demonstrators in Old San Juan Tuesday found
common ground doing whatever possible to have their messages heard.
From the steps of the Capitol to the green grass
in front of Fort San Felipe del Morro, as the
morning wore on, hundreds of demonstrators kept
arriving in Old San Juan to spend the day under the blazing sun.
However, their claims may not have even been
heard, as the President's driver took a route to
La Fortaleza that just about missed all
demonstrations. Secret Service officials
apparently changed routes several times. In fact
after his meeting at La Fortaleza, rather than
heading towards the Caribe Hilton Hotel to his
next activity, a fund-raising event, he stopped
at Kasalta Bakery in Ocean Park, where he and
Popular Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate
Alejandro García Padilla shared a man-to-man
moment as they ate a delicious media noche sandwich.
At the north end of the Capitol, the New
Progressive Party faithful gathered as the House
held an activity celebrating Flag Day. A gigantic
U.S. flag was placed on the Capitol's wall.
Protesters at El Morro arrived Monday afternoon
for an all-night vigil hoping that the president
would at least get a glimpse of the huge banners
asking him to free Oscar López Rivera, a
political prisoner linked with the Macheteros or
the Boricua Popular Army. Protesters also called
for the freedom of Heriberto and Avelino González
Claudio charged and incarcerated, respectively,
for the Wells Fargo robbery in the 1980s.
"The petition is to set free all political
prisoners incarcerated in the U.S., said group
spokesman José Morales. "Obama has the capacity
to set them free. Oscar López is an educator, a
community leader. Nothing was proven against
Oscar López. Obama should feel embarrassed
because they went to the same school in Chicago.
Obama comes from the same community and was a
community leader just like Oscar."
The activists hung a huge banner that read
"Freedom for all political and war prisoners."
Police said the protest was peaceful and no arrests were made.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico Independence Party
protesters began to gather at Plaza Colón in Old
San Juan at about 8:50 a.m. While La Fortaleza
Street was filled with state and municipal police
and cadets, lining up in front of every building on that street.
Signs reading "It's time to change. End the death
penalty now" and "We want independence" were
among some of the banners protesters held since
early in the morning hours before Obama was
slated to pass by the streets of the Old City.
A slight mishap occurred at around 10 a.m. when
a group of pro-independence supporters sitting
and talking at the Plaza Colón were surprised by
a group of pro-statehood faithful.
Pro-statehood spokesperson Gustavo Mesa charged
that the pro-independence group took their place.
He added that neither he nor his group would move
elsewhere. In the verbal battle that ensued no serious altercations took place.
"That was our meeting point but they got here at dawn," Mesa said.
Workers Socialist Movement spokesman Scott Barbes
said the demonstration was a call for Puerto
Rico's independence and the freedom of all Puerto Rican political prisoners.
Barbes called it "disgusting" to think that Obama
visited the island in search of donations at a
campaign event at the Caribe Hilton Hotel in Puerto de Tierra.
"It should offend us, when the average worker
here makes some $20,000," Barbes said, adding
that Obama would likely raise close to a million dollars in Puerto Rico.
In another part of Old San Juan, dozens of women
held their own demonstration practically at the
same time Obama's plane, Air Force One, was
landing. The women held hands, creating a circle
in front of the Plaza del Quinto Centenario.
Spokeswoman Wilma Reveron said their protest was
against the 113 years of colonization. She said
many Puerto Ricans have left the island due to
the island's status dilemma, which has caused
unemployment, a high crime rate and lack of health services.