Philly delegation travels to Puerto Rico to celebrate the release of Carlos Alberto Torres

The Wild Poppies Collective

On July 26th, Carlos Alberto Torres was released from federal prison in Illinois after serving 30 years for his participation in the Puerto Rican independence movement.  Charged with “seditious conspiracy” for his participation in the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a clandestine independence organization that began in 1974, Carlos has dedicated his life to the liberation of Puerto Rico from the colonial rule of the United States. That dedication, from his days as a community organizer in Chicago’s Puerto Rican community to his time underground and his three decades in prison, made him a symbol of Puerto Rican pride and heroism, both on the island and in the United States.

The day of his release, Carlos was taken on a tour of the community institutions that the local movement had built in the Humboldt Park section of Chicago during the time he was incarcerated—including an alternative high school, a cultural center, and a day care center, all housed in an eight-block stretch bookmarked by two giant steel Puerto Rican flags. The tour ended with a crowd of five hundred people welcoming him home to Chicago, the place where Carlos began organizing in the late 1960s. People sang, danced and cheered as Carlos made his way through the crowd to the stage.

After Chicago, he flew home to Puerto Rico, where a crowd of 300 people waited to greet him at the airport, and more than a thousand gathered at a concert that night to celebrate his release. At the airport, Carlos was greeted as a national hero. An intergenerational crowd of political allies, some elected officials, family, friends and press waited for two hours in the heat chanting, waving Puerto Rican flags, flashing pictures, greeting comrades old and new—the energy rising more than the temperature. When Carlos arrived the program was cut short as photographers and supporters rushed through the barriers in a frenzy usually reserved for Hollywood celebrities.

A delegation from Philadelphia traveled to San Juan to join in the activities. The delegation was led by people from the local chapter of the National Boricua Human Rights Network (NBHRN), a leading organization in the campaign to free Puerto Rican political prisoners and resist U.S. control over Puerto Rican lives and land. Members of the Wild Poppies Collective, a new anti-imperialist group that has been working in solidarity with the NBHRN in the past year, was invited to join in the celebrations in Chicago and in Puerto Rico.

While in Puerto Rico we were honored to meet with several of the other former political prisoners, including Rafael Cancel Miranda, one of the four Puerto Rican Nationalist Party members who participated in the 1954 attack on Congress, was freed by an international campaign in 1979, and has been an inspiration and guiding force in the movement for decades. 

We also had the opportunity to meet with striking students from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas and their teacher, Elizam Escobar, also a former political prisoner. We met with the students at their protest encampment in front of the school, and they spoke with us about their struggle to stop massive budget cuts against public education and the art school in particular. The encampment has been up for more than 80 days, and the students have faced harassment from school officials and police. Many of the students had also participated in island-wide student strikes during the spring, in which the students of public universities occupied the main campus of the University of Puerto Rico for more than a month. The students have drawn the support of labor, their families, and working people across the Island—re-invigorating both the brutality of state repression and the vibrancy of Puerto Rican social movements.

The release of Carlos is the most recent chapter in a long history of the independence movement successfully freeing political prisoners. In 1979, due to massive movement pressure, Jimmy Carter freed unconditionally the five Puerto Rican Nationalists who had been incarcerated for their attacks on President Truman and on the US congress. In 1999, Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 11 former FALN members, again due to a strong and broad-based campaign for their release. Those freed in 1999 included most of Carlos’s codefendants, although he was inexplicably not included in that arrangement. Carlos was scheduled to be freed in 2009 but the Bureau of Prisons tried to set him up in hopes of keeping him in prison for life. A campaign that included more than 10,000 letters of support from around the world succeeded in winning parole for Carlos.

Even with Carlos free, however, there are still two political prisoners from the Puerto Rican independence movement incarcerated in the United States. One, Avelino González Claudio, was arrested in 2008 after years underground, and is serving a seven year sentence for his alleged involvement in a 1983 $7 million dollar robbery from Wells Fargo to support the work of Los Macheteros, another clandestine independentist organization. The other remaining political prisoner is Oscar Lopez Rivera, who has served almost 30 years for “seditious conspiracy.” Lopez Rivera rejected the 1999 offer because Torres was not included in it and because it would have required him to serve 10 more years in prison. At the celebrations for Carlos, both in Chicago and in Puerto Rico, every speaker emphasized the importance of continuing and strengthening the campaign to bring Avelino and Oscar home. 

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The Wild Poppies Collective is a Philadelphia based anti-imperialist collective that works to end state repression and the prison industrial complex. The name Wild Poppies is taken from a poem by former anti-imperialist political prisoner Marilyn Buck to honor her life, commitment, and legacy of anti-racist, anti-imperialist struggle.