Gearing up for the Puerto Rico Convention

A 2009 demonstration for independence and workers’ rights in Puerto Rico.
Natasha Lycia Bannan, International Committee Co-Chair

This year’s convention in Puerto Rico NLG convention presents a unique opportunity for legal activists from the U.S. and their counterparts in Puerto Rico.  Legal and community activists on the island are eagerly awaiting the convention and the opportunity it will afford to foment dialogue and solidarity.  The convention comes at a significant time in Puerto Rico, in the midst of some legislative gains on gender and LGBT issues and land-tenure struggles in urban communities, the fruits of long-term struggles and strategic alliances.  These gains, however, must be viewed in the context of continuing assaults on the rights of workers, accompanied by privatization measures and a colonial economy in severe distress.  At the same time, U.S. intervention continues to be a dominant factor in virtually all key aspects of life in Puerto Rico, including policing, education, labor and health. The U.S. continues to criminalize the struggle for self-determination and to divert efforts to address the status question into futile and expensive “plebiscites” and congressional hearings.  The convention will serve to highlight these and other critical issues which are part of the social fabric in Puerto Rico and as to which there is broad consensus — the release of Puerto Rico’s longest held political prisoner, Oscar López Rivera, the fight against the federally imposed death penalty, the clean-up of the island of Vieques and ongoing efforts aimed at achieving environmental justice.  This year’s NLG convention, representing the first time that the Guild has held its annual meeting beyond the confines of the United States, will be an important step in forging alliances and joint work on crucial struggles on the island and in the U.S. and beyond.

The Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Bar Association), which is actively involved in preparations for the Guild convention, is enjoying a respite from the virulent attacks which characterized the last administration. The Colegio is consulting its members—who make up the majority of attorneys in Puerto Rico—to determine its future course, addressing issues such as mandatory membership, public interest requirements, and student membership. The Colegio is a leading voice affirming the rights and interests of the dispossessed, the repressed, and those advocating for Puerto Rican self-determination.

Environmental and privatization issues continue to be major arenas of struggle. The Puerto Rican people forced the U.S. Navy out of the island of Vieques exactly 10 years ago but the U.S. government has ignored demands for clean-up and environmental protection. The water supply of Vieques remains contaminated, as do the beaches, which are closed, and parts of the island, where the Navy left tons of unexploded ordnance.

Massive protests have taken place challenging the planned privatization of the main airport in Puerto Rico. Part of a larger neo-liberal agenda, the airport deal has been widely rejected by the people of Puerto Rico. Outrage over the airport plan follows the defeat of a proposed pipeline (“gasoducto”) after major mobilizations. Community groups are also challenging the privatization of beaches and other environmentally damaging projects designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many.

Meanwhile, pro-statehood groups have invaded Washington presenting the false impression that statehood won the recent status referendum, while independence activists continue efforts to develop democratic processes to achieve true decolonization. Also, the broad movement for the release of Oscar López Rivera and the other Puerto Rican patriots in U.S. prisons continues unabated.

With so much happening in Puerto Rico today, the NLG convention promises to be a heady and historic experience, both for NLG members and for activists in Puerto Rico. ¡Hasta Octubre!