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Freedom for Puerto Rican POWs

Today the United States government holds in its custody many Puerto Rican women and men, criminalizing them for having fought for the independence of their country. Like George Washington in his day, they are anti-colonial combatants. Washington's contemporary, Thomas Paine, defended in Common Sense the choice to take up arms against the British colonizer: "It is the violence which is done and threatened to our persons; the destruction of our property by an armed force; the invasion of our country by fire and sword, which conscientiously qualifies the use of arms" They are like Nelson Mandela in our day, who told the court when faced with life in prison for his role in a conspiracy to use force to overthrow the apartheid regime,

A time comes in the life of any nation, where there remains only two choices--submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defense of our people, our future, our freedom."

And also like Mandela, they are serving the equivalent of life in prison.

Most of the prisoners are convicted of seditious conspiracy and related charges--conspiring to use force against the lawful authority of the United States against Puerto Rico. While US courts determined that they violated domestic law, other forums and tribunals have determined that they acted pursuant to international law, which provides that colonialism is a crime, and which protects and encourages the legitimate fight to eradicate colonialism. Others are convicted of conspiring to take US government insured money for use in their struggle for self-determination.

The United States claims a proud history as a defender of human rights across the globe. The continued incarceration of these men and women stands in stark contrast to this claimed role. Furthermore:

Ten of the prisoners are serving terms of 55 to 90 years, sentences which are 19 times longer than the average sentence for all offenses in the year they were sentenced.

Their disproportionate sentences punish them for who they are--anti-colonial combatants--rather than for what they did.

Most have already served 10 and 13 years in prison, far longer than the average person convicted of murder serves;

They acted out of political motivation, not for person al gain.

Many have been held in the most maximum security prisons under restrictive conditions which even Amnesty International has condemned.

Finally, US history offers rich precedent for their release. US Presidents have throughout history exercised the constitutional power of pardon to release people who acted or conspired to act against the government, including Confederate soldiers who had taken up arms in the Civil War and were convicted of treason, socialists convicted of organizing armed resistance to conscription for World War I, and Puerto Rican Nationalists who fired on Blair House in 1950 and on the US Congress in 1954.

People in Puerto Rico and the United States have established Ofensiva 92, a campaign to win the prisoners' immediate and unconditional release. The campaign is reaching new people and forums, including the New York City Council, which recently passed a resolution asking the Secretary General of the United Nations to call on the US President to release the prisoners. In July of this year, Ofensiva will submit to the US President a formal application for their release. In support of this application, the campaign is collecting letters directed to President Bill Clinton, as well as resolutions from organizations.

Add your voice to the thousands who have already expressed their opinion to the President. Let him know that it was not enough for the US to pressure South Africa to release Nelson Mandela, but that the US must apply such standards within its own borders and its own Mandelas. Send your letters to: Ofensiva 92, Apartado Postal 20190, Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 00928, and the campaign will forward them to the president. Join us!

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