By Dr. Deborah Santana June 2016 was an intense month for sharing internationally about the campaign for the release of Oscar López Rivera from prison, and for the current struggle of Puerto Rico against US colonialism and the so-called “debt crisis.” This was especially true in Greece, where interest in Puerto Rico has grown ever since the German finance minister joked to the US treasury secretary that they could trade Greece for Puerto Rico, two “de facto’ colonies currently being strip-mined by vulture capitalists with the “debt crisis” as the excuse. I was invited to present about Puerto Rico at the “Resistance Festival” in Athens, held in June for the past nine years. This event combines seminars about Greek and international struggles against colonialism and capitalism (with a particular emphasis on political prisoners), with a cultural festival featuring artisans, literature, music, dance and food. A primary sponsor is the weekly newspaper Dromos Tis Aristeras (Way of the Left), which has covered Puerto Rico in general, and Oscar’s case in particular, even before the current crisis. We worked together to organize a protest outside the US embassy in Athens, as part of the International Day of Solidarity with Oscar, on June 20th. Finally, I was also invited to participate in the Mayday Festival, held in Crete two weeks earlier than the Resistance Festival. The Mayday Festival was a local affair, held in the city park of Irakleio, the island’s largest city. As I was the only international presenter, there was a great amount of interest in Puerto Rico and in Oscar. We had a table and bulletin board with copies of letters from Oscar, as well as information in Greek and English and a petition. Dozens of people attended the seminar where I spoke about the history and current situation of Puerto Rico, including the context for our political prisoners. Most people expressed amazement at the similarities between Puerto Rico and Greece, particularly in how the debt “crisis” is manipulated in order to justify austerity and privatization schemes. Greece also has a history of political prisoners, and the people are very aware of similar struggles in countries such as Euzkadi (Basque), Turkey, and Palestine, so they were very sympathetic to our campaign for Oscar. They also expressed outrage that Puerto Rico’s story is hardly known internationally, and asked how they could support us. In addition, Kriti Radio (the most popular radio station in the city) interviewed me, and they expressed an interest in doing more interviews about Puerto Rico and Oscar. Link to video of seminar at the Mayday Festival: http://bit.ly/greece-maydayfest Link to audio of Radio Kriti interview: http://bit.ly/radio-kriti-interview Back in Athens, planning for the Solidarity Day event presented particular challenges, because of extreme divisions among the Greek left. This is in part due to the betrayal of the current government headed by the so-called “radical left” party Syriza, which has had the effect of demobilizing and demoralizing the already fractious progressive parties and organizations in Greece. June 20th was also a holiday in Greece, plus the temperature soared to 105 degrees on that day. Nonetheless, we were able to attract more than a dozen activists from several groups to our event across the street from the US Embassy. We also attracted the Greek police – who after checking our banners gave us less than a minute for our protest! So we scrapped our original plan for speeches in Spanish, English, and Greek, and limited ourselves to a few words from me in Spanish, with videos and photos. The newspaper will also continue to cover the campaign for Oscar’s release. Link to photos and videos of Athens event: http://bit.ly/June20-OLR The Resistance Festival is a very large threeday event, with both international and Greek participation on political, social and cultural issues. I was invited to speak at the opening ceremony. It was a great honor to share the stage with Figen Yükekdag, Member of Parliament for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s third largest party, which supports a secular, democrat, multiethnic and anti-imperialist Turkey, and which is under attack by the Erdogen government. We were able to share information on our respective campaigns to free our political prisoners; the participation by the HDP delegation was all the more important given the ongoing wars in the region, and particularly in light of the recent coup attempt in Turkey. Thousands of people attended the opening event, in great part because the keynote speaker was the great Leila Khaled, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and best known for hijacking two planes in the late 1960’s in an attempt to break through the media silence on the ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people by Israel. The Resistance Festival had tried and failed to get permission for nearly a decade for Leila to visit, but this year finally succeeded – and she did not disappoint. Among many of the issues, she highlighted the dialectics of the need to struggle for both individual and collective liberation. This means among other things that the liberation of Puerto Rico and Palestine are connected to each other, as is the freeing of political prisoners, from Oscar to the thousands of Palestinians currently in Israeli jails. Link to my speech on Opening Night (in Greek): http://bit.ly/dsantana-opening-speech On Saturday night we held a seminar and discussion entitled “The empire strikes back? Latin America” with participation from Venezuela (the ambassador to Greece), Argentina, and Puerto Rico. As always, it was a privilege to be able to connect our struggle to the larger movements for independence and justice in Latin America, “la patria grande,”of which Puerto Rico is a much loved and needed member. I shared information and literature about the campaign to free Oscar in the table hosted by the Venezuelan embassy. In all venues I was repeatedly thanked for sharing our stories, and asked how people in Greece and elsewhere can contribute to the campaign to bring Oscar home. I hope that we can continue to expand our contacts and cooperation. ¡Libertad para Oscar ya! ¡Viva Puerto Rico libre!

Please follow and like us: