Saturday, January 11, 2014

Venezuela’s President Maduro Urges Puerto Rico to Declare Independence, Join Latin American Bloc

Nicolás Maduro Moros, the president of Venezuela, used the occasion of the 55th anniversary of Cuba’s Communist revolution on January 9th to call on Puerto Rico to secede from the United States, so that it can join the community of Latin American nations, and in particular the 33-member Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños, or CELAC).

Venezuela will be hosting the annual CELAC summit later this month, and with that mind, Maduro said, “I have asked Foreign Minister Elías Jaua Milano to prepare a document to propose, in the name of Venezuela, the incorporation of Puerto Rico to CELAC.  May Puerto Rico take the path of Latin America.  ...  One day we will see the birthing of a Republic of Puerto Rico and we will go together to consolidate its independence.  It would be our greatest homage to the giants: to Bolívar, Martí, and to Chávez. ...  If we really consider ourselves sons of Bolívar, sons of Chávez, let us never let go from our hearts the cause of Puerto Rico’s independence.”

Maduro used Venezuelan and Cuban flags as a backdrop to make his point.
The new statements are the latest volley in a rhetorical and diplomatic war between Venezuela and the United States that continues the clash between the two countries’ former leaders, Hugo Chávez and George W. Bush, respectively, in the 2000s.  Last year, Maduro succeeded the wildly popular Chávez, who in his 14 years in office took inspiration from Cuba’s 1959 revolution and from its hero, Fidel Castro, in blazing a path toward redistributionist economic policy and charismatic left-wing populism.  He also leaned slightly in Castro’s direction when it came to his relationship to democracy—using his popular mandate to grab more power for the presidency and to jail political opponents.  Genuinely committed to economic inequality, he redistributed wealth and responded to food shortages through price ceilings and the nationalization of large sectors of the economy—which only worsened his country’s economic crisis, in a kind of parody of the carefully managed command economy in Cuba, which for all its faults is at least stable.  But it was Chávez’s nationalization of the oil industry that threw the U.S. into a complete tizzy.  Venezuela is the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, and its untapped reserves are now thought to be the world’s largest, exceeding Saudi Arabia’s.

Me and Mini-Me: Maduro (right) rode to power on Chávez’s coattails.
For Maduro, who was Chávez’s vice-president and has modeled his presidency on Chávez’s, the idea of advocating separatism within the U.S. is not a strategy that comes out of the blue.  Chávez had also called for Puerto Ricans to free themselves from “U.S. imperialism,” as had Fidel Castro and as does Castro’s brother and successor as Cuban president, Raúl Castro.  In fact, in 2011 the Italian-American, Puerto Rican writer Giannina Braschi published The United States of Banana, which depicted Chávez, Castro, and three other populist left-wing Latin American leaders—Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner—leading a campaign to “liberate” Puerto Rico.  For Latin Americans bristling at two centuries of the U.S. “Monroe Doctrine,” Puerto Rico is Exhibit A.

Hugo Chávez, Fidel Castro, and Evo Morales in 2011
More to the point, Chávez and Maduro had long accused the United States of pursuing its own economic goals in Venezuela by fomenting separatism in the country’s westernmost state, Zulia.  Known as “the Texas of Venezuela,” Zulia has 40% of the country’s oil.  It has always been the least “Venezuelan” part of Venezuela and for much of the 19th century had a sort of semi-autonomous status—an independent streak which the discovery of oil only widened.  In 1925, an American oil speculator from the Texas of the United States—you know, Texas—named William F. Buckley, Sr. (yes, he was the father of that William F. Buckley, Jr.), tried to stir up a separatist rebellion in Zulia as part of his attempt to corner the market on Venezuelan oil.  He had bought up valuable tracts of land in Zulia and was also trying to convince the government in Caracas to develop a port on the Paraguaná Peninsula, in Falcón state just to Zulia’s east, in order to make it the country’s one transshipment point—convenient for whoever controlled Zulia’s oil reserves.  But Buckley was elbowed aside by other competitors, like Gulf Oil.

Today in Zulia, a political movement called Our Way (Rumbo Propio) is pushing for a devolved parliamentary government for the state along the lines of Catalonia’s within Spain and Scotland’s within the United Kingdom.  But during the 2000s Chávez accused Bush outright of covertly supporting alleged Zulian separatist militants.  This was never substantiated, and in fact full-on Zulian separatism seems to barely exist.  But it did not help when a joint NATO military exercise in the Caribbean in 2001 called Plan Balboa simulated an invasion of Venezuela and the “liberation” of Zulia—or when Bush’s ambassador to Venezuela in 2005 referred to the province as “the independent western Republic of Zulia”—or when, that same year, the right-wing extremist American evangelist Pat Robertson, a confidante of Bush’s, called for Chávez’s assassination.  Bush’s military probably did have an “if we ‘have to’ invade Venezuela” plan on the shelf, but the idea that he would further stretch the U.S. military at a time of war in Iraq and Afghanistan by “liberating” Zulia, and thus diplomatically alienating every single other country in the hemisphere, is ludicrous even by Bush standards.  But Chávez, in his increasingly bombastic and paranoid later years, was convinced.  Even in the Barack Obama era, Maduro might still be convinced that such an invasion is imminent.

Zulia, Venezuela’s westernmost state
But back to Puerto Rico.  Unfortunately for Maduro, a referendum in Puerto Rico in 2012 came out with only 5.5% supporting independence for the territory (a referendum discussed extensively at the time in this blog).  The great majority of Puerto Rican voters—61.13%—wanted to become the 51st U.S. state.  Almost no one there is happy with the status quo: though it has had its own Olympic team since 1948, Puerto Rico is firmly under U.S. jurisdiction, but Puerto Ricans are represented in Washington only by one non-voting observer member of the U.S. House of Representatives and have to move to the mainland if they want to vote for president.  During the 2012 presidential campaign, with its crucial Hispanic vote, every candidate seemed to like the idea of Puerto Rican statehood, but the reality is that the U.S. Congress would need to approve any additions to the Union—and, in a tradition dating at least as far back as the Missouri Compromise of 1820, it is really only politically feasible to admit two states in tandem, one in the column of each of the two major political parties.  And that is a low priority nowadays on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats can barely agree on emergency budget measures to keep the government functioning.  There’s the added problem of whether Puerto Rico would be a blue state or a red state.  It is traditionally Republican but, like most of the U.S. Hispanic population, went heavily for Obama in 2008 and 2012, in what may or may not be a permanent shift.  A surer bet would be the simultaneous admission of the hardcore-Democratic District of Columbia alongside one of the many Republican 51st-state proposals going right now, in places like northern Colorado, western Maryland, and northern California.

A rare pro-independence voter in the 2012 Puerto Rico referendum
The cause of Puerto Rican independence has become much more marginal since its heyday in the 1960s and early 1970s, when it was energized by the popular revolution in neighboring Cuba and inspired by the Civil Rights movement and by the Black Power and Red Power movements in the mainland U.S.  Puerto Rican separatism has always had a left-wing flavor, its infiltration and near “neutralization” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) at the time, plus, more recently, the end of the Cold War and a general American political shift rightward in the 1980s and ’90s, have left the movement rather moribund.

Puerto Rican independence activists in the 1960s
However, an even third of voters opted for a “free association” status, similar to that enjoyed by three former U.S. colonies in the Pacific: the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.  Those three nations have something significantly more than quasi-independence; they are members of the United Nations General Assembly.  (Other examples of “free association” states are the New Zealand territories of Niue and the Cook Islands and the United Kingdom satellite states the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey—none of those five being U.N. member states, however.)  Perhaps once Puerto Ricans realize there is a third way—with some of the advantages of statehood, nearly all the advantages of independence, and none of the diplomatic isolation that has plagued Cuba—then that current 49% approval of either independence or “free association” status could coalesce into a serious movement.  Perhaps.  But if so, it will have to come from below, and it won’t be because Maduro and Castro’s thundering paranoid rhetoric convinces them of what they are supposed to want.

This is actually the flag of the Venezuelan state of Zulia ...
... which is allegedly not inspired by the American superhero the Flash.
[You can read more about Zulia, Puerto Rico, and other separatist movements both famous and obscure in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this special announcement for more information on the book.]


  1. That's a Cuban flag behind Maduro not a puerto Rican one

  2. Oops! You are right. Thank you for the correction. I will fix the caption.

  3. No problem, an interesting piece. Some parts of Zulia are very strong for Maduro/Chavez. The allegations of "separatism" are a wind up, same as with the richer provinces of Bolivia. Capriles has only ever won in Zulia by narrow margins, but as you say it's about the oil.

  4. Dear Partner,

    After the approval of the 33rd United Nations’ resolution by consensus on June 23, 2014 asking the United States (US) to immediately decolonize of Puerto Rico, we should work together to force the United States government to comply with it.

    The facts that the United States government has maintained Puerto Rico as its colony for 116 years, has had Oscar López Rivera in prison for 33 years for fighting for Puerto Rico decolonization, and has ignored 33 UN resolutions to decolonize Puerto Rico, confirm that the US government has no intentions of ever decolonizing Puerto Rico. Therefore, we need to form a tsunami of people to force the US to comply with the 33 resolutions.

    We should peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until we achieve our goal. The first one will be a march up to the US Courthouse in Puerto Rico on the Abolition of Slavery Day on March 22. The second will be another march in Puerto Rico on a day before the UN’s Puerto Rico decolonization hearing. The third one will be a protest in New York City on the same day the UN holds its Puerto Rico decolonization hearing.

    These 3 protests are indispensable, because those who have colonies don’t believe in justice for all.

    José M López Sierra
    Comité Timón del Pueblo
    United Partners for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico

  5. Dear Partner,

    Who’s the radical, Oscar López Rivera or the US?

    There are some who call for keeping Puerto Rico political prisoner Oscar López Rivera in prison forever, because he is a radical terrorist responsible for the killing and injury people. That’s not true, but even if it were, he would still be not guilty. Is Oscar really the radical?

    It was the government of the United States (US) that illegally invaded Oscar’s country 116 years ago to make Puerto Rico a colony. The United States government has used everything it could think of to train Puerto Ricans to want to be a colony of the United States for over a century. Through its educational system and mass media it has tried to shape the minds of Puerto Ricans. And when that hasn’t been enough, it has resorted to state terrorism to repress those who want independence for Puerto Rico. All nations have an inalienable right to self-determination and independence according to international law. That is so, because it is a natural thing for a nation to want to be independent. That’s why most nations are.

    So, Oscar is doing what is natural of wanting his nation to be independent. The US government, however, is doing the unnatural or radical thing of trying to prevent Puerto Rico independence.

    What the US government is doing is so radical that it is committing a crime against humanity. The United Nations declared it so, because colonialism is a threat to world peace. So by the US government having Puerto Rico as its colony, it is creating the conditions for people like Oscar to resort to any means necessary to obtain decolonization. International law also give colonies the right to use any means necessary to decolonize itself. And that why colonialism is a crime.

    This is why, after 33 UN resolutions ignored by the US government asking it to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico, and the US government’s refusal to release Oscar from prison despite tremendous world pressure to do so, we must continuously protest until it happens!


  6. Dear Partner,

    Since the United Nations determined in 1960 that colonialism is a crime against humanity, there is no longer a need for plebiscites. The solution is to give Puerto Rico her sovereignty.

    But being the United States government does not want to, it continues to advocate the use of plebiscites to find out what Puerto Ricans want. Even if 100% of Puerto Ricans would want to continue being a US colony, Puerto Rico would still be obligated to accept her sovereignty to then decide what she wants to do.

    The only thing these plebiscites are good for is to divide Puerto Ricans. A Puerto Rican didn’t invade us to make us a colony. When will we understand that we need to unite?

    This is why we must peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until Puerto Rico is decolonized!

    José M López Sierra

  7. Why does Puerto Rico have a higher voter turnout than USA?

    Puerto Ricans have a voter turnout of about 80%. The United States (US) citizens have a voter turnout of about 50%. What accounts for this 30 % disparity? Could it be that Puerto Rican believe in democracy more than US mainland citizens?

    Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States since 1898. Since that time, Puerto Ricans who have wanted to decolonize their country have been either assassinated or imprisoned. Many Puerto Ricans are terrified of independence for Puerto Rico as a result of 116 years of repression.

    Since colonialism is always for exploitation, there are no opportunities in Puerto Rico for Puerto Ricans. That is why there are now more Puerto Ricans out, than in Puerto Rico. Therefore, Puerto Ricans are desperate to find a political solution to our eternal colonialism!

    Most Puerto Ricans believe that decolonization can be achieved through the electoral process. But the electoral process is ultimately under the control of the government of the United States. Since the US government has ignored 33 United Nations resolutions asking it to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico, and it has maintained incarcerated Puerto Rico political prisoner Oscar López Rivera for 33 years despite worldwide support to free him, there should be no doubt that the US government will never allow decolonization via the electoral process. If it were possible to do it that way, we would not have it!

    The better way to decolonize is for that 80% of the Puerto Rico voter turnout to instead protest in the streets to demand our inalienable right to self-determination and independence, and insist that the UN do the decolonization in conformity to international law. After all, colonialism is within the jurisdiction of international law and never under national law. That is why it is a crime against humanity to have a colony under international law, but not so under US law.

    José M López Sierra

  8. Should criminals be in charge of correcting the wrong they inflicted?

    Puerto Ricans vote in elections every 4 years at an 80% level of participation. Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States (US) government for the past 116 years. If the US government has the final say in what happens in Puerto Rico, what is the purpose of these elections? The purpose is to fool the world that Puerto Rico is a democracy.

    The United Nations (UN) declared colonialism a crime against humanity in 1960. The UN has asked the US government 33 times to decolonize Puerto Rico immediately. The US government has refused. It says that Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States is none of the UN’s business. The US says that it is a domestic affair.

    To appear that the US government wants to decolonize Puerto Rico, it promotes the use of plebiscites to determine what Puerto Ricans want. Doesn’t that sounds innocent and democratic? So what’s the problem?

    To begin with, the international community already rendered its verdict and determined that colonialism is illegal. So to have a political status option in a plebiscite that favors maintaining Puerto Rico a colony of the United States is not permitted. To have a political status option of Puerto Rico becoming a state of the United States is also not permitted under international law. The problem goes back to the beginning of this article. In order to have free elections, the country must be free. So before these elections and plebiscite could be valid, Puerto Rico would have to first be an independent nation.

    What people must realize is that Puerto Rico is a colony of the US because the US government wants it that way. That is why it has used terrorism to keep it that way. That is why it refuses to release the Puerto Rican political prisoner of 33 years Oscar López Rivera. That is also why it is ridiculous to believe that decolonization is a US internal matter in which the UN has no jurisdiction over. If we allow the US government to decolonize Puerto Rico, she will remain a colony of the United States forever!

    José M López Sierra

  9. Puerto Rico is the best example of the United States government’s record on human rights

    Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States (US) government for the past 116 years. The United Nations (UN) declared colonialism a crime against humanity in 1960. The UN has issued thus far 33 resolutions asking the US government to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico. In other words, those 33 resolutions are the democratic will of the UN. Therefore, the US government has thus far ignored the democratic will of the UN. Furthermore, it has held, against heavy international pressure, Puerto Rico’s political prisoner of 33 years, Oscar López Rivera.

    All nations have the inalienable right to self-determination and independence as a basic human right. Because of this, all colonized people have the right, under international law, to use all means necessary to decolonize themselves. That means that the criminal, with regards to Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the United States, is the US government, and not Oscar López Rivera. Therefore, the US government has violated for the past 116 years the human rights of about 4 million people on the island of Puerto Rico!

    The US government has used state terrorism to maintain Puerto Rico as its colony. Again, the best example of this is Oscar’s 33 years of imprisonment. This is more than the 27 years that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated. It is also important to note that 12 of those years were in solitary confinement. That length of time is another human rights violation.

    The US government keeps this in the closet to conceal it. That way, the US government could then charge other nations of human rights violations. Obviously, the US government has no problem with human right violations, since it violates them all the time at home. Its only interest in making these human right charges is to control the affairs of other countries in order to obtain financial benefits of interest to the 1% for whom the US government works for.

    José M López Sierra

  10. The Second Oscar – Mandela March in New York City 2015

    We will be having our 2nd Oscar – Mandela Protest March on Monday, June 22, 2015. We will start marching peacefully at 9 AM from Hunter College on East 68th Street and Lexington Avenue, to East 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue. We will then go East (turning left) to end up at the Ralph Bunche Park on First Avenue (across from the United Nations).

    We will be at the park until 5 PM. We will be giving out flyers and talking to people about who Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera is. We will also be educating the public about Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship with the government of the United States (US).

    Most people don’t know that every year, usually on the Monday after Fathers’ Day, the United Nations holds its hearing about the decolonization of Puerto Rico. The petitioners will usually join our protest after this meeting.

    The UN determined in 1960 that colonialism is a crime against humanity. Since then, the UN has issued 33 resolutions asking for the US government to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico. The US government has ignored these resolutions. What kind of democracy is that?

    The US government tries to keep these hearings a secret. What we are trying to do is to get them out of the closet. The UN is in its 3rd decade trying to make the world colony-free. Please help us!

    Most people also don’t know that the United States government takes out 14 times more money than what it invests in Puerto Rico. But, that is what colonies are for!

    This savage exploitation impedes Puerto Rico’s ability to provide opportunities for Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico. That is why there are now more Puerto Ricans living away from Puerto Rico than in their homeland.

    Oscar López Rivera has been incarcerated for 34 years for his struggle to decolonize Puerto Rico. Since colonialism is an international crime, international law gives Oscar the right to use whatever means necessary to decolonize his homeland. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years for doing the same thing as Oscar. This is why we say, Oscar López Rivera is our Nelson Mandela!

    United Partners for Puerto Rico Decolonization invites the public to be part of the tsunami of people that will be necessary to make the US government comply with the UN resolutions. These annual protests in Puerto Rico and at the UN are absolutely necessary, because, those who maintain colonies, don’t believe in justice for all!

    José M López Sierra

  11. Why the US lies to the world about Puerto Rico?
    The governor of Puerto Rico Alejandro Garcia Padilla recently wrote a letter to the secretary general of the United Nations (UN) Ban Ki-moon about the White House’s position regarding the Puerto Rico v. Sánchez Valle case where it said that Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States (US). The governor said in his letter that either the US lied to the UN in 1953, or it is lying now.
    In 1953, the US told the UN that Puerto Rico had obtained self-government in 1952 through its new government called the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The US petitioned the UN to remove Puerto Rico from its list of colonies. Since then, Puerto Rico does not appear in the UN’s list of colonies.
    In 2008, the then governor of Puerto Rico Anibal Acevedo Vila spoke before the UN’s annual hearing on Puerto Rico decolonization, because he was upset about President Bush’s report on Puerto Rico. The report said that the US government could sell Puerto Rico to any country it wants, if it desires. He also asked the UN the same question. Either the US lied to the UN in 1953, or it is lying in President’s Bush’s report. Still, the US lies some more!
    Our Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera has been in prison for 34 years for “seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government in Puerto Rico”. This is yet another lie!
    This law was made during the US Civil War to make it a crime for the South to secede from the Union. The law is for first class US citizens. After the war, it was never used again until it was used against Puerto Ricans who fought for Puerto Rico independence.
    The United States invaded Puerto Rico militarily in 1898. After the October 30th, 1950 Nationalist’s Insurrection that focused the world’s attention to the fact that Puerto Rico was a colony of the United States, the US decided to create another lie to mask that fact. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was that lie.
    Despite the fact that Oscar is the one in jail, it is the US government that is the real criminal. The US is violating the 1960 international law (UN Resolution 1514 XV) which prohibits colonialism, because it is a threat to world peace. In fact, colonialism is considered by the international community as a crime against humanity. President Bush asked, why do people hate us? People do because the US government goes around committing crimes against humanity all over the world! This is also why the world believes that the US government is the biggest threat to world peace! The fact of the matter is that Oscar has the right under this law to use any means necessary to decolonize Puerto Rico.
    The UN in 34 resolutions has asked the US to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico. Since it refuses, in order to perpetuate its illegal relationship, it promotes plebiscites, supposedly so that Puerto Ricans could decide what they want. This is, once again, another lie. It doesn’t matter what Puerto Ricans want. Colonialism is illegal, and Puerto Rico must be decolonized. Once she is, Puerto Rico could do what she wants.
    The US government lies, because it wants to keep Puerto Rico as its colony forever. It’s time that we realize this, so that we could protest peacefully and permanently for Puerto Rico decolonization. The protests are necessary, because those who lie to keep their colonies don’t believe in JUSTICE FOR ALL!


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