The Betances Festival and Betances

Julio 1999

Once again we gather at the Villa Victoria plaza of the South End in Boston to ‘celebrate’ the so-called Festival Betances. Every year many of us bring our children and other loved ones to this festival. But in reality, what do we learn about Ramón Emeterio Betances the revolutionary?

In general terms we know that Ramón Emeterio Betances was a very important figure in the history of Puerto Rico. He labored to bring about changes in the Puerto Rico that he called patria. What changes did he provoke? Despite being a doctor and not having the direct experience of suffering from poverty, Betances worried about the many injustices that all Puerto Ricans were suffering. Of all these injustices, the ones that most horrified him were Slavery and Colonialism. He decided not to remain passive and used his many skills and resources to help organize for one of the events of greatest significance in the history of Puerto Rico; El Grito de Lares. This exploded on September 23, 1868.

We now know that this revolutionary act was sabotaged as a result of the indiscretions of the organizers of the movement, which allowed Spain to prepare itself for what was coming. Despite this, five years later (March 22,1873) Spain was forced to officially terminate the horrible institution of Slavery. The people sent a clear message to the Crown basically stating that, if Spain did not eliminate slavery, there would be war everywhere. The Spanish government therefore had to concede to the demands of the people.

Today slavery continues through the present economic system. Our salaries both in the United States and in the island make it impossible to escape from the lowest social – economic class in this society. The only realistic option that this society offers in order to escape this condition is to participate in the underground economy and cheat, lie, stealing and play the lottery (later the government robs these earnings again with taxes).

Betances also advocated for the independence of Puerto Rico from Spain and any other imperialist power. After the United States invasion of Puerto Rico, and before he died in 1898, Betances warned that “this new occupation would result in a new colonial domination.” We have know for a while that that his vision was correct. We are the official colony of the United States in Latin America. Due to this status, we live under conditions of poverty, under fear of crime, and sentenced to the continuous travel back and forth between the island and this country, in search of economic relief. In addition to this, we have 16 Political Prisoners and of War in US Federal jails scattered throughout the country.

Ramón Emeterio Betances was a revolutionary who identified his ideals with the ideals of the oppressed people of Puerto Rico. He struggled for real change in the political environment of the island. We at Latinos for Social Change are clear, and have no doubt whatsoever that if Betances were here with us today, he would be struggling for revolutionary change.

As Betances himself asked: “What is wrong with the Puerto Ricans that they don’t revolt?” Don’t be fooled by the so-called “community leaders” who say that we should celebrate the memory of Betances only through cultural activities. Be brave and question our situation as a working class people. Do Something = Make the Revolutionl!!!!!