(Published in Workers World newspaper Apr. 13, 2006)
Youth disrupt ceremony for right-wing Cuban
By Tom Soto
San Juan, Puerto Rico
At times what may seem like an obscure political event can give rise to a course of struggle. This is especially true when there is a deep economic and political crisis brewing, such as the current situation in Puerto Rico.
On March 29, as members of the House of Representatives, which is dominated by the right wing pro-statehood New Progressive Party, attempted to hold a “recognition ceremony” to thank Julio Labatut Escarra - a right wing Cuban born businessman - for his “philanthropic contributions in Puerto Rico,” a militant demonstration of “independentistas” marched outside the Capitol Building chanting “Labatut, Labatut, asesino eres tú” (Labatut, Labatut, you are an assassin).
Julio Labatut Escarra has been publicly tied to the right-wing death squads that operated in Puerto Rico in the 1970s and 1980s and implicated in the assassination of Carlos Muñiz Varela in 1979.
Varela, also born in Cuba, was a worker who married and lived in Puerto Rico. In 1979, he was 26 and had two children, Yamaira and Carlos. He operated the Varadero Travel Agency, promoting travel and dialogue with revolutionary Cuba — a policy that the U.S. government opposed.
Varela was also active in the Comité Nacional de la Brigada Antonio Maceo (the National Committee of the Antonio Maceo Brigade), which organized solidarity trips to Cuba.
According to Milagros Rivera of the Cuba Solidarity Committee, “With the view of ending travel to Cuba, Carlos Muñiz Varela was assassinated by the FBI through its agents in Puerto Rico. Omega 7, a terrorist organization created and funded by the CIA, took responsibility for the assassination.”
Labatut is protected by the FBI, which for 26 years has not turned over evidence to the Puerto Rican Department of Justice regarding the murder.
Repression & economic crisis awakens militancy
The attempt to honor Julio Labatut Escarra on the heels of the FBI assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos on Sept. 23 and the recent FBI raids against pro-independence activists in February; in an economic atmosphere where the prices of all commodities and food stuffs have risen drastically in the last year; where a 7 percent sales tax is being considered by the Legislature; and in the midst of a fiscal and debt crisis where the Puerto Rican government refuses to negotiate wages with public employees, such as the Electrical Industry Workers Union and the Federation of Teachers, placed the independence movement in a position to set an example.
The demonstration on Wednesday, which was called on relatively short notice by family members and the Movimiento Independentista Nacional Hostosiano (Hostos National Independence Movement), the Comité de Solidaridad Con Cuba (Cuba Solidarity Committee), the Socialist Front and others grew to almost 1,000 people.
Demonstrators marched up to the doors of the Capitol Building chanting: “Assassin, assassin,” while police and security outside and inside the building blocked the entrances.
At one point the environmental activist Alberto De Jesús Mercado, popularly known as Tito Kayak, attempted to climb the flagpole in front of the building, which was flying the U.S. flag. When the police rushed off to stop him, the entrance doors to the building were left minimally protected, allowing militant youth to penetrate the sanctity of the colonial Legislature.
In the ensuing struggle inside the building, windows were broken, furniture was trashed, paintings were torn off the walls, and the glass encasement holding Puerto Rico’s (colonial) constitution was cracked. Reporters like Humberto Trías covering the event were thrown to the ground by the police, and security personnel used fire extinguishers to repel the demonstrators. All this thoroughly disrupted the ceremony honoring the terrorist.
Second disruption is carried out
After riot police were bused in to reinforce the building, representative Jennifer González of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, who was chairing the event, attempted to continue with the ceremony, but to the surprise of security officials a loud bang occurred, again interrupting the event.
This time Kayak had been able to crash through a window into the offices of Norma Burgos, the senator for the New Progressive Party. Havoc broke loose in the building as police and security officials, inside and outside, were seen running in all directions searching for the origins of the noise, and later for the intruder. Kayak was arrested.
The action shocked the bourgeois establishment in Puerto Rico.
According to Capitol Building personnel, $30,000 in damages were sustained. Ricardo Santos, speaking for the Socialist Workers Movement (Movimiento Socialista de los Trabajadores), referred to the assassination of Muñiz Varela, saying, “What is worth more: $30,000 in damages, or the life of a person?”
Representative González, the main organizer of the ceremony, later told the press that she had been asked by Carlos Varela Pérez, son of Carlos Muñiz Varela, not to honor Julio Labatut in light of his suspected role in the murder of his father.
Addressing the rally in front of the Capitol Building, Carlos Varela Pérez, now 31, reminded the crowd how in a television interview Labatut was once asked whether he played a role in the murder of Varela. His reply: “I did not have the honor of participating in that killing.”
Jorge Farinacci, spokesperson for the Socialist Front, commented in a written statement: “We repudiate this act of provocation by the Legislature, of organizing a ceremony to honor an assassin and terrorist, whose hands are stained with the blood of independentistas and socialists.
“For more than three decades, the history of Julio Labatut is full of conspiracies to murder and to destroy the independence and socialist movements, and everything that appears to be like revolutionary Cuba.”□
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