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New York Daily News

Messenger May Change, But Message Doesn't


July 17, 2000
Copyright © 2000 New York Daily News. All Rights Reserved.

MARISOL CORRETJER could have stayed placidly in the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico , doing what she likes best: taking care of her grandchildren.

Instead, as she has in the last three years, she came to New York last week to present to the United Nations' Decolonization Committee the position of the Partido Nacionalista Puertorriqueo ( Puerto Rican Nationalist Party).

"The party's position hasn't changed," says Corretjer, a retired restaurateur and the party's vice president. "We demand our right to be independent."

On Wednesday, for the first time in its history, the committee approved by consensus a resolution supporting independence and free determination for Puerto Rico , and repudiating the arrest of protesters and the military maneuvers in Vieques .

This was music to the ears of Corretjer and many compatriots who share her ideals. But the struggle has been too long and too hard, and it has made a political realist out of her.

"This is good, of course. But we have been coming to the UN for decades and nothing has changed," she says. "As long as the U.S. is not willing to recognize independence and to implement a mechanism to make it a reality, I don't see this resolution as having much impact."

Alice Cardona, a New York-born Puerto Rican community activist and Woodside resident for more than 20 years, agrees.

"For the first time in years, I agree with [ Puerto Rican ] Gov. Pedro Rossello on something," Cardona says. "Last Thursday, he said that 'What is important is not to sign or present a resolution, but to act.' For the committee to say that Puerto Rico is a colony is good as an international statement, but . . . what else is new? We already knew that."

The United Nations resolution was introduced by Cuba and seconded by Venezuela. It reaffirms Puerto Rico 's Latin American and Caribbean character. It also expresses the hope that the U.S. will put in motion a process to allow Puerto Ricans to exercise their right to free determination and independence. Holding your breath, though, may not be advisable.

Because Puerto Rico , officially called a commonwealth, or a "free associated state" (in Spanish, estado libre asociado), is a colony and has been one since 1898, as the UN resolution just reaffirmed. That reality is not bound to change any time soon.

"The issue of Vieques , though, has brought together all kinds of people in Puerto Rico ," Corretjer says. "Many Puerto Ricans have understood the real meaning of colonialism for the first time."

Fernando Martn, vice president of the influential Partido Independentista Puertorriqueo, put it this way to the UN committee: ". . . the struggle for peace in Vieques [has become] the most dramatic expos of the condition of political subordination of our people, and of the U.S. government's assault on our right to self- determination and our most fundamental human rights."

Corretjer, though, has understood colonialism and its pernicious effects since she was a little girl. Her father, Juan Antonio Corretjer, was not only Puerto Rico 's national poet, but a fervent pro-independence activist and nationalist.

One of his best known poems expresses his fierce loyalty to his homeland this way: Yo sera borincano aunque naciera en la Luna. "I would be Puerto Rican ," the poet says, "even if I had been born on the moon."

Thousands of New York-born Puerto Ricans , like Cardona, deeply identify with that sentiment. And so does the poet's daughter.

"To Puerto Ricans in New York, I say that we are only one people," Corretjer says. "And that we need their support."

FOR HER, THE struggle for independence goes on. And although what Corretjer would really like is to take care of her grandchildren full time, that may have to wait a while.

"It is for them that I want a free Puerto Rico ," she says.

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