Under contract with UNC Press – Justice, Power, and Politics series
On May 18, 2017, former Palestinian political prisoner Rasmea Odeh stood before a crowd gathered in Paseo Boricua, the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, to celebrate the homecoming of Oscar López Rivera, who was arrested in 1981 for his involvement with the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN; Armed Forces of National Liberation), a clandestine organization committed to achieving Puerto Rican independence through armed struggle. He spent 35 years imprisoned on charges of seditious conspiracy—or, more colloquially, for the “crime” of supporting Puerto Rican independence. To those who gathered to welcome him home, López Rivera was a beloved hero, a “freedom fighter,” and the successor to a long line of independentistas who had languished in U.S. jails because of their militant resistance to U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico. To Rasmea Odeh, López Rivera meant all those things, too. After all, she had spent ten years in an Israeli prison after having been coerced into confession for two 1969 bombings. “Oscar, I know your story well, because your life is an example to me and to all of us,” she told him. She then embraced López Rivera and gifted him a red keffiyeh, a symbol of Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation. The crowd before them cheered.
That Rasmea Odeh would be invited to speak at Oscar López Rivera’s homecoming might appear surprising. But if her presence seems unexpected—or perhaps simply performative—then that speaks to the historical record’s inattentiveness to the global visions animating the Puerto Rican independence movement. Indeed, Odeh’s presence at López Rivera’s homecoming helps illuminate the broad contours of a narrative of solidarity otherwise relegated to the margins of Latinx Studies, social movement historiographies, and the history of the United States in the world. My book chronicles this narrative.
Solidarities of Liberation tells a globally expansive story of Palestine liberation informing Puerto Rican radicalism and the United States’ efforts to weaponize and police those freedom dreams. At its heart is the story of how an array of Puerto Rican radicals in Chicago wedded their rejection of U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico to the Palestinian struggle. Like their Palestinian “counterparts,” these Puerto Ricans committed themselves to achieving decolonization through armed struggle and peoples’ war. They also found themselves in solidarity with Palestine as a result of what were, to them, very real—and very analogous—experiences of surveillance and political repression. At the same time, other powerful actors—most notably the Reagan administration and the New Right—exploited those very solidarities to combat the rising problem of international terrorism. In what was ultimately a battle over the United States’ reputation as a global leader of democracy, Puerto Rican solidarities with Palestine became weaponized in service of imperial ambitions, demarcating the boundaries of legitimate political dissent. From the state’s perspective, the Puerto Rican independence movement, much like Palestinian resistance, was simply a terrorist—and therefore illegitimate—political menace.