23 February 2018

Puerto Rican Protester Framed Up by Feds

Free Nina Droz!

Last May 1, Nina Droz Franco, who was participating in a mass rally in San Juan during a Puerto Rican general strike, was arrested for lying down on a road. She has been in prison ever since. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) snatched her from the custody of the Puerto Rican police that night. On May 3, she was indicted by federal prosecutors based on outrageous claims that she had tried to burn down a bank.

Asserting jurisdiction because the Banco Popular building in San Juan is used for “interstate commerce,” the Feds charged Droz with “malicious use of fire” and “conspiracy,” which carry a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. The main piece of “evidence” was video footage of a small piece of paper burning on a marble walkway outside the building. The Feds themselves even admitted that the building was never on fire! Nina Droz is the victim of a transparent frame-up by the U.S. colonial overlords, who have bloodily repressed and starved the Puerto Rican people for more than a century.

Droz initially pleaded not guilty. But facing decades in prison, she took a plea deal last July on the lesser charge of conspiracy, with a maximum sentence of just over three years. More than six months later, she still awaits sentencing, which is currently scheduled for March 8. There is no guarantee that the judge in her case, who has already denied her bail, will follow the prosecution’s recommendation.

An art teacher, former model and student at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), Droz has been vilified as a violent criminal by prosecutors and the bourgeois media. As Droz’s mother stated at a February 9 press conference: “Nina went there as a protester, as a student, as one of those who were at the march defending the right to study at the public university.” Presenting fiction as fact, the chief prosecutor claimed that Droz boasted of being “the fire breathing girl,” conveniently concealing that this was a role Droz played in the 2013 Hollywood movie Runner Runner.

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last September, Droz was transferred to the Federal Detention Center in Tallahassee, Florida. This was clearly intended to send a chilling message to Puerto Rican activists. This is the same prison in which Liga Socialista Puertorriqueña member Ángel Rodríguez Cristóbal was found dead in his cell in 1979, with his head gashed and his body covered in bruises. Like Droz, he had been arrested at a demonstration, sentenced to six months for protesting U.S. military exercises on Puerto Rico’s island of Vieques.

From the moment the Feds seized Droz, they have singled her out for cruel treatment, including by denying her necessary medication. She has endured the torture of solitary confinement on two occasions now: for 28 days in a federal facility in Puerto Rico and, again, for 13 days in Tallahassee. In the latter case, she was explicitly punished for translating (from Spanish to English) a letter to the prison warden demanding medical treatment for prisoners with Hepatitis C, HIV, diabetes and cancer.

On February 9, Droz was transferred back to Puerto Rico, where the Comité de Amigos y Familiares de Nina Droz Franco (Committee of Family and Friends of Nina Droz Franco) held a solidarity rally. As the committee wrote in a February 8 press release: “The unequivocal goal of this prosecution has been of a political and repressive character to teach a lesson to people who seek to exercise their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and others in the face of a panorama of increased austerity.”

The treatment of Nina Droz is a stark example of the countless ways the U.S. tramples on its colonial subjects. The real criminals are the imperialists who have bloodily repressed independence fighters, including by bombing Jayuya to crush the 1950 uprising. The looters of the island’s wealth are the U.S. capitalists, together with their Puerto Rican lackeys. The latest round of plundering is taking place under the control of a management board imposed by Obama in 2016. Known as the “junta,” this U.S. body has enforced savage austerity to make the Puerto Rican working people pay the banks and hedge fund vultures for the debts racked up by the capitalists. The junta is chaired by José B. Carrión III, a member of the family dynasty whose fortune comes from Banco Popular. Cancel Puerto Rico’s debt!

It was in opposition to the junta’s attacks on jobs, education and health care that thousands of workers and students shut down the island on May 1, rallying outside the financial institutions lining San Juan’s “Golden Mile.” Cops attacked and arrested protesters, including trade-union leaders mobilizing in support of students, who were continuing a months-long strike at the University of Puerto Rico. Within an hour of the rally, owners of the Banco Popular filed a lawsuit against 42 organizations, including unions, student and leftist groups, demanding that these be banned from holding future protests. The imperialist bloodsuckers and their Puerto Rican cronies had clearly prepared a smear campaign in advance to clamp down on protests and intimidate activists, including by making an example of Droz. The fear tactics have continued—two of Droz’s supporters were arrested at a rally demanding her freedom last June.

The persecution of Nina Droz and many Puerto Rican activists before her is emblematic of the racist, colonial subjugation of the Puerto Rican nation. As opponents of national oppression and U.S. imperialism, we favor independence for Puerto Rico. The sentiment of many Puerto Ricans toward the status of their country is contradictory. There is intense hatred toward the vicious U.S. overlords; at the same time, many Puerto Ricans fear that independence would mean increased poverty on the island and loss of the ability to live and work in the U.S. We therefore stress the right of independence for Puerto Rico and seek to win the multiracial American working class to this demand. Free Nina Droz now!

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The Committee of Family and Friends of Nina Droz Franco asks that letters of solidarity be sent to: Nina Alejandra Droz-Franco, 50427069 3C, Metropolitan Detention Center, P.O. Box 2005, Cataño, P.R. 00963-2005.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1128, 23 February 2018)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.