ST. PAUL - In the United States, Puerto Ricans are the second-largest Latino group across the nation.
Right now, Puerto Rico faces bankruptcy and finds itself the middle of an economic crisis.
In Minnesota, Puerto Ricans with ties to the Caribbean island and unincorporated U.S. territory are trying to lift their voices in support.
“I may be Puerto Rican here but going back we don't go there for vacation. We go to visit our families affected by this,” Maria Isa Perez-Hedges said. “You are talking about a 73-billion-dollar debt that was not caused by our people. It was caused by the government that determines how we have to live and believe. We are here to stand up against that and educate how we can work together.”
Maria Isa Perez-Hedges is a member of the committee, Puerto Ricans in Minnesota.
As part of their efforts to help they called on a 74-year-old at the center of controversy, Oscar Lopez Rivera. He spent two days in the Twin Cities speaking about the economic issues and political status of Puerto Rico.
During the last month of his presidency, Obama was heavily criticized when he commuted Rivera's 55-year sentence. Some have called Rivera a terrorist due to his involvement with Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN). The group was accused of setting off bombs at government and corporate buildings in the U.S. as it fought for Puerto Rico's independence. One of their most deadly attacks killed four people and injured nearly 60 others in New York. The year was 1975.
“People can describe me as anything they want. I am not going to tell people how to describe me,” he said. “There is not a shred of evidence that can put me in any place where a human life has been taken or a person has been injured,” he said. “I was accused of seditious conspiracy to overthrown the govt of the United State in Puerto Rico by use of force. I spent 35 years, 11 months and two weeks in prison.”
By contrast, Rivera joined FALN after he served in the Vietnam War and earned a bronze star.
Earlier this week, the Rivera made headlines when President Trump tried to compare his pardon of Arizona's ex Sheriff to Rivera's clemency.
Rivera still maintains his innocence but also pledges to help Puerto Rico decolonize.
And he says that moving forward is up to the next generation. And that includes millennials like Perez-Hedges.
“Moments dictate what we need to do. Nations evolve,” he said. “Young people are the future of every society. There are a lot of young people in this country.”
Rivera and many others he met with in Minnesota consider Puerto Rico an American colony.
They would like it to be its own nation. Earlier this year, legislation was introduced that would allow Puerto Rican voters to decide whether Puerto Rico becomes its own independent country.
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