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Jorge Farinacci García 1949-2006

Socialist and working class leader is remembered

Published Sep 12, 2006 10:53 PM

Jorge Farinacci García, the principal leader of the Socialist Front of Puerto Rico, died Aug. 26, after waging a year-long battle against cancer. In the political movement, we called him Fari.

Jorge Farinacci, left, at anti-war protest in San Juan.

From Saturday evening to Monday morning, more than 1,000 workers and their families, pro-independence activists from across the country, trade unionists and sympathizers of the Socialist Front filled the Ehret funeral home in the suburb of Río Piedras to pay tribute to Fari’s legacy of struggle in favor of an independent and socialist Puerto Rico.

People in the United States probably first heard of Jorge Farinacci when he, Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and 14 others were arrested in 1985. They were accused of being leaders of the Macheteros, a group the federal government accused of taking $7 million from a Wells Fargo depot in Hartford, Conn., to further the struggle for Puerto Rican independence.

Fari was born to a middle-class family in the city of San Germán. His mother was an educator and his father a business manager. The family moved to the metropolitan area of San Juan, where Fari grew up.

In 1966, he entered the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), a public university, and obtained a Political Science degree. Fari then entered the UPR Law School, graduating in 1973.

In that period, the U.S. was conducting a genocidal war against the people of Vietnam. The UPR was the center of great upheavals—strikes, occupations, confrontations with the police— directed against the ROTC and U.S. military conscription. As a result of involvement in these struggles, Fari was suspended.

He had already joined the Federación Universitaria Pro Independencia (Pro-Independence University Federation) and was a collaborator of the Movimiento Pro Independencia/MPI (Pro-Independence Movement). Fari was part of the revolutionary fervor of the time that led the MPI to form the Puerto Rican Socialist Party in the 1970s. According to Fari’s son, Tito, “Fari sympathized with socialism since his earlier youth, in part due to the influence of his grandfather on his maternal side, who had been a member of the Socialist Party of earlier years.”

He was greatly influenced by the struggle of the Vietnamese people against the U.S. and by the Cuban Revolution. A vigorous reader of Marxist literature, he had a special respect for Lenin and the other leaders of the October Revolution in Russia.

The 1970s saw an awakening of the labor movement and the pro-independence and socialist movements.

Fari gravitated towards the building of an armed revolutionary movement to oust the U.S. from Puerto Rico, and towards establishing a revolutionary working class party. In 1977 he joined the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Party (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores Puertorriqueños/PRTP), which the following year launched the Macheteros.

Hilton Fernández Diamante, who then worked with Fari, explains: “From the beginning we knew that Fari was a leader. He was very articulate and dynamic. Together with other comrades he founded the theoretical journal Pensamiento Crítico (Critical Thinking), where issues faced by the workers of Puerto Rico and throughout the world were analyzed and debated.”

The Macheteros had a vision of trying to unite the forces that wanted national independence while promoting the class interests of the workers. They also worked to stabilize the finances of the independence movement.

By 1979 the Macheteros were carrying out joint armed actions with other armed revolutionary groups, such as the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (Armed Forces of National Liberation), Fuerzas Armadas de Resistencia Popular (Armed Forces of Popular Resistance) and the Organización de Voluntarios Por la Revolución Puertorriqueña (Organization of Volunteers for the Puerto Rican Revolution).

The Macheteros became an important symbol of the armed movement to decolonize Puerto Rico from U.S. control. Some actions of the Macheteros received world attention, such as a guerrilla attack in 1981 at the Muñiz Naval Base that destroyed 11 military aircraft worth $45 million.

The Muñiz Naval Base action was done while the U.S. was carrying out savage counter-revolutionary proxy wars against the peoples of Nicaragua and El Salvador. Not only was the Muñiz Base action viewed as an act of solidarity with Central America, but it also elevated the Puerto Rican anti-colonial struggle on a world scale.

Building an armed movement, while at the same time trying to build a working class party and unite the social forces in Puerto Rican society who aspired to independence, all done clandestinely, proved to be a monumental task.

Fari had two lives.

Upon graduating in 1973 as an attorney, his first job was with the Puerto Rico Department of Labor. According to his son Tito, it “only lasted a couple of months.” He processed complaints against employers for violating workers’ rights and arbitrated cases in dispute.

He soon left the Labor Department and began working with pro-labor lawyers in the Bufete Sindical (Union Law Firm), but most of his work was with Teamsters Local 901. He negotiated contracts, defended fired employees, and participated in organizing campaigns, strikes and labor mobilizations.

When the labor movement in 1998 called a general strike to oppose the privatization sale by the PR government of the Puerto Rico Telephone Co., the Aqueduct Workers Independent Union and Teamsters Local 901 played a pivotal role in closing down Muños Marin International Airport in San Juan.

In 1981, Fari was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury for a bank robbery that had occurred in 1977. He refused to testify. Ultimately, the charges against him were dropped.

Even after his arrest in 1985 for the Wells Fargo incident, Fari was an intransigent fighter. In a plea bargain stipulation on the Wells Fargo case, Fari forced the court to acknowledge his political motivation. The stipulation said of him, “You, however, take the position that the United States government has no authority to criminalize your effort to resist the colonial subjugation of your country, Puerto Rico, and your right under international law to work for the freedom and self-determination of your homeland. You believe that the Court has no jurisdiction over you and that you are not a criminal.”

Fari admitted to approving the carrying out of the action in Hartford, but insisted that the stipulation include: “It is acknowledged by the government ... that the robbery was perpetrated to fund the goals of the Macheteros.” He spent five years in prison.

He was released in 1992 but had to serve an additional five years probation and was barred from practicing law. Nevertheless, Fari returned to work for the Teamsters and also worked as a labor law instructor at the University of Mayagüez.

On his release he joined the Socialist Front, a coalition of socialist organizations working together for the interests of the working class, where he spearheaded efforts to develop and stabilize a Cuba Solidarity Committee that organized yearly solidarity trips to Cuba.

Two years later, when the pro-independence newspaper Claridad (Clarity) was reorganized to reflect the entire patriotic movement in Puerto Rico, Fari joined its editorial board.

In 1997, as his five-year probation was ending, the U.S. government attempted to send him back to jail on alleged probation violations. It claimed Fari was consorting with known criminals by attending political demonstrations that brought him into contact with other Macheteros. Fari successfully fought this charge in court, defending his right to free speech, assembly and political association.

Milagros Rivera, chair of the Cuba Solidarity Committee, commented: “I knew Fari since our days together at the University of Puerto Rico. He not only worked tirelessly to defend Cuba but was an anti-imperialist in the internationalist sense. He not only opposed U.S. interventions throughout Latin America but also supported the struggle of the Palestinians, the liberation movements in Africa ... of the oppressed everywhere. Fari was of a new breed.”

During the struggle to oust the U.S. Navy from the island of Vieques, which involved the independence movement as a whole, Fari coordinated the efforts of the Socialist Front in organizing and providing ongoing material assistance to demonstrators. He thoroughly enjoyed, as did the entire independence movement, when the U.S. Navy was forced to leave in 2003.

Fari insisted that every arena available should be utilized to advance the struggle. Representing the Socialist Front, he testified many times before the UN Decolonization Committee, demanding self-determination for the Puerto Rican nation and that the U.S. get out. He represented the front at various Sao Paulo Forums held in Latin America and was a delegate to the Caribbean and Latin American Gathering in Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, held in Venezuela in 2004.

Fari’s commitment to help workers extended into his daily life. He founded the Instituto de Derecho Laboral (the Institute for Labor Rights), a private practice bringing together young attorneys oriented to defending workers’ rights. Union and non-union workers could consult there and gain assistance, from contract violation issues to discrimination cases, including women’s and gay rights. Often the institute’s services were provided free of charge.

If a particular union’s leadership became corrupt and unresponsive to the workers’ interests, Fari would help rank and file members establish caucuses and develop opposition slates to fight for democratic change.

Karen Vega, his secretary, said he was “in many places at the same time. While he was negotiating a labor contract, he was at the same time settling an arbitration case by phone, and while he was making statements to the press on the latest political developments, he was organizing an event on behalf of the oppressed masses.... He lived according to the dictates of his conscience, unceasingly struggling for social justice. He was a small man who had a thousand fierce, giant guerilla fighters within him.”

In the year 2000 Fari married Rosa Meneses. He and his wife got to visit their beloved Cuba on various occasions. Fari is survived by Rosa, his daughters Maritza and Natalia, and his son Tito.

A memorial meeting honoring his contributions to the struggle for social justice, independence and socialism was held on Aug. 28. Speakers from a multitude of movements and unions honored him. Messages were received from all over Latin America and from Workers World Party in the United States.