After Negotiation, State Drops Charge Against Taino Activists

Taino Activists and Lawyers at Court House in Utuado, Puerto Rico. From left: Taina Rosado Cordova, Valeriana Shashira Rodriguez Valentin, Francisco Santiago, Jose L. Xuerix Camacho, Paolo Perez Roman, Elba Anaka Lugo, and Naniki Reyes Ocasio.

Utuado, Boriken (UCTP Taino News ) - As a result of an agreement offered by the State Prosecutor, a criminal charge accusing Taino activists of "usurpcion" was dismissed in an Utuado court on 25 April 2006.

Elba Anaka Lugo, Naniki Reyes Ocasio, Jose L. Xuerix Camacho, Taina Rosado Cordova, Edelmiro Baez, Juana Martinez, y Valeriana Shashira Rodriguez Valentin were scheduled to stand trail as a result of their arrest during the group's occupation of the Caguana Ceremonial Center in Utuado in August 2005. The Taino entered the state-run "archeological park", which they consider sacred, on 25 July to bring attention to the island-wide destruction of sacred places as well as the lack of recognition of their rights as Indigenous Peoples.

According to the terms of negotiated with the State Prosecutor, a minor charge of "contempt" would stand as the Taino technically did not appear before the court when ordered to do so during their peaceful occupation of "Caguana". A fine of $25 was imposed on each protestor for this charge.

Although this part of the process was difficult, and included 8 months of preparations, hearings and suspensions, both Lugo and Reyes Ocasio agreed that their stand was "worth the sacrifice".

"We said from the start that we wanted to be heard and that we wanted our rights to be considered as an indigenous nation" added Lugo.

The group's lawyer, Francisco Santiago, stated that "the defense maintained that the State was intent on criminalizing the freedom of expression of the accused". Santiago continued affirming that the Taino "will continue their cause using the system" and this negotiated agreement was a part of their strategy".

Although this court phase was over, the Taino now await the court's decision on their civil case appealing an injunction, which seeks to continue to prohibit "after hours" entry into Caguana by the accussed, their lawyers, their supporters, and any members of the organizations they represent.

"The imposition of this broad injunction is another example of the ongoing repression of the Taino People in Puerto Rico" stated Reyes Ocasio.

Following the dismissal of the usurpcion charge, the group along with their supporters that included two UCTP representatives and several students from the UCLA Tribal Learning Program, celebrated the decision by returning to the Caguana Ceremonial Center. Much to the surprise of the "park" staff, the Taino offered songs and prayers of thanks to their ancestors, their supporters, and to the sacred grounds themselves, which was their home for 18 days.

Plans are now being made by the organizations to commemorate the one year anniversary of the historic and precedent-setting action now known internationally as "El Grito Indigena Taino de Caguana".

Naniki Reyes Ocasio (left), and UCTP Rep. DeAnna Sarobei Rivera with Eric Sanchez, Mahshid Tarazizadeh, and Sandy Chang. Eric, Mahshid and Sandy are students from the UCLA Tribal Learning Program who made the journey to Puerto Rico to support the Taino activists.

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