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Candidate Profile: Manuel Rodríguez Orellana

October 19, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Manuel Rodríguez Orellana is in the unusual position of seeking election as Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in the United States Congress, despite the fact that he has publicly denied the authority of U.S. law in Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) candidate for Resident Commissioner has referred to U.S. control over the island as "cultural genocide." This summer, he said on the topic of Vieques, where scores of protesters have been arrested for trespassing on U.S. military land, "We do not recognize ... the legitimacy of the U.S. court in this matter."

Nevertheless, Rodríguez Orellana, a Senator and Professor of International Law, acknowledges the importance of convincing the U.S. government of what he believes are the moral and practical benefits of Puerto Rican independence. "The time has come for the United States to remove all of the stumbling blocks in the path to Puerto Rico’s independence, ending a century of colonialism which has been demeaning to both the colonized and the colonizer," he told a Congressional committee in 1997.

Rodríguez Orellana is a native of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico. He received two years of secondary education in Rome and went on to earn degrees from Johns Hopkins, Brown, Boston College, and Harvard.

His association with the PIP dates back to the 1970’s. In 1977, he joined the party’s Central Committee. Since that time, he has held numerous positions within the PIP, including several involving relations with the United States. He was a representative to the Puerto Rico Election Commission from 1989 until 1995, when he became an advisor on international and federal relations to PIP President Rubén Berríos Martínez, then the party’s representative in the Puerto Rican Senate.

Since the death of civilian security guard David Sanes Rodríguez during a U.S. Navy bombing exercise on Vieques in 1999, the PIP has engaged in almost constant protests and acts of civil disobedience against the Navy’s presence on the island. Rubén Berríos lived in a tent on the bombing range for almost a year after the accident. Last December, unable to perform his elected duties from his island encampment, Berríos relinquished his seat in the Senate and was replaced by Manuel Rodríguez Orellana.

As Senator, Rodríguez Orellana represented the PIP in successful negotiations with the FBI to release 8,000 dossiers that had been compiled by the U.S. government on Puerto Ricans ranging from Governor Luis Muñoz Marín to separatist leader Pedro Albizu Campos. U.S. Representative José Serrano, a native of Puerto Rico, pushed for the files’ release, which he called "part of a lengthy and important process that will allow Puerto Ricans and people all over the country and the world to learn more about this ugly chapter in our history."

Rodríguez Orellana has continued to demand the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Vieques. On August 3, he was arrested along with Rep. Victor Garcia San Inocencio (the only other PIP member in the Puerto Rico legislature) for trespassing on the island’s bombing range. After refusing to post bail, the two politicians were held in a federal prison for more than a month.

Since his release from prison, Rodríguez Orellana has resumed participating in protests against the Navy and campaigning for the office of Resident Commissioner.

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