Remembering José Colón

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Photo by Sean Black
Photo by Sean Black

José Fernando Colón, a long-time activist based in his native home of Puerto Rico, died in May. Born in 1952 and a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico, Colón worked as a language teacher, translator, and writer. Among his accomplishments, he helped to found Pacientes de SIDA pro Política Sana (AIDS Patients for Sane Policy) in order to fight for equal access to HIV/AIDS-related healthcare. Colón helped to uncover the embezzlement of Ryan White funds by politicians, lawyers, and administrative medical personnel at the San Juan AIDS Institute from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. By draining money away from lifesaving treatments, the embezzlers contributed to poor access (Colón faced this firsthand when he developed PCP) and the deaths of individuals living with HIV/AIDS (including his partner at the time who had died because he had been denied treatment). Later, Colón and his new love, Anselmo Fonseca, created Pacientes de SIDA pro Política Sana, a self-funded non-profit watchdog group that excluded federal and pharmaceutical grants. Their work helped bring greater accountability to AIDS funding and secured more “sane policies” that protected patients living with HIV/AIDS rather than exploited them.

His work was recognized by many and he received many awards and honors, including a Community Hero award from Los Angeles-based Alianza; and a 2009 Citizen of the Year award from the National Social Workers Union, PR Chapter; as well as being made an Honorary Citizen of the Municipality of Caguas, Puerto Rico. He made a point to share credit for his awards with his partner, Anselmo, who now survives him.

For information about the work of Pacientes de SIDA pro Política Sana, log on to: www.propoliticasana.org. Follow on Facebook here.

Read Patricia Nell Warren’s article about Colón by clicking here.