BROTHER VS. BROTHER IN PUERTO RICO
National Guard soldiers, under orders of the United States, occupy the town of Jayuya. The town was partially destroyed by US artillery and martial law was declared throughout the entire island. Since federal agents and communication regulations heavily controlled the media in and out of Puerto Rico, people in the US mainland were mostly unaware of the Nationalist uprising and subsequent retaliation by US armed forces. This silent civil war, although short-lived, had many casualites and consequences in US/ Puerto Rico relations for years to come.
or those who follow Latin American history, there are specific moments of great social and political upheaval that have huge significance in each of the countries of our Americas. We may quickly think of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, the overthrow of the elected Allende government in Chile, the American invasion of the Dominican Republic or of Panama, and other such important developments that continue to shape the modern histories of those respective countries. Easily forgotten are moments that are forcibly erased from the annals of history -- moments which the powerful wish to bury in order to deny the brutality of the system they maintain.
These moments abound in the modern history of Puerto Rico -- some examples include the repression of left-wing movements by the United States, the forced migration of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican workers in an effort to lower unemployment rates on the island, the sterilization of 30% of Puerto Rican women without their consent or knowledge, and the fury with which Puerto Rican Nationalists responded in 1950 when faced with the efforts of the United States to lie to the United Nations, when presenting the new 'Commonwealth' system of government on the island.
These were the late 1940s, a tumultuous time in the political history of Puerto Rico. The presence of the FBI was being felt on the island; the local Police and National Guard forces had declared war on the pro-independence Nationalists and these, in turn, had declared war on the United States and its representatives. Nationalists had been brutally murdered by local police and in turn Nationalists responded by assassinating the local American police chief. The President of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Harvard-educated lawyer and chemist Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, was returning to Puerto Rico in 1947 after a ten-year stint in American prisons and probation time served here in New York City. He had been convicted, along with other leaders of the Nationalist Party, following the assassination of police chief Riggs in 1936.
Continuing his efforts to organize the people towards the emancipation of the island, Albizu traveled the island making speeches in favor of independence, an act that defied existing laws prohibiting speeches supporting independence. He declared: "It is not easy to give a speech while we have our mother laying in bed and an assassin waiting to take her life. Such is the present situation of our country, of our Puerto Rico; the assassin is the power of the United States of North America...Our blood boils and patience beats at our hearts and tells me that patience must end, that it must disappear, and that the day of Lares must be the day of Lares, that is, the day of the Puerto Rican revolution."
TAKING A STANCE
Fiercely passionate about gaining sovereignty for Puerto Rico, Dr. Pedro Albízu Campos became the spirit of the fight to free the island from US dominion. Critics claim that Albízu Campos failed to attract and offer concrete solutions to the struggling poor and working class people and thus was unable to spread the revolution to the masses.
Albizu Campos refused to recognize the legitimacy of the United States' presence in Puerto Rico. "...Within international rights Puerto Rico was a sovereign nation on the date in which the Treaty of Paris was drawn up, and Spain could neither give away Puerto Rico nor could the US annex it, nor the entire world disown it. This sovereignty is irrevocable and when the United States, through its cannons, forced the Spanish plenipotentiaries to sign the so-called cession of Puerto Rico it was committing a typical North American stick-up. And this co-action against the Spanish had no part of the Spanish American war, it was never a belligerent against the US or anyone else, and here the Yanquis have been at war for 52 years against the Puerto Rican nation, and have never acquired the right of anything in PR, nor is there any legal government in PR, and this is uncontestable, one would have to knock to pieces all the international rights of the world, all political rights, to validate the invasion of the US in PR and the present military occupation of our national territory."
Having been met with brutal repression against his movement, Albizu decided that open revolution was the only method with which to respond. Upon his return to Puerto Rico in 1947, he declared: "I come to tell you all that it is time for a decision to be made. The hour has come to resolve this and that hour cannot wait." Striking the tone of confrontation, Albizu declared "It is up to us to confront this despotism".
At that time, Congress was discussing and planning the creation of the Commonwealth in Puerto Rico, with which they would declare that Puerto Rico was no longer a colony of the United States, with which they would declare that Puerto Ricans were given a voice in their destiny, with which they would declare that Puerto Ricans had self-government and their own Constitution. The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and most other independence supporters rejected this process, claiming that it did not change the colonial relationship between the two countries. They claimed that the US was pulling the wool over the eyes of the international community.
The Nationalists knew that inscriptions and registrations for the upcoming vote on the Constitution and Commonwealth would be taking place late that year, around November 1950. They felt that a Constitution that had to be amended and approved by Congress and the President of the US was not a true exercise of self-government or of a free people determining their own future. They saw the continued control of the United States over Puerto Rico being perpetuated for years to come. Something had to be done and international attention had to be called to the situation.
OUR WOMEN, OUR STRUGGLE
Blanca Canales, left, who led the Nationalist group in Jayuya and who proclaimed Puerto Rico’s independence in that central mountain town, was one of several women in the fight for Puerto Rican independence during the 1950s.
Nationalists began preparations for an island-wide revolution slated for November 1950. Police raids and sweeps forced them to expedite the date of the uprising; from October 27th through November 10, 1950, hundreds of Nationalists rose up in arms across Puerto Rico - Ponce, Peńuelas, Utuado, Arecibo, Jayuya, San Juan, Naranjito, Mayaguez, and Washington, D.C. With unexpected police raids the morning of October 27th, Albizu gave the order for the nationwide uprising to take place on October 30th.
In the town of Peńuelas, the nationalists exchanged fire with the police who came to raid their meeting house. In Arecibo, they attacked the local police precinct and tried to make their way to the agreed upon meeting point of Utuado, where other contingents were attacking federal installations as well.
In the town of Jayuya, Blanca Canales led the group of nationalists into town as the group attacked federal installations, battled local police and raised the flag of Puerto Rico (which was illegal to own in those days) over the town. She read the proclamation officially declaring the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. It was a moment reminiscent of the Grito de Lares of 1868, when Puerto Ricans rose up against Spanish rule and declared independence.
The National Guard and local police were called out to respond to the uprising. Fighter aircraft were scrambled and shot and bombarded the towns of Jayuya and Utuado indiscriminately, destroying 70% of the town of Jayuya and even riddling school buildings with bullet holes. People were shot in the streets by police and Guardsmen as they walked about or attempted to get away. Families were warned to stay indoors with their doors open lest they risk being attacked by the armed forces and their planes. Witnesses describe the scene as filled with chaos and terror once the Guard and the attacking airplanes arrived.
In Utuado, local policemen assassinated several Nationalists who had surrendered and were unarmed. The men were being walked to the local precinct but instead were turned into a side street, and as they held up their pants with one hand (their belts were taken away) and held up the other hand in surrender, they were riddled with bullets and left to die in the street.
In San Juan, a nationalist commando unit attempted to assassinate the governor, Luis Muńoz Marin, who had all but declared his own war on the Nationalist Party and who took credit for the creation and institution of the Commonwealth system. They were unsuccessful in their goal but made it through the main gate and into the main entrance area of the governor's mansion.
The Nationalists of Naranjito and Mayagüez were the only ones to wage a guerrilla struggle to keep the uprising going. The units in Naranjito fought local forces until November 10th, when they came down from the mountains and surrendered.
CASUALTY OF THE REVOLUTION
The body of Griselio Torresola Roura after the attempt on President Truman’s life at Blair House, Washington, DC. Oscar Collazo, the other Nationalist who participated in the attempted assassination of President Truman, survived and served 29 years in prison until released by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
President Truman was asked about the occurrences in Puerto Rico and he dryly stated that it was an internal matter among Puerto Ricans -- even though he and Congress had the final say over the proposed Commonwealth and Constitution. The next day, November 1st, Griselio Torresola Roura and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate President Truman. Their mission was to refute the notion of this as an internal matter in Puerto Rico and call international attention to the case of Puerto Rico's continued colonization. They wanted to officially let the world know that there were Puerto Ricans not willing to accept colonialism as a way of life and wanted to show the world that the federal government of the US was responsible.
Four years later, the famous attack on Congress by Puerto Rican Nationalists took place for the same reason -- to denounce the continued colonization of Puerto Rico, to reject the lies presented at the UN by the US including reporting that Puerto Rico was no longer a colony because they were now a Commonwealth, and to demand the attention of the world on their cause.
Recently, Luis Fraticelli, head of the FBI Office in Puerto Rico, publicly expressed frustration at how many Puerto Ricans express admiration for Nationalist heroes like Lolita Lebron and Rafael Cancel Miranda as well as how people express respect for Los Macheteros, when in his opinion, those folks are nothing but people convicted of criminal acts and do not deserve admiration. It was Fraticelli who made the apprehension of Comandante Filiberto his number one priority and who therefore should be held responsible, along with the colonialist government of the United States, for the assassination of our venerated national hero.
He mentioned acts committed by Puerto Rican revolutionary forces in the past several decades. Indeed, the FALN opened up a new “front” in their revolutionary war for Puerto Rico’s independence by bombing targets in the United States in late October of 1974 and 1975, commemorating the Nationalist Uprising of 1950.
What he fails to understand and what he consciously seeks to undermine is our sense of national patriotism as Puerto Ricans. The enemy does not want us to be proud of ourselves, of our history of struggling for freedom, and of our heroes who have fought and sacrificed in order to make our freedom an inevitable reality. It is precisely the FBI and the US government that has sought to destroy our identity as Puerto Ricans from the very moment they invaded our island. The atrocities they have committed against our lands and against our people must be remembered, for it is their enduring legacy in Puerto Rico. They have done nothing except suck the wealth out of our nation, experiment on our lands and people, and violently attack those of us who seek freedom as our natural right. They will demonize those Puerto Ricans who stand for pride and strength and freedom, like our Nationalist Heroes and like our respected national army of freedom fighters, Los Macheteros. And that is the function of those at the service of imperialism, like Louis Fraticelli, who condemn their fellow human beings to a collective life of slavery and oppression.
But there is a new dawn rising over our nation; the history that has been written by our Nationalist Heroes, by our compatriots in exile, and by our national army of freedom fighters, Los Macheteros. This history has proven that colonialism belongs on the ash heap of history, and that more importantly, Puerto Ricans are capable of defending what they hold dear - their nationality, their identity, their land, and their inalienable right to freedom.
SHOOT TO KILL
National Guardsmen, many of them Puerto Ricans, used machine guns, rifles and pistols in addition to heavy artillery to put down the Puerto Rican uprising. Buildings were destroyed and many people died during this short-lived battle. The government filtered the news so people in the US mainland were not aware of the events for some time. Simultaneously, the United States sent hundreds of Puerto Ricans to fight in the Korean War.
Today, everyone sees what the Nationalists saw in 1950. The Commonwealth system is indeed a farce and a failure and the votes in 1950-1952 were not, as Congress admits today, an exercise in self-determination. Even the United Nations now votes every year calling for Puerto Rico’s self-determination and independence.
The United States and its agents will continue to wonder how we can call these people heroes as the ranks of those heroes continues to swell. The Nationalist Uprising of 1950 served as a call to arms, a cry for international help, and a declaration of our natural rights. Puerto Rican heroes will continue to be born and bred to fight and struggle for our Nation until the dawn of emancipation rises over the glorious hills of Jayuya, Naranjito, and Mayaguez – only then will our spirits rest and rejoice. Until then, we offer our respect and admiration to those who sacrificed it all to reject the violence of colonialism: the martyrs and freedom fighters of 1950 who will forever be immortalized in the long history of the Puerto Rican resistance movement.
JUAN ANTONIO OCASIO RIVERA
For further reading, there is a well-detailed account of the 1950 revolt in Spanish titled, La Insurrección Nacionalista en Puerto Rico 1950, by Mińi Seijo Bruno. It was published by Editorial Edil in 1989.