Joining The Movement For Independence
Experienced in advocating for national liberation struggles, educated in several aspects of law, trained in military discipline and organization, seasoned in public speaking and debate, and, most importantly, committed to serving his country, Don Pedro had significant potential to become a successful political leader. After returning to Puerto Rico in the Summer of 1921, he eventually decided to join the Union Party of Puerto Rico, the only party that had independence as part of its political program. This fact was not at all, however, the reason that motivated him to join.
In an interview published in the magazine Poliedro on January 8, 1927, Don Pedro explained that upon his return from Harvard there were no political parties that attracted his attention. He said that, despite independence being in the Union Party’s program, they did not interest him because “they cooperated directly with the demolition work directed from Washington instead of sustaining a collective action that would allow us to preserve our wealth as a necessary base to establish our national sovereignty.” Don Pedro’s decision to join the Unionists came as a result of the governorship of Emmet Montgomery Reily, a businessman who held local offices in Texas and Missouri before being appointed Governor of Puerto Rico in July 1921.
Nicknamed “Moncho Reyes” by Puerto Ricans, Governor Reily was severely pro-American — he did not allow any flag other than that of the United States to be raised in Puerto Rico, stating in his inaugural speech that “while Old Glory floats in the United States, it will continue floating over Puerto Rico.” He furthered efforts to have Spanish replaced by English in schools as the language of instruction, and he strongly opposed all pro-independence sentiment. Attacking the Union Party in particular, he actively worked to remove them from all governmental positions they held and replace them with pro-American politicians based in the U.S. In this climate, with the Union Party thus under attack, precisely when they had zero opportunity to hold positions in government, Don Pedro joined their ranks to push for independence.
Don Pedro would eventually admit in his 1927 Poliedro interview that he “was seriously mistaken in believing that, out of the pain, a rebel party would be organized. I confused the commotion formed by those who had lost public offices with true rebellion.” He consistently sustained his push for independence at all Union Party meetings and rallies. It was in May 1924, after the leaders of the Union Party and the pro-statehood Republican Party merged into a new party called the Puerto Rican Alliance that advocated for “sovereignty inside of the sovereignty of the United States,” that Don Pedro finally withdrew from their ranks.
Membership In The Nationalist Party Of Puerto Rico
Just as immediately as he left the Union Party, Don Pedro joined the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico. Formed in September 1922 by dissident members of the Union Party, the Nationalist Party viewed independence as the only option to solve the colonial problem of Puerto Rico. At first deciding not to join the Nationalist Party, which he initially perceived as divisive, Don Pedro chose to continue his political work from within the Union Party that had a longer history, a much larger and more influential membership, and was in direct conflict with the colonial regime. When he finally joined the Nationalist Party, Don Pedro quickly began working with his usual intensity.
Ramón Mayoral Barnés, a member of the Nationalist Party’s Board of Directors and a resident of Ponce, was surprised to see a young, brilliant lawyer with so much to gain choose to join a party knowing that they “cannot offer him anything other than work and sacrifice for the independence of the homeland.” Don Pedro attended Nationalist Party meetings, gave lectures, wrote articles, and generally developed his leadership as a new member of the Party. Perhaps his most important activity was in working with Mayoral Barnés on his newspaper titled El Nacionalista de Ponce. This newspaper, printed and circulated through the tireless work of Mayoral Barnés, set the Ponce section of the Nationalist Party apart from the others.
Within the Party, both Mayoral Barnés and Don Pedro were elected as speakers in 1924. For that year’s governmental elections, Mayoral Barnés was selected by the Party to be a candidate for Mayor of Ponce, and Don Pedro was selected to be a candidate for membership in the House of Representatives. Following their electoral defeat, a Nationalist Party assembly was held on September 6, 1925 where new leadership was elected. In that assembly Don Pedro was elected as the Party’s vice-president. Additionally, the Party’s leadership also approved a resolution to send a representative to countries where they could build solidarity around the cause of Puerto Rico’s independence. Don Pedro was elected to be this representative.
In less than a year and a half, owing to his exceptional leadership qualities and sense of duty, Don Pedro joined the Nationalist Party, established his leadership in meetings and conferences, became a key part of their only newspaper, rose to the position of vice-president, and was chosen to represent them internationally. What Don Pedro would bring to the Party in terms of his approach to developing a bonafide nationalist movement would have a significant impact on Puerto Rico’s history. After returning to Puerto Rico from his campaign to build solidarity, which took place from 1927-1930, he would quickly be elected as President of the Nationalist Party, beginning his role as the foremost leader of Puerto Rico’s independence movement.
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Obras Escogidas, 1923-1936, Tomo I, edited by J. Benjamín Torres (Editorial Jelofe, 1975).