El Nacionalista De Ponce
El Nacionalista de Ponce, the only publication of the Nationalist Party, served as a significant vehicle for Don Pedro to develop his leadership. When Don Pedro joined the Party in May 1924, Ramón Mayoral Barnés handed over directorship of the newspaper to him. In 1933, during the memorial services for Mayoral Barnés, Don Pedro highlighted the significant amount of work Mayoral Barnés personally put in to print and circulate the newspaper in Puerto Rico and spoke about there being a critical point in 1924 when it seemed the nationalist movement was reduced to three people, including himself and Mayoral Barnés.
As director of the newspaper, Don Pedro used it to directly address and highlight the issues he felt to be of real importance: the colonial condition of Puerto Rico, the global influence of U.S. imperialism, the role of the U.S. military in the domination of Puerto Rico, the activities of the Nationalist Party, and other topics. In the earliest known article written by Don Pedro in the newspaper, published July 13, 1924, he discussed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Santo Domingo and made a comparison between the imperialist intervention there, in Mexico and Haiti, with the situation in Puerto Rico.
Besides providing a critical analysis of Puerto Rico’s colonial situation, a clear focus of the newspaper was also to bring light to the situation in other countries. Connecting the independence struggle in Puerto Rico to the stability and security of Latin America in general was an important part of this for Don Pedro as he saw the two as being intimately connected. The Nationalist Party chapter in Ponce was particularly devoted to this solidarity work, as was clearly shown when, in January 1927, it approved and published a resolution made independent of the larger organization in protest of U.S. military aggressions in Nicaragua. This perspective based on a common struggle among Latin Americans, combined with a desire to act in solidarity, later helped Don Pedro during his political tour of Latin America.
With respect to Don Pedro’s political views, El Nacionalista de Ponce helped him to contribute and spread the ideals that would define his future leadership within the Party, views in clear distinction to those maintained by the Party’s leadership before him. El Nacionalista de Ponce, under Don Pedro’s directorship, had an important role in publicizing the ideas and attitudes that later influenced the direction of the Nationalist Party. Soon after beginning his tour of Latin America, Don Pedro wrote back to Ponce and expressed his feeling that the newspaper’s title no longer fit the vision he had for it. From that point forward the newspaper was titled El Nacionalista de Puerto Rico.
Boycotting The Colonial Regime
As a quickly rising leader in the Nationalist Party that also directed a newspaper able to spread his message, Don Pedro wasted no time in elaborating the character and course he felt should define the new nationalist movement. On July 28, 1924, an article was published in El Nacionalista de Ponce where he presented his argument that the U.S. government’s control over Puerto Rico, as an attack on and denial of its national sovereignty, was illegal. This argument, based on international law, would be a foundational concept Don Pedro repeatedly mentioned.
According to Don Pedro, as published in January 1927 and outlined in notes he made while in Cuba later that year, the Treaty of Paris that ended the Spanish-American War was null and void regarding Puerto Rico. He argued that, because Spain had granted autonomy to Puerto Rico in 1897 and Puerto Rico was not part of the negotiations in Paris:
“Spain had no right to cede our country to the United States, and the latter could not demand the handing over of the same for any reason.”
With this understanding that the ruling government in Puerto Rico was illegal, Don Pedro, from the beginning of his membership in the Nationalist Party, called on the Party’s members to refrain from holding any kind of public office within the colonial regime. Several nationalists in various towns answered this call.
Honoring The Flag
The most visible aspect of the new kind of leadership Don Pedro represented was based around his insistence that only the Puerto Rican flag, as symbol of the nation, be used at public events of the Nationalist Party. In a Party meeting held in San Juan’s Baldorioty Plaza on July 16, 1926, to commemorate the death of José de Diego—attended by some 3,000 people—Don Pedro began his closing speech with a strong denunciation of the presence of the U.S. flag in Puerto Rico.
This moment has been popularly remembered because of Don Pedro’s dramatic gesture in response to José Coll y Cuchí who, in his speech, said, “American flag, I salute you because you represent liberty and the first American republic.” Don Pedro silently removed each small U.S. flag from the stage, placed them in his jacket pocket, and began to speak, saying:
“Flag of the United States, I do not salute you because although it is true that you are the symbol of a free and sovereign nation, in Puerto Rico you represent piracy and pillage.”
As reported on July 24 in El Nacionalista de Ponce, Don Pedro continued “by stating that Mr. Coll y Cuchí had been too noble to pay such an eloquent salute to the flag of the United States, when that flag was raised on the backs of black people and continues to be sustained by the slavery of those same unfortunate people and of exploited immigrants from Europe and when it actually is a mourning symbol for all of humanity.”
Calling For A Constitutional Convention
In his essay on the ‘forging’ of Don Pedro’s leadership from 1924-1930, historian Amílcar Tirado Avilés highlights the influence of Don Pedro and the “new orientation of nationalism” alluded to by the author of that July article in the following closing statement: “We will attend to every right, that of revolution if necessary, as Albizu Campos rightly said, although for now our Party wants to definitively unmask Yankee imperialism, proposing that the people of Puerto Rico gather immediately to draft the constitution that is to govern the destinies of the Republic of Puerto Rico.” What the author’s statement reveals is support for Don Pedro’s acceptance of revolutionary struggle and the call to hold a constitutional convention to form an independent republic.
This call for political leaders to gather immediately to draft a constitution was another foundational concept that Don Pedro brought to the Nationalist Party. While it was largely ignored at first, it suddenly became a central focus of all the island’s main political parties in a rarely discussed period of 1936. Of considerable importance within Don Pedro’s views, the call for a constitutional convention can be appreciated as being what Don Pedro believed to be the only diplomatic option to emerge from colonialism as a nation, the convention being an inclusive and democratic national process that could not be controlled by the U.S. government. The non-diplomatic option was revolution.
Don Pedro developed considerable influence in these early years as a member of the Nationalist Party and was beginning to make an impact on the nationalist movement. It was here when he would represent the Party and its cause on a tour of Latin America.
- La Forja de un Líder: Pedro Albizu Campos, 1924-1930, by Amílcar Tirado Avilés in La Nación Puertorriqueña: Ensayos En Torno A Pedro Albizu Campos (Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1997).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Escritos, edited by Laura Albizu-Campos Meneses and Fr. Mario A. Rodríguez León, O.P. (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2007).
- 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).