Nationalist Party Activism

El Nacionalista de Ponce

El Nacionalista de Ponce, as the only publication of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, had an important role in both sustaining an active movement for independence and serving as a vehicle for Don Pedro to develop his leadership. When he joined the Nationalist Party in May 1924, Don Pedro also took over as the newspaper’s director from Ramón Mayoral Barnés. 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. He also 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 El Nacionalista de Ponce 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 prior control by Puerto Ricans of the nation’s wealth, and the activities of the Nationalist Party, among other things. In the earliest known article written by Don Pedro in the newspaper, published on 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 in Haiti, with the economic exploitation that Puerto Rico was suffering from.

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 important for Don Pedro as he saw the two as being intimately connected. The Nationalist Party chapter in Ponce was particularly devoted to such solidarity, as was clearly shown when, in January 1927, they approved and published a resolution made independent of the larger organization that protested U.S. military aggression in Nicaragua. This clarity around a common struggle among Latin Americans, combined with a desire to act in solidarity, would no doubt help Don Pedro in his upcoming political tour of Latin America from 1927-1930.

With respect to Don Pedro’s political views, El Nacionalista de Ponce helped him to spread the unique ideas that would define his leadership within the Party. The views making up his contribution as a leader were in clear distinction to those maintained by Party leadership before him. Essentially, El Nacionalista de Ponce, under Don Pedro’s directorship, publicized the ideas and attitudes that would later influence the new direction of the Nationalist Party. Not surprisingly, soon after beginning his tour of Latin America, Don Pedro felt the newspaper’s title was no longer suitable for the vision he had for it — instead, it would be titled El Nacionalista de Puerto Rico.

The New Example Of Nationalist Leadership

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 defining the character and course that he felt should define this 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 repeatedly mentioned by Don Pedro that would later become known as his thesis “the nullity of the Treaty of Paris.”

According to Don Pedro’s thesis, 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 with regard to Puerto Rico. He argued that, because Spain had granted a form of 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 nationalists to refrain from holding any kind of public office within the colonial regime. A number of nationalists in various towns answered this call.

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 would begin his closing speech with a dramatic denunciation of the presence of the U.S. flag in Puerto Rico. This moment has been popularly remembered for Don Pedro’s gesture in response to Coll y Cuchí who, in his speech, said, “American flag, I salute you because you represent liberty and the first American republic.” Before beginning his speech Don Pedro dramatically removed each small U.S. flag from the stage and placed them in his jacket pocket, then exclaiming, “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.”

In his essay on the ‘forging’ of Don Pedro’s leadership between 1924 and 1930, the historian Amílcar Tirado Avilés makes an important observation regarding this article from July 1926. Tirado Avilés highlights both the influence of Don Pedro and the “new orientation of nationalism” made clear by the author of the 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.”

This call to gather immediately to draft a constitution — to hold a Constituent Convention — was another foundational concept that Don Pedro brought to the Nationalist Party, one that would be largely ignored until it suddenly became a central focus of all the island’s main political parties in a rarely discussed period of 1936. As far as these early years within the Nationalist Party, Don Pedro developed considerable influence and was beginning to make a significant impact on the nationalist movement that he would represent on his tour of Latin America.


References:

  • 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).

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