El Maestro In Latin America, Pt.1

Internationalizing The Nationalist Movement

Don Pedro accepted the mission of representing the Nationalist Party in a tour of Latin America on September 6, 1925 and did not depart from Puerto Rico until June 20, 1927. The significance of the undertaking was not lost on Don Pedro — he was so committed to making the trip that, due to very little money being raised, he and his wife decided to sell furniture and other items in their possession to help finance it. As he once told her, “If we want our movement to be a liberating movement, we cannot stop ourselves before any obstacle.” The personal sacrifice Don Pedro had to make for the trip also included being separated from his family — Laura Meneses, who was pregnant, and their two children would live for the duration of the trip with her family in Peru.

In his June 11, 1927 interview in Los Quijotes, Don Pedro provided the following analysis of Puerto Rico’s colonial situation and the real significance of his upcoming trip: “Our painful situation under the empire of the United States is the situation that North America intends to impose on all our brother peoples of the Continent. Our cause is the Continental cause… If the North American absorption in our land triumphs, the Yankee spirit of conquest will have no restraint.”

To be clear, Don Pedro also saw his trip as a continuation of the revolutionary work of Puerto Rican patriots like Ramón Emeterio Betances and Eugenio María de Hostos. Such revolutionaries, through their work to free Puerto Rico from imperial control, connected Puerto Rico’s struggle with the larger goal of achieving regional unity and security. Their cause was an Antillean cause — they sought to eventually form a confederation of the islands of the Antilles that could serve to maintain their freedom. Don Pedro saw the importance of this Antillean project but also viewed it at the level of a Continental cause. Interestingly, it is precisely in the Antilles — in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba — where Don Pedro would have the most success.

The Dominican Republic: June 21 – September 10, 1927

The Dominican Republic was two years removed from an eight-year military occupation by the United States. As director of El Nacionalista de Ponce, Don Pedro had been exchanging updates on the situation in their respective countries through correspondence with Dominican patriots. This relationship made it possible for Don Pedro to be immediately received upon his arrival on June 21 by the Dominican Nationalist Party, the Dominican press, and many others. Once received, the first action of Don Pedro was to pay a visit to the Chapel of the Immortals of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in order to pay tribute to the Dominican revolutionaries, some of which worked with Ramón Emeterio Betances, whose remains were placed there.

In his first interview in the Dominican Republic, Don Pedro stated that his work “must be mostly organizational.” He made two things clear: “It is not my purpose to make beautiful speeches to garner ephemeral applause… I want to leave here, when I go, a living and permanent body that is in charge of reproducing the palpitations of Puerto Rican nationalism outside the homeland.” By the end of his trip, his work would influence the forming of the Junta Dominicana Pro-Independencia de Puerto Rico in Santo Domingo led by Federico Henríquez y Carvajal and Américo Lugo, the Junta Nacionalista Puertorriqueña in La Romana organized by Puerto Ricans living in the Dominican Republic, and other organizations in support of Puerto Rico’s independence movement in Santiago de los Caballeros and in Puerto Plata.

While in the Dominican Republic, Don Pedro was able to engage directly with the nation’s clergy, lawyers, students, journalists, doctors, senators, and other leaders. On one occasion, according to his wife, Don Pedro was even received by then President Horacio Vásquez. Interestingly, it was also reported in a newspaper article written by Américo Lugo, President of the Dominican Nationalist Party, that “a stenographer sent by the United States Consulate” had been present at meetings with the specific intent of reporting to U.S. intelligence on Don Pedro’s activities.

Haiti: September 11-13, 1927

Departing to Cuba with letters of introduction in his possession written by prominent Dominicans to Cuban anti-imperialist activists, Don Pedro made an unscheduled stop in Haiti. With the country still under military occupation by the United States, the captain of his ship begged Don Pedro not to disembark in Puerto Príncipe. Stressing his need to be in solidarity with the Haitian people and defy U.S. authority, Don Pedro was able to get the captain to let him go in the early morning if he returned by 11am. Don Pedro, who also spoke French, immediately directed a taxi driver to take him to the monument of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, a leader in the Haitian Revolution and the country’s first President in 1804. After paying tribute, Don Pedro then asked to be taken to the home of Pierre Paul, the President of the Haitian Nationalist Party.

Received warmly by Pierre Paul, Don Pedro spoke to him about the political trip he was on and then returned to his ship. Within the hour, Paul was accompanied by fellow Haitian activist Jolibois Fils to invite Don Pedro to a champagne reception they had hastily organized for him. At this impromptu reception more than one hundred Haitian nationalists were in attendance, including members of the Haitian press, all to give support to the cause of Puerto Rican independence that Don Pedro represented. Years later, Don Pedro said this was “one of the most emotional moments of my life.”

In his brief stop in Haiti, Don Pedro made a memorable impact by deciding to defy the U.S. military occupation and set foot on Haitian soil to engage with the local nationalist movement. Having just come from the Dominican Republic he not only made a point to speak on the need for Spanish-speaking countries to support Haiti, he also specifically promoted the patriotic union of Dominicans and Haitians. Of course, even before setting foot in Haiti he had long voiced his opposition to the U.S. invasion there. For Don Pedro, the national independence of Haiti was tied to the struggle against the domination of imperialism in the Caribbean and larger region.


References:

  • Albizu Campos y la Independencia de Puerto Rico, by Laura de Albizu Campos (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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