Marking A New Era Of Struggle
Returning to Puerto Rico on January 4, 1930 without fanfare, Don Pedro set to work reestablishing his law practice and reorganizing El Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, which had stopped being published in his absence. He also resumed his political work, attending meetings and conferences, conducting interviews, and writing articles for newspapers. Without a doubt, Don Pedro’s return would prove to be a turning point in Puerto Rico’s history. As Juan Antonio Corretjer wrote, it is here that “The most legendary career of any public man Puerto Rico has known begins to form.”
At the Nationalist Party assembly held on May 11, 1930 in the Ateneo Puertorriqueño of San Juan, in which Don Pedro would be confirmed as their new President, he had the opportunity to address representatives of other political parties. Following the remarks made by representatives of the Liberal Party, formerly the Union Party, the Constitutional Socialist Party, and the Puerto Rican Alliance, Don Pedro said, “We are united on fundamental questions and divided by tactical questions of a transitory nature. Therefore I would like to see realized the unity of all the parties for the immediate recognition of the independence of Puerto Rico.”
Don Pedro also spoke extensively on his travels in Latin America, issuing a severe critique of the behavior of Party leadership during his absence. Besides failing to provide him much-needed financial assistance, leadership had allowed the Party to become disorganized. Even worse in his view, on one occasion leadership accepted an invitation to La Fortaleza by Theodore Roosevelt, the appointed Governor at the time, where they shared space with various colonial authorities and leadership from other political parties. To this, Don Pedro said, “A frank and definitive nationalist ideology must be postulated against the invaders. There is no margin for a fraternal and solidary attitude towards the enemies of the homeland.” Though receiving cheers, Don Pedro’s bold statements did cause the very founder of the Nationalist Party, José Coll y Cuchí, and others, to leave the assembly — they would also leave the Party.
Finally confirmed as the Party’s new President in the early morning hours, Don Pedro made his inaugural statement, saying, in part: “Let us carry out an intense work of refined nationalism with a defined orientation and program of action… An optimistic philosophy must inform all our actions. Raining on our people is a pessimistic doctrine that demoralizes and cowards them, and that we must tackle at all times. It is necessary to raise the public spirit of Puerto Rico and tell it that it can become what it wants and conquer its independence if its will so desires.” With the audience standing on their feet with one hand in the air, Don Pedro then said: “Let us solemnly swear here that we will defend the nationalist ideal and that we will sacrifice our property and our life if necessary for the independence of our homeland.”
The 1932 Election Campaign
When Don Pedro was confirmed as President, the Nationalist Party also agreed on the immediate focus of their work. Their program stated: “The immediate suppression of North American colonialism cannot be postponed, and the Party commits to celebrate the Constitutional Convention that establishes in Puerto Rico the government of a free, sovereign and independent republic, as soon as it receives the vote of the majority.” With this program, the Party began an energetic campaign in large part focused on securing votes in the 1932 elections. The Party, under Don Pedro’s leadership, would only, however, run for positions dependent on public votes and would not consider those appointed positions determined by the U.S. President or other colonial authorities. Neither would they enter into any agreements with other political parties.
Besides public meetings, rallies, their own or other newspapers publishing their articles, the Party found an extremely effective tool for campaigning in the radio. Almost every Sunday night Don Pedro would utilize the radio to broadcast speeches that were widely listened to in homes, shops, and clubs all over Puerto Rico — in the main plaza of San Juan an amplifier was even used that allowed a huge crowd to listen in. This would end by the end of 1931 when, several months before the election, individuals aligned with American interests succeeded in getting the radio corporation to cease transmissions of Don Pedro. Around this same time, the newspaper El Mundo, which had the largest circulation among newspapers in Puerto Rico, also began to limit the publication of articles written by Nationalist Party members.
With the Nationalist Party effectively censored in the media, the political propaganda of other parties, all of which were allied with U.S. interests in some way, was now given an upper hand in what the public was exposed to. After the elections were held in November 1932, Don Pedro said the following: “In these elections that we have just witnessed, the factions of the government have resorted to all methods to raise the lowest passions in the masses, resorting to all forms of bribery. Something unheard of has been used: the kidnapping of voters.” Indeed, in addition to the buying and selling of votes, an incredible voter suppression tactic was used whereby people in the countryside would be given transportation to voting locations but were then locked up in warehouses, corrals, slaughterhouses, and other places until voting was over.
Not surprisingly, the Nationalist Party was defeated in the elections. Receiving a total of about five thousand votes, Don Pedro proclaimed: “Five thousand nationalists have responded to the proclamation to immediately establish the republic! If the majority had responded to this patriotic clarion call, the Constitutional Convention of the Republic would be gathered at this time… The Liberation Army, which has 5,000 places, is constituted under the motto: Valor y Sacrificio!” The experience, however, made it very clear to Don Pedro that the electoral arena was not the proper venue for the independence movement. In his view, “The victory of Puerto Ricans over Puerto Ricans is the defeat of the homeland.” Never again would the Party take part in an election in Puerto Rico — the electoral boycott was now a principle of the struggle.
- La Lucha por la Independencia de Puerto Rico, by Juan Antonio Corretjer (Liga Socialista Puertorriqueña, 1949).
- 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).