Leading A Principled Movement

Complete Non-Collaboration With The Empire

Following the 1932 elections Don Pedro would refocus the Nationalist Party under the principle of non-collaboration with the colonial regime. In actuality, he had promoted this principle as soon as he returned to Puerto Rico from his university studies. It was his belief in non-collaboration with the regime that brought him to join the Union Party in the very moment when its members were being removed from and actively prevented from taking positions in government. According to his wife, when Don Pedro became President of the Nationalist Party he only supported their taking part in the elections after first voicing opposition.

The principle of non-collaboration simply gained a new element: retraimiento, or the boycotting of elections. Whereas the Party had refused to accept positions dependent on direct appointment by the U.S. President or other colonial authorities and campaigned only for publicly elected positions, the Party would now refuse to serve in any position within the colonial government. Now more than ever, the Party would attract the most dedicated supporters of Puerto Rico’s independence.

A few months after the election, Don Pedro said the following of the militant character wanted in Party members: “We do not want cowards in our ranks, not a single one. We do not want the undisciplined in our ranks, because indiscipline is a cancer worse than treason. Men and women who do not know how to obey do not know how to command either. The work of a people is forged with labor, with virtue, and with courage, and that is the message that the names of De Diego and Suárez Díaz leave us.”

Supporting Workers’ Struggles

In a February 1930 interview Don Pedro made a statement about the ownership of wealth in Puerto Rico that he maintained throughout his leadership: “It is necessary to repeat always and at all times: that the land, the communication routes, the maritime fronts and everything that represents real wealth in Puerto Rico must belong to Puerto Ricans.” Being a person of action, one way the sentiments expressed by Don Pedro would be translated was his willingness to provide leadership to Puerto Rican workers.

In January 1931 he would make his first call for workers, in this case farmers, to conduct a strike. With small- and medium-sized farmers facing foreclosure by the Federal Land Bank of Baltimore for not being able to pay their mortgage loans, Don Pedro urged them to hold onto their lands at all costs and to conduct a tax strike. Taking his advice, the farmers refused to give any money to Internal Revenue agents when they came to collect. In 1933 he would lead an even more successful strike that put Puerto Rico in a virtual standstill. Protesting the high prices of gasoline, public transportation workers, again through the influence of Don Pedro, refused to work for some time and achieved a significant victory against U.S.-owned gas companies. This would also be the first time that troops were deployed for riot prevention by the colonial government in response to Don Pedro’s activities.

Also leading a successful protest against low quality, high priced bread, which he attributed to the low quality of flour being brought in to Puerto Rico, the most significant involvement Don Pedro would have in a workers’ struggle would come in January 1934. Within the extremely lucrative sugar production industry increasingly dominated by U.S. corporations, the Free Federation of Workers — the economic component of Puerto Rico’s Socialist Party and affiliate of the American Federation of Labor — signed an agreement with industry leadership that was not in the interest of the actual workers of the industry. In response, the workers of the Central Fajardo sugar company declared a strike to demand, among other things, a higher salary.

On January 15 newspapers announced that Don Pedro had accepted the request of the strikers, who were equally in protest of their union leaders as the contract they signed, to head their efforts. With the strike taking place across the South and Northeast of Puerto Rico, paralyzing the industry’s largest sugar producers, Don Pedro’s arrival caused a panic within the colonial regime. Immediately, the police were increased in size, armed with machine guns and automatic weapons, and sent to the factories on strike to intimidate workers. Despite this, Don Pedro maintained his leadership and the workers secured a historic victory that included the sought-after wage increase.

The Nullity Of The Treaty Of Paris

Possibly the most important principle held by Don Pedro, on which, it can be argued, all of the manifestations of his leadership were grounded, is ‘the nullity of the Treaty of Paris.’ Having first published the concept in El Nacionalista de Ponce in January 1927, Don Pedro would repeat it during his travels in Latin America and then expand it as President of the Nationalist Party. Its most detailed explanation would be given in October 1935 as part of a case that Don Pedro brought to the U.S. Supreme Court while serving as an attorney in defense of a member of the Nationalist Party.

Don Pedro’s argument begins with the Charter of Autonomy approved of and granted to Puerto Rico by Spain in 1897. This Charter, in addition to establishing an insular government in Puerto Rico, contained a critical Second Article among a set of Additional Articles that stated: “Once the present Constitution for the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico has been approved by the Courts of the Kingdom, it may not be modified except by virtue of a law and at the request of the Insular Parliament.” From there, Don Pedro points out the fact that the Treaty of Paris signed in 1898, which resulted in Spain ceding Puerto Rico to the United States, “was not negotiated by Puerto Rican plenipotentiaries, nor was it ratified by the Parliament of Puerto Rico, in accordance with the Autonomous Charter.” The final conclusion to be made, he argued, was that “Said Treaty is null and void as far as Puerto Rico is concerned.”

With awareness of this principle of the nullity of the Treaty of Paris — so well developed thanks to his being a lawyer fully acquainted with international law from his time at Harvard — it is easy to understand how Don Pedro would promote non-collaboration with the colonial regime, the forming of general strikes against U.S. corporate interests, and other aspects that defined his leadership as President of the Nationalist Party. For Don Pedro, because the negotiations of the Treaty of Paris violated the rights of Puerto Rico, all U.S. authority in Puerto Rico was illegitimate and all opposition to this authority was justified.


References:

  • El Movimiento Libertador en la Historia de Puerto Rico, by Ramón Medina Ramírez (San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1970).
  • 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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