Complete Non-Collaboration With The Empire
The principle of non-collaboration with the colonial regime was promoted by Don Pedro as soon as he returned to Puerto Rico from his university studies ten years earlier. It was his belief in it that brought him to join the Union Party when its members were being removed from and actively prevented from taking positions in government. As already mentioned, when a majority of the Party expressed their desire to enter the 1932 elections, Don Pedro only ran after first voicing his opposition.
Following the elections, Don Pedro led the Nationalist Party using the principle of complete non-collaboration with the colonial regime. Instead of the Party just refusing to accept governmental positions dependent on direct appointment, the Party would now refuse to serve in any position within the colonial government, appointed or not. The Party began attracting even more militant supporters of Puerto Rican nationalism.
A few months after the election Don Pedro said the following:
“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 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.”
After the first year of his presidency, Don Pedro showed his interest in directly supporting the struggles of workers and began to be more proactive in using his position as a political leader to do so.
In January 1931, Don Pedro made 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, he urged them to hold onto their lands at all costs and conduct a tax strike. Taking his advice, when Internal Revenue agents came to collect, the farmers refused to give any money.
In 1933, Don Pedro led 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 and achieved a significant victory against U.S.-owned gas companies. It was also the first time that troops were deployed for ‘riot prevention’ by the 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 imported, the most significant involvement Don Pedro would have in a labor struggle came in January 1934. Within the extremely lucrative, U.S. dominated sugar production industry, the Federación Libre de Trabajadores—the economic component of the Partido Socialista de Puerto Rico 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.
The strikers visited Don Pedro’s humble home made of wood in Río Piedras to ask that he lead their strike. On January 15, newspapers announced that Don Pedro accepted the request of the strikers to head their efforts. They were equally in protest of their union leaders as the contract they signed. With the strike taking place across the South and Northeast of Puerto Rico, paralyzing the industry’s largest sugar producers, Don Pedro’s leadership caused a panic within the colonial regime. 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, over the next three weeks, Don Pedro visited and spoke in almost all parts of Puerto Rico. Eventually, 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 the characteristics 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 repeated it during his travels in Latin America and then expanded it as president of the Nationalist Party. Its most detailed explanation was given in October 1935 as part of a legal case Don Pedro brought to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston as defense attorney for Luis F. Velázquez, a member of the Nationalist Party.
Don Pedro’s argument starts with the Charter of Autonomy granted to Puerto Rico by Spain in 1897. This charter, in addition to establishing an insular government in Puerto Rico, contained an article stating, “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.”
Don Pedro then 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 conclusion to be made, he argued, was that “Said Treaty is null and void as far as Puerto Rico is concerned.”
This clear, well-articulated understanding of Puerto Rico’s situation was formulated with the help of his training as a lawyer and exposure to international law during his time at Harvard. For Don Pedro, because the negotiations of the Treaty of Paris violated the rights of Puerto Rico under the Charter of Autonomy, the U.S. colonial structure in Puerto Rico was illegitimate and all opposition to it was justified.
In his view, Puerto Rico was a legally constituted nation that was militarily intervened by the United States. What he sought was to reclaim and restore Puerto Rico’s sovereignty and allow its national development to continue with the recognition and support of the rest of Latin America and the larger international community.
- 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).