Building A National Movement
The Nationalist Party under the leadership of Don Pedro became a bona fide national movement. As he traveled across the territory of Puerto Rico educating the masses about their colonial situation, the heroes and symbols that define their history, and the actions they could take to secure their freedom, he led the organization of a movement.
The level of organization achieved, unparalleled in the history of the Nationalist Party or any movement for independence in Puerto Rico, would become a serious threat to the colonial regime. It was quickly a real national movement with representation throughout Puerto Rico.
The Party was organized with a governing body at its head known as the Junta Nacional, presided over by Don Pedro and the top leadership of the Party. Under this body, the Party was organized into Juntas Municipales based in the various municipalities, each junta having its own board of directors in charge of membership, activities, and other matters. A declassified document shows how well-organized the Party was in 1936.
Based on an investigation made from February 10-20, 1936, FBI agents concluded, “the Nationalist Party Movement is well spread throughout the Island of Puerto Rico. In each locality there exist a Junta locals (local council) with the respective officers.” The document goes on to provide the names for the president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, and other positions in 33 municipalities. The list, for some reason, does not include other municipalities that were also known to have an organized Nationalist Party presence, such as Ponce, Jayuya, and Caguas.
The Liberation Army Of Puerto Rico
In an interview conducted while in the Dominican Republic published in El Mundo on July 16, 1927, Don Pedro said the following:
“Puerto Rico has to pose a serious crisis to the colonial administration in order to be attended to in its demand… A nation like the United States, with enormous national and international problems, does not have time to attend to submissive and servile men. Required is the formation of an organization that encompasses the entire people of Puerto Rico and that definitively breaks with the colonial regime, and asks of the free nations the recognition of our independence in order to achieve the concentration of the American mind on our situation.”
This was Don Pedro’s mindset as the new president of the Nationalist Party. It remained so for as long as he held the position.
The possibility of needing to commit to an armed revolution was another aspect of Don Pedro’s views that he felt the people, in support of their liberation, must also be open to. He spoke more openly about this following the 1932 elections. Not only was he inspired by the 1916 Easter Uprising in Ireland, but he was committed to upholding the example set forth by the revolutionary heroes of El Grito de Lares.
On March 23, 1931, the Asociación Patriótica de Jóvenes Puertorriqueños was formed, the precursor to the Cuerpo de Cadetes de la República formed the following year. The purpose of this organization, he explained in 1936, was “to increase discipline, improve the physical condition of all Party members and increase their devotion to the homeland.”
As outlined in Nelson Denis’ book centered around the Nationalist Insurrection of 1950, the Corps of Cadets “underwent a full training program that included marching, field tactics, self-defense, and survival. Since they had no firearms, they trained and marched with wooden rifles.” The Cadets had over a dozen recruiting stations throughout Puerto Rico, were active in twenty-one towns, had a membership of over 10,000 by 1936, and were divided into fifty companies of two hundred cadets, “each with a command structure of sergeants, captains, colonels, and one commander in chief, Raimundo Díaz Pacheco.” They conducted weekly military drills and their military formations were a regular presence at Nationalist Party parades and events.
Known for marching with the flags of Puerto Rico and the Nationalist Party, and dressing in their uniform of white pants and black shirts, the Corps of Cadets had their name changed to the Ejército Libertador de Puerto Rico on December 8, 1935. The Liberation Army also had a female component that began as the Hijas de la Libertad in 1932 and was renamed the Cuerpo de Enfermeras in 1935. They developed out of the desire women had to become active participants in the struggle, and the desire of leaders to provide women with free medical training as nurses. The Daughters of Liberty received training from actual registered nurses, some of which were also members, and marched in public events in military formation alongside the Corps of Cadets.
Student And Worker Organizations
The Liberation Army, though committed to the militant nationalist struggle that Don Pedro led under the motto “Valor y Sacrificio,” was not meant to pose a definitive military threat to the U.S. government. Despite this, the Liberation Army was the target of investigations and infiltration by U.S. agents from its inception. What would really threaten and strike fear into the U.S. government, however, were the organizations outside of the Party that developed as a result of Don Pedro’s example and leadership. Many of these organizations adopted his moral leadership and connected their struggles to the political situation existing in Puerto Rico, adopting the call for sovereignty and independence as the purpose behind their efforts.
In December 1932 the Federación Nacional de Estudiantes Puertorriqueños was organized, going on to play a key role in a 1933 university strike that saw incidents of direct confrontation between students and police. They also formed the first student congresses to take place on a national level in Puerto Rico. The Federation, which was made up of high school and university students, maintained support for Don Pedro and the goal of independence for Puerto Rico while fighting for university reform, university autonomy, the use of Spanish in schools, and cultural exchange with other Latin American countries.
What had the most intimidating effect on the United States was Don Pedro’s leadership role during the strike of sugar cane workers in January 1934, discussed briefly in a previous chapter. Important to note is that, after accepting their request to lead their strike, Don Pedro motivated the workers to eventually create the Asociación de Trabajadores Puertorriqueños. The set of demands won under Don Pedro’s leadership, which included the doubling of worker salaries, came despite the presence of a newly militarized police at demonstrations.
With U.S. officials becoming greatly alarmed by this disturbance in one of their major sources of profit, and Puerto Rican police supplied with personnel and equipment for use in what had become a genuine conflict between the empire and the Nationalist Party, it was here that an environment of terror, and patriotic resistance to that terror, fully emerged.
- Metamorfosis: de las Hijas de la Libertad al Cuerpo de Enfermeras de la República del Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, 1932-1937, by José Manuel Dávila (UPR-RP).
- Nosotros Solos: Pedro Albizu Campos y el Nacionalismo Irlandés, by Juan Angel Silén (Publicaciones Gaviotas, 2003).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
- War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror In America’s Colony, by Nelson A. Denis (Nation Books, 2015).