Organizing A Nation

Building A National Movement

The Nationalist Party under the leadership of Don Pedro would become 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 are to be found in their history, and the actions they must take to secure their freedom, he also supported the organization of a movement. The level of organization that would be 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 would constitute a real national movement with representation throughout Puerto Rico.

Essentially, 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. Outside of this, the Party would be organized into Juntas Municipales based in the various municipalities, with each junta having its own board of directors in charge of their 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 that “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 then provides the list of names for the President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary, and other positions in 33 municipalities, including San Juan, Bayamón, Aguadilla, Guayama, Lares, Arecibo, Utuado, Fajardo, Mayaguez, and Vieques. The list does not include Ponce, Jayuya, Caguas, and other municipalities that were known to have an organized Nationalist Party presence.

The Liberation Army Of Puerto Rico

In an interview conducted while in the Dominican Republic that was published in El Mundo on July 16, 1927, Don Pedro said the following when asked what Puerto Rico must do: “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 the mindset with which Don Pedro began the campaign for the 1932 elections, and it remained so after the Party adopted the retraimiento principle following them.

At the same time that Don Pedro maintained a practice of building international support for the movement, he did not refrain from also speaking publicly about armed revolution in Puerto Rico, especially after 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 — and he also had military training. On March 23, 1931 the Patriotic Association of Puerto Rican Youth was formed, the precursor to the Corps of Cadets of the Republic that would be 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 on 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 with 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 parades and other notable events.

Known for marching with the flags of Puerto Rico and the Nationalist Party dressed in their uniform of white pants and black shirts, the Corps of Cadets would have their name changed to the Liberation Army of Puerto Rico on December 8, 1935. The Liberation Army also had a female component that began as the Daughters of Liberty in 1932 and was renamed the Corps of Nurses in 1935. They developed out of the desire women had to both become active participants in the struggle led by Don Pedro and to receive medical training as nurses. The Daughters of Liberty would receive training from actual registered nurses, some of which were also members, and march in public events alongside the Corps of Cadets, also in military formation.

Student And Worker Organizations

Obviously, the Liberation Army was not meant to pose a serious military threat to the U.S. government, committed though they were to the militant nationalist struggle that Don Pedro led under the motto “Courage and Sacrifice.” Still and yet, the Liberation Army was the target of investigations and infiltration by U.S. agents from its beginning. What would really threaten and strike fear into the U.S. government, however, were the organizations outside of the Party that would be developed as a result of Don Pedro’s example and leadership. These organizations would adopt his moral leadership and connect their struggles to the political situation existing in Puerto Rico, centering the call for sovereignty and independence.

In December 1932 the National Federation of Puerto Rican Students would be organized, playing a key role in the 1933 university strike that saw a confrontation between students and police. They would also form 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 also seeking university reform, university autonomy, the use of Spanish in schools, and cultural exchange with other Latin American countries.

What would have the most intimidating effect on the United States would be Don Pedro’s leadership and role in organizational development during the strike of sugar cane workers in January 1934. After accepting their request to lead their general strike, Don Pedro motivated the sugar cane workers to create the Workers Association of Puerto Rico. With U.S. authorities becoming greatly alarmed by the disturbance in one of their major sources of profit, it was here that the colonial regime would be supplied with the personnel and weapons that would begin a genuine armed conflict between the empire and the Nationalist Party. Continuing to strike in the face of a militarized police, the organized sugar cane workers under Don Pedro’s leadership were able to win a set of demands including the doubling of their salary. What was to follow would be an environment of terror and patriotic resistance.


References:

  • 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).

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