Defying The Rule Of Empire

Return To Puerto Rico’s Revolution

Unlike in 1930, when he returned to Puerto Rico from his political tour of Latin America, when Don Pedro returned this time he was welcomed by a gathering of thousands of supporters in one of the largest receptions in Puerto Rican history. After stepping off the SS Kathryn, he spoke to the crowd of a vow he made while recovering from ill health: “That if God allowed me the grace to return to this blessed land, I would wholeheartedly forgive all the insult and slander that could have been done to my person.” The rest of the day was filled with events attended by Don Pedro, as well as events that took place elsewhere. One event at the University of Puerto Rico, where students raised the Puerto Rican flag at the campus’ tower, resulted in three of the students being expelled from the university, marking the first act of repression connected to Don Pedro’s return to Puerto Rico.

From the port, Don Pedro and his supporters made their way to the Cathedral of San Juan for a religious service organized to give thanks for his safe return to Puerto Rico, and from there to the Sixto Escobar Stadium where a rally was held and many nationalist leaders spoke. Don Pedro told the audience, “I come to say to you that it is the hour of decision. The hour of resolving has come to you, and this hour is undeferrable. We live through a tragic hour in the life of humanity.” He also recognized the spirit of Puerto Rico’s patriots, saying, “I don’t believe in death. As I do not believe in death, I greet the heroes and martyrs of the homeland present here.”

Clearly, Don Pedro was returning to Puerto Rico with every intention of continuing the struggle for national independence. At the same time, many things had changed in Puerto Rico–as the months went on he would speak to these changes, also making clear that he did not return to give countless speeches but because his duty was to be in his homeland. On another occasion he explained, “I came here because I don’t believe in voluntary exile… no one should shy away from the sick and crippled mother, because that is when she needs the love of her children most.” The next period of the nationalist movement under Don Pedro’s leadership had begun.

The very next day after returning, in his first press conference and interview with reporters, Don Pedro said the Nationalist Party “would exhaust all peaceful means in the struggle for independence, and if the United States were to recognize such by those means, that would be most desirable. If, on the other hand, the United States decided to suppress Puerto Ricans’ rights by force, then the Nationalist Party would use force to achieve its objectives.”

Resisting The Colonial Design

Following the Second World War a reality of extreme poverty and hunger existed throughout Puerto Rico. In this situation colonial authorities both forced the emigration of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. and developed a series of projects, known collectively as Operation Bootstrap, that aimed to transform Puerto Rico’s agrarian economy into an industrial economy. Many living in the countryside and mountains moved into the urban centers, and many living in the urban centers moved stateside. Nowhere was this displacement more dramatic than on the island of Vieques.

In order to maintain U.S. influence in the Atlantic region, entire families on two-thirds of the island of Vieques were violently evicted from their homes to make way for U.S. Navy training grounds and weapons storage facilities. The same day Don Pedro returned to Puerto Rico from his exile he pointed out Vieques, saying, “What has happened in Vieques is what is going to happen throughout the national territory of Puerto Rico.” Before the month was over he would visit Vieques and make further statements, that were published in newspapers, about the violent displacement there.

As a general focus, Don Pedro emphasized the need to defy the rule of colonialism in Puerto Rico and work towards establishing Puerto Rico as an independent, sovereign nation with control over its own national matters and interests. During his exile the Popular Democratic Party–with Luis Muñoz Marín as its President–had begun to gain the support of a large sector of the population. To do this, their organization began addressing the economic situation of Puerto Rico while very explicitly putting the question of Puerto Rico’s status to the side. As part of this effort, the Popular Democratic Party sought to develop a model that later became the ‘free associated state’ design–a status that, in reality, did not change the colonial situation. This would become a key focus of Don Pedro as he advocated for national independence.

Don Pedro, absolutely committed to the nationalist cause, did not waste any time making clear his desire for other political leaders to be as honest about their motives as he was with his. During a speech on January 11, 1948, he outlined his thoughts with respect to Muñoz Marín, who had supported independence in the past, saying, “All I ask Luis Muñoz Marín to do is say whether he is Puerto Rican or Yankee; if he is in favor of independence or is against independence.”

Repression Of Don Pedro By All Means

From the moment he returned to Puerto Rico, and over the next three years, Don Pedro did not relent in his anti-colonial work. More strongly and urgently than ever, he spoke about the immediate need for revolution. Seeing the large amount of support Don Pedro had, and the efforts he was making towards reorganizing the Nationalist Party that had suffered from his absence, U.S. authorities began to make serious efforts to repress him. Everywhere he went, he was followed, and when his wife and family joined him in April 1948, the same became true for them. First at the Normandy Hotel, and then outside their home in Old San Juan, agents rotated in shifts keeping him under constant surveillance–they did this without trying to be discreet by any means. Even the people that visited Don Pedro, or that he visited, would be approached and interrogated afterwards by agents.

Don Pedro was openly defiant of the attention given to him and other nationalists that many felt was aimed at provoking them. In a speech delivered in Ponce on March 21, 1949, he advised U.S. authorities, saying, “I warn these gentlemen that this thing about investigating where the most humble of nationalists eats, sleeps, and works is something that has to end… We’re human, we’re very patient, but one day we’re going to run out of patience, we’re going to run out of patience one day and the situation is going to be a little delicate and there’s going to be a lot of gunshots here. Yes, they’re talking about the violence of the nationalists. Who are the violent ones here? The United States government.” By the time he made this statement, a law had been passed–which he knew about and which he also defied–that would later be used against thousands of Puerto Ricans.

Law 53, put in effect on June 10, 1948 and known as ‘the Gag Law,’ was understood to be a measure put in place to target Don Pedro, the Nationalist Party, all pro-independence sentiment, and any dissent in Puerto Rico. The law made illegal not just organizing against the colonial government, but also the possession of related political items, including literature and flags, and speaking against the colonial government. As a result of agents that either recorded or transcribed every speech he gave, when Don Pedro was arrested again in 1950 the only charges against him were a series of twelve speeches delivered between July 25, 1948 and September 23, 1950.

Before his arrest in 1950, however, signs pointed to a much more serious threat faced by Don Pedro: a possible assassination attempt. With Muñoz Marín having worked with U.S. authorities to draft a law enacted in July 1950 to establish a Commonwealth government in Puerto Rico–with the signature of U.S. President Truman–word made way to Don Pedro of a plan to either use the military to arrest nationalist leaders en masse or to assassinate them if such arrests could not be achieved. This plan, according to Ruth Reynolds, was shared with Muñoz Marín by the U.S. Secretary of Defense in the context of ensuring the law, scheduled to go into effect in November, would not be opposed.

On September 23, 1950, Don Pedro again disregarded the Gag Law as well as all of the repression he was facing and delivered a speech in Lares in which he reacted to Law 600, as it was called in the U.S. Congress, and the colonial formula U.S. and collaborating authorities were seeking to impose upon Puerto Rico by enacting it. His reaction was clear and simple: “All this must be challenged only as the men of Lares challenged despotism, with revolution.” In May 1950, Don Pedro entrusted his wife, with the support of devoted nationalist Juan Juarbe Juarbe, to travel to Cuba and take on the task of notifying the leaders and organizations of Latin American countries of the plans to assassinate him. At the same time, during this campaign they were to also make every effort to secure arms and other materials for use in the revolution now being planned in Puerto Rico.


References:

  • Albizu Campos y la Independencia de Puerto Rico, by Laura de Albizu Campos (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2007).
  • La Insurrección Nacionalista en Puerto Rico 1950, by Miñi Seijo Bruno (Editorial Edil, 1997).
  • La Palabra Como Delito: Los Discursos por los que Condenaron a Pedro Albizu Campos 1948-1950 (Editorial Cultural, 1993).
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).

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