The Nationalist Revolution Of 1950, Pt. 1

Sparking The Fire Of Revolt

By the time Don Pedro spoke on September 23, 1950 in Lares, nationalists understood there was an intent to assassinate him and arrest other leaders en masse, and colonial authorities, through informants, knew the Nationalist Party was preparing to stage an armed revolt. On June 11, Party members were on high alert during a political event, believing firmly that a plot to arrest Don Pedro would be carried out–this arrest did not take place. In the early morning hours of October 27, the actions of colonial authorities were serious enough to cause the nationalist movement to become activated in exactly the way authorities hoped to prevent.

After a radio-broadcasted celebration in Fajardo of the birthday of Puerto Rico-born Antonio Valero de Bernabé–a General in Simón Bolívar’s army–nationalists escorting Don Pedro back to San Juan were followed by three cars of undercover agents. When the agents began trying to force Don Pedro’s car to the side of the road, the other two cars commandeered by nationalists made maneuvers allowing him to get away. The two cars would eventually be stopped at separate locations in Santurce at 3:15AM and 3:30AM, the search of one resulting in the seizure of two .37-caliber guns, five Molotov cocktails, and a Thompson submachine gun, with an additional number of Molotov cocktails being seized in the second vehicle.

When Don Pedro heard about the arrests some hours later, he knew it was only a matter of time before police either came to arrest him, or followed through with their plans to kill him. Facing such alternatives, and clear that U.S. authorities would conspire by any means as they had in the past to ensure he was convicted in court and sentenced to many years, Don Pedro decided to order the start of what would become the Nationalist Revolution of 1950. His order–to initiate the uprising at noon on October 30–was dispersed across the nationalist network, soon sparking armed confrontations that took place throughout Puerto Rico as well as in Washington D.C.

In a separate event the following day, in the morning of October 28, a prison break in which 110 inmates escaped from the ‘Oso Blanco‘ penitentiary in Río Piedras created a further concern for authorities. Initiated by a prisoner with no apparent nationalist ties, the riot that followed and led to the actual escape of inmates was in part led by a nationalist inmate that had received recent visits from high-ranking Nationalist Party members. This prison break, forcing police to focus their efforts on capturing the escapees, postponed their eventual efforts at raiding nationalist homes and arresting Party members. Once these efforts went underway, police were quickly overwhelmed and the National Guard was called in to support efforts to suppress the insurrection, one of their first actions of the National Guard being to occupy and close major roads.

The Courage And Sacrifice Of The Masses

With the U.S. Government having the most powerful military in the world, the struggle of the nationalists was not about having military conflict, it was about making a moral stand against the idea and system of colonial-imperialism. From the start of Don Pedro’s leadership within the Nationalist Party he always stressed the undeniable place of courage and sacrifice (‘valor y sacrificio‘) within the revolutionary struggle, as well as the need for members to be willing to sacrifice life and property (‘vida y hacienda‘) if necessary. With the first encounter between nationalists and police taking place in Peñuelas at 3AM on October 30, many nationalists–as well as others, such as communists and even election-focused Puerto Rican Independence Party supporters–decided to accept the many risks involved and join the revolutionary uprising.

Peñuelas and Ponce

In Peñuelas, a small group of nationalists engaged in a shootout with about 31 police officers arriving to raid a farm that informants identified as a location of arms–three nationalists were killed. In neighboring Ponce, at 10AM, a nationalist that escaped the shootout in Peñuelas led a group in an attempt to transport arms to Utuado–they were intercepted and engaged in a shootout that left a police colonel dead.

Arecibo

In Arecibo, at 11AM, one group of seven nationalists attacked a police station and killed four officers, with one of the nationalists dying while covering the escape of the others who were later arrested by the National Guard. Another group in Arecibo, composed of 15 nationalists, decided to head to Utuado but were dispersed when it was clear the National Guard had situated themselves in key locations. A third group that stayed in Arecibo had a shootout with National Guard soldiers in Muñoz Rivera park that resulted in the death of one nationalist, and a fourth group used a vehicle to drive by and shoot at buildings occupied by the National Guard.

Utuado

In Utuado, around 12noon, a group of 32 nationalists split up in order to attack the federal post office and local police station. As the first group approached their target, they were shot at in front of a Catholic Church by police stationed in the nearby plaza– a few nationalists managed to run ahead and set fire to the post office. After firefighters arrived at the post office, an argument resulted in another shootout in which one of the firemen was shot and killed. The group attacking the police station was met with a police force that was waiting in anticipation and had prepared battle positions. About a dozen nationalists fled to the nearby house of a Party member and took up a position there, returning fire as police unleashed a hail of bullets on the residence for two hours.

After sunset, around 8PM, over 1,000 National Guard soldiers arrived on the scene, setting up positions with machine guns they would target the house with at 11PM and again at 1130PM. Overwhelmed by the force, with one nationalist already dead, the remaining nationalists surrendered and were marched by the National Guard towards the police station. At 1AM, on October 31, the troops stopped short of the police station, forced their prisoners into a side-street, and proceeded to shoot them with machine-gun fire as people watched from their windows–four died immediately and five others were left for dead, with doctors arriving hours later. The event became separately known as the Utuado Massacre. Later that same day, after National Guard troops left Utuado, four National Guard planes began to drop bombs on buildings in the town.

San Juan

In San Juan, the local Commander of the Liberation Army, Raimundo Díaz Pacheco, led an attack at noon on October 30 with four other nationalists on the Governor’s Mansion, ‘La Fortaleza‘, hoping to take the governor hostage. Met with an expecting and prepared police force, all except one of the nationalists, including Díaz Pacheco, were killed within an hour of the vehicle stopping in the main entrance area. At the same time, a group of nationalists joined with university students and attacked the police station and federal court house in two separate actions, both resulting in a shootout with only a few injuries. Yet another attack, on the federal court house in Santurce’s Barrio Obrero, resulted in two National Guard troops being injured.

The following day, on October 31, a sensational event occurred at Salón Boricua, the barbershop of Don Pedro’s personal barber, Vidal Santiago Díaz. Around 2PM, confronted by a policeman, his decision to defend himself resulted in a shootout between himself and fifteen policemen backed by 25 National Guard troops armed with machine-guns, rifles, revolvers, and grenades. Having a short time as police and troops gathered outside, Santiago Díaz placed weapons throughout the barber shop, using them to tactically return fire from several windows and from both floors, giving the impression that there were more combatants inside than just himself. During the gunfight, which lasted three hours, several mobile radio units had arrived and were transmitting the gunfight live across Puerto Rico. When asked by a reporter how many people were inside Salón Boricua, a Lieutenant estimated 20-30. When the gunfight finally ended following an intense police/National Guard attack, several bystanders had been injured and, even though shot in the head at point blank range and receiving several wounds, Santiago Díaz survived and became a minor celebrity.

Mayagüez

In Mayagüez, the large number of over 40 nationalists prepared to fight were divided into five groups with five separate missions. Due to technical issues with their explosives, and the fact that they did not move into action until 2PM on October 30, by which time authorities were already in defensive positions, none of their activities resulted in any success. A second, evening attack on the local police station resulted in a few injuries on both sides, in addition to three civilians. One of the groups, which planned to attack police in the morning of October 31, were instead attacked by police as they were preparing to move out–they returned fire and escaped to the mountains.

Washington, D.C.

In New York City, on October 29, a relative of several participants in the Nationalist Revolution, Griselio Torresola, brought a newspaper article to the home of the President of the New York chapter of the Nationalist Party, Oscar Collazo, to inform him of the events that had been taking place up to that point in Puerto Rico. Knowing this was the beginning of the insurrection that was being planned, they both took a train to Washington, D.C. to coordinate an attack on U.S. President Harry Truman.

Arriving there on October 30, they used the rest of that day and the next to plan their mission, which they accepted would probably result in their death. Taking a taxi to the Blair House, the temporary residence of the President, at 2:20PM on November 1 they began the attack. Collazo’s gun initially jammed, and Torresola was able to mortally wound a guard stationed in a booth, himself returning a fatal shot. Within minutes, Torresola was killed and Collazo was shot in the chest and rendered unconscious.

Naranjito

In Naranjito, nationalists were led by a World War 2 veteran, José Antonio Negrón, in an attack on the local police station at 12noon on October 30. Expected by police and met with gunfire, the group of seven nationalists retreated into the mountains. From there they led an unexpected guerrilla campaign in which they defended their position by day and conducted attacks by night. The reputation of Negrón as being a person always willing to help those in need, who did not drink or gamble, allowed him to receive the support of locals without being snitched on as his group moved discreetly throughout Naranjito. This continued until November 6 when he was separated from the rest of his group who was then arrested by National Guard troops. Negrón, by himself, continued resisting and evading capture until November 10, officially putting an end to activities stemming from the insurrection.

The Second Declaration Of Independence

The events that took place in Jayuya stand out as the crowning achievement borne out of the courage and sacrifice of the revolutionary nationalist movement. This is so clear that some who have written about the Nationalist Revolution of 1950 labeled it ‘El Grito de Jayuya‘ or the Jayuya Uprising in their writings–sometimes only covering the events that specifically took place in Jayuya, and in some cases actually centering the events in Jayuya while mentioning that ‘other events’ took place elsewhere in Puerto Rico at the same time. In any case, the key success of the nationalist movement in Jayuya was the declaration, for the second time in history since 1868 Lares, of Puerto Rico as a free, independent republic.

Hearing news over the radio about what was happening in Arecibo as they were preparing their weapons, the nationalists in Jayuya proceeded with their plans by 12noon on October 30. One group, led by another World War 2 veteran named Carlos Irizarry, made their way to the local police station and engaged in a shootout that both mortally wounded Irizarry and forced the police to flee–one policeman was also killed. Taking over leadership of the group from that point forward was Elio Torresola, the brother of Griselio Torresola. Elio and his group went on to burn down the police station and then headed to the post office, which they also burned down. Their last target being the records of the selective service that dictated military recruitment, they removed all records and materials from the building and lit them on fire in the street so as to prevent the burning of an adjacent theater.

While this was going on, nationalist Blanca Canales led another group to the town’s telephone station. There, they confronted the telephone operator and were able to cut the telephone lines, the purpose being to prevent news of what was happening in Jayuya to be spread by authorities. After completing this mission, Canales and her group headed to the town plaza where she raised the flag of Puerto Rico on the balcony of a hotel and declared Puerto Rico a free republic. After a crowd had gathered, she gave a small speech explaining the purpose of the revolution and the desire of the nationalists to unite the country against their colonial rule. The following day, on October 31, the National Guard arrived and began an air-bombing campaign targeting Jayuya’s infrastructure, mountains, and sugar plantations, later doing the same in Utuado. Able to maintain control of Jayuya for three days, the nationalists surrendered on November 2 when a reinforced National Guard began to arrive.

What happened in Jayuya during the Nationalist Revolution of 1950 was of great symbolic and historical importance for Puerto Rico. Of course, it was one part of a much larger effort, led ideologically by Don Pedro, to resist the ongoing issue of colonialism in Puerto Rico. Recent developments, coauthored by Luis Muñoz Marín and endorsed by President Truman, were going to result in a strengthening of the factors that hold the structure of colonialism in place–the Revolution of 1950 was the response to this by Don Pedro and the Nationalist Party.


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).
  • 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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