Changes In The Colonial Design
The main focus of Don Pedro and the Nationalist Party during the period of 1947-1950 was the series of political efforts that led to Public Law 600, titled “Law for the Organization of a Constitutional Government for the People of Puerto Rico.” This law, signed and enacted by President Truman on July 3, 1950, allowed for a June 1951 referendum–a vote–to decide if Puerto Ricans wanted to draft their own constitution and form their own government. The development of this law began as early as 1945 when Puerto Rico’s Legislature created the Legislative Commission on the Political Status of Puerto Rico, presided over by Luis Muñoz Marín.
In 1946 this Political Status Commission began proposing a third status option, in addition to statehood and independence, called the Associated People of Puerto Rico. The following year, U.S. Congress approved and President Truman signed a measure that allowed Puerto Ricans, for the first time, to elect their own governor. With Muñoz Marín winning the election in 1948 and assuming office on January 2, 1949, he very quickly began working on the new colonial formula that was finalized in March 1950 as the Free Associated State, or Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, that would be instituted if the 1951 referendum resulted in a majority of votes in favor of Public Law 600.
Hearing about all of these developments when he was still in exile, and then seeing them firsthand after his return to Puerto Rico, the colonial politics at play were clear to Don Pedro. He said the referendum, “like everything that the United States government sponsors in Puerto Rico–is just a trap for Puerto Ricans to keep spinning the wheel.” Getting to the heart of the issue, Don Pedro said the following about the proposed constitution: “What they seek with that constitution is to validate the current relations–a relationship of force that began on July 25, 1898 with the invasion of the Puerto Rican national territory–to present themselves before the world pretending to have clean hands. They speak of a covenant, a covenant with a people kept in slavery!”
Revolutionary Organization And Planning
The events that took place from the end of October to the beginning of November 1950–the revolution in the spirit of El Grito de Lares that was needed to defy U.S. colonialism–was the nationalist response to everything transpiring. Originally set to take place at a later date, the uprising was ordered for noon on October 30 by Don Pedro because the mass arrest and possible assassination of nationalist leaders was clearly imminent. After the arrests, raids, and shootouts that took place in Peñuelas and Ponce, it was decided that the developing colonial situation had to be protested and a statement had to be made before such arrests or killings could take place.
The Nationalist Party was organized generally the same as it had been in the past, with Don Pedro at the head of both the military and civil components of the Party. During the uprising, the Party’s military component had Tomás López de Victoria as its commander, with sub-commanders in San Juan, Humacao, Cayey, Ponce, Mayagüez, Utuado, and Arecibo. Local chapters also had captains–Don Pedro’s barber Vidal Santiago Díaz, for example, was a captain in San Juan. Meanwhile, in New York, the Party focused efforts on acquiring more funds to buy weapons and other materials.
Several farms throughout Puerto Rico were used as training grounds for nationalist cadets to learn target shooting, gain experience with the effects of explosive and incendiary bombs, and conduct battle drills. Some of these battle drills–such as squad attack, react to contact, break contact, react to near and far ambush–were taken directly from U.S. Army field manuals obtained from associates within the 65th Infantry Regiment, historically known as the Borinqueneers.
With nationalists losing the element of surprise, police learning from informants the location of weapon stashes, and the uprising being ordered suddenly and ahead of schedule, the nationalist resistance could not go as planned. Despite this, nationalists still attempted to follow the revolutionary plans as best they could. First, nationalists were to attack police stations and the locations of National Guard troops in their respective towns, as well as burn federal post office buildings and all records held in selective service offices. After these actions took place, nationalist forces were to make their way to Utuado where, with the support of a well-developed agricultural and livestock supply, they could continue their resistance for as long as a month.
The United Nations
The reason Don Pedro planned for nationalist resistance to be centered in Utuado and use that town’s ability to support a drawn out struggle is because he hoped to influence the General Assembly of the United Nations to become involved and intervene in favor of the independence of Puerto Rico. Knowing a defeat of the U.S. military was nearly impossible, Don Pedro hoped to use international pressure to force the U.S. government to cease any military response to the uprising, recognize Puerto Rico as an independent nation, and begin the process of decolonization.
Thelma Mielke, a North American anti-imperialist from New York, had been active in the UN on behalf of Puerto Rico’s independence since it was founded in 1945 and the Nationalist Party was given status as a non-governmental organization. Serving as the Party’s UN delegate, Mielke worked tirelessly to raise international awareness around Puerto Rico, providing other delegates regular information regarding its colonial status. On October 31, after news about the events in Puerto Rico began to be publicized, she wrote to the UN Secretary General to inform him of the events and request that Puerto Rico’s case be presented before the UN Security Council.
Failing to receive a response, on November 2 Mielke went to the UN with a copy of the letter. The response given by a UN spokesperson was that the events were a “local affair,” and that “in the United States’ view the case could not be brought before the world organization.” On November 6, she received a letter from the head of the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations that very simply said her observer status in the UN was canceled, telling her “Your pass is no longer valid.”
Don Pedro knew Chapter 11 of the UN Charter mandated all members “which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognize the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount,” but he also knew the influence of the colonial powers within the UN was significant. In an interview published on January 4, 1948, he called the U.S. and these colonial powers “a united front for a restricted interpretation of Chapter 11.” He also highlighted three reports the U.S. submitted to the UN on conditions in Puerto Rico as part of their obligation under Article 73 of Chapter 11, which requires colonial powers to provide regular, detailed reports on any non-self-governing territories under their responsibility.
Allowing Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor and vote for the establishment of a constitutional government was part of the U.S. political strategy to portray Puerto Rico as having self-government as mandated by the UN Charter. Clearly, as implied in the response given to Mielke when she visited the UN, in the aftermath of the nationalist uprising in Puerto Rico the U.S. government made quick in their effort to control the narrative held by UN representatives in their favor. While the case of colonialism in Puerto Rico would continue to be raised there, these events ended the official representation of the Nationalist Party as a non-governmental organization within the UN and, in time, the responsibility of the U.S. to report on the status of Puerto Rico.
- Albizu Campos y la Independencia de Puerto Rico, by Laura de Albizu Campos (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2007).
- Chapter XI: Declaration Regarding Non-Self-Governing Territories (Charter Of The United Nations).
- Island Rebels Ask U.N. To Investigate; Aide Of Puerto Rico Nationalists Deposits Request For Study Of Revolt As Threat To Peace (The New York Times, 3 November 1950).
- La Insurrección Nacionalista en Puerto Rico 1950, by Miñi Seijo Bruno (Editorial Edil, 1997).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Escritos, edited by Laura Albizu-Campos Meneses and Fr. Mario A. Rodríguez León, O.P. (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2007).
- 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).