5-Month Prison Release And Congress Attack

The Conditional Pardon Of Muñoz Marín

The growing pressure to release Don Pedro both in Puerto Rico and internationally came to a head on September 21, 1953 when journalist Teófilo Maldonado published an article reporting the critical state of the nationalist leader’s health. Claiming to have been influenced by a request sent in a letter by his friend, President José Figueres of Costa Rica, Luis Muñoz Marín issued a pardon on September 30, 1953 for the release of Don Pedro. Journalist William J. Dorvillier later revealed, in 1979, that Muñoz Marín lied about this letter from Figueres and had fabricated it with the help of Arturo Morales Carrión, José Trías Monge, then-President of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, and Jorge Font Saldaña, a founder of the Popular Democratic Party.

Presented with the text of the pardon in the warden’s office, Don Pedro rejected it, saying, “it does not include each and every one of my peers… The freedom of Albizu Campos and his life interest all free men in the world and I fully understand this pardon, but more than Albizu’s life, we are all interested in the posterity of the Homeland.” The pardon already in effect, he left La Princesa. In a press conference the same day as his release, Don Pedro criticized the conditional nature of his pardon, saying, “It would be an outrage to law if the despots had to determine the way in which the subjugated peoples should fight for their freedom.” Muñoz Marín, giving his own interpretation of the conditions, said they were that he refrain from “the terrorism of a handful of fanatics against the free decisions of the people of Puerto Rico at the polls.”

Don Pedro’s Five Month Release From Prison

In that first press conference following his release, Don Pedro showed reporters the burns and swelling on his legs, and also affirmed his intent to continue working towards the independence of Puerto Rico once he regained his health. The next day, Don Pedro asked Doris Torresola to raise the Puerto Rican flag outside of his home, the same flag lowered following their arrest in 1950. With the press having been present to witness the defiant act, Don Pedro not only spoke to them about raising a flag with the intent of never lowering it, but he also made a significant statement about an aspect of his imprisonment that continued in his own home: “I was hoping that being home would end the efforts to burn me alive, but that has not been the case, because the electronic attacks continue as part of the plan to eliminate me.”

On October 30, 1953, three years after the 1950 uprising, Don Pedro proclaimed: “We have gone through atomic fire, and through all the electronic tortures the science of the United States has been able to produce… Everything that has happened is good, because the country needs to be sure that it has children who go through fire to maintain its independence.” Writing an article about the colonial nature of the Commonwealth government that was published in Costa Rica on January 20, 1954, Don Pedro held U.S. President Eisenhower responsible for the attacks. He pointed out that the attacks were also conducted against other nationalists, and that “the armed forces of that country cannot utilize atomic weapons against any enemy of the United States without the express order of the Commander-In-Chief of those armed forces.”

As documented in a government report of information provided by an informant, on February 15, 1954 Don Pedro said the rays had turned his home into “a bonfire.” A few months before, the nationalists Doris Torresola, Carmen Pérez, and Isabel Rosado brought a Geiger counter, an instrument measuring radiation levels, to his home–it registered four to nine clicks per minute when they entered, fourteen clicks when close to Don Pedro, and then broke when pressed to his body. Despite the attacks, which at that point had been ongoing for three years, Don Pedro had been able to gain some strength and was walking better, though he still suffered from swelling and bruising. From the moment he left prison, surveillance by government agents was constant and detailed records were kept on visits people made to his home.

The Attack On Congress And Final Arrest Of Don Pedro

Even with around-the-clock surveillance of Don Pedro and others in the Nationalist Party, a group of four nationalists led a completely unexpected attack inside the chamber of the U.S. Congress on March 1, 1954. The armed attack coincided with the opening day of the Tenth Inter-American Conference of the Organization of American States, an international organization the Party had also been active within since its founding. Lolita Lebrón, then-U.S. delegate of the Nationalist Party, led Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andrés Figueroa Cordero, and Irvin Flores in the attack that wounded five Congressmen, carrying in her purse a note stating, “Before God and the world, my blood clamors for the independence of Puerto Rico! I give my life for the freedom of my homeland. This is a cry of victory in the struggle for independence.” Years later, Lebrón revealed that the idea for the action originated with Don Pedro.

When news of the attack and the arrest of the four nationalists made international headlines later that day, Don Pedro was immediately informed, and as the day began to turn to night the journalist Teófilo Maldonado arrived at Don Pedro’s house hoping to interview him. Having developed a cordial relationship with him in recent months, Don Pedro agreed to give Maldonado a statement under the condition that it was printed in full without edits. Methodically dictating his statement, Don Pedro validated the event, calling it a “journey of sublime heroism,” and explaining that “The Congress of the United States is the body responsible for the military intervention of the United States in Puerto Rico for more than 50 years.” According to Maldonado, with him in his home was Doris Torresola, Carmen Pérez, Isabel Rosado, and José Rivera Sotomayor.

Maldonado returned to Don Pedro’s house on March 5 to inform him of the pending cancellation of his pardon, in addition to the preparation of the local police, National Guard, FBI, and others, to lay siege to his home and force his surrender. The response Maldonado received was, “We will not provoke anyone, but if we are provoked we will answer the provocation. We are in our home and in our right as Puerto Ricans. We have not committed any crime.” That night the police and other forces equipped with protective vests and machine guns began situating themselves along the street and within adjacent homes. The following morning they had the arrest order for Don Pedro from Muñoz Marín for violation of the terms of his conditional release. As agents began knocking on the doors to his home at 6AM, trying to force their entry, Don Pedro opened fire with a revolver.

According to police reports, during the shootout, which lasted over half an hour, all of the nationalists inside returned fire against the authorities. After a pause in the exchange, tear gas was thrown into the house and soon after José Rivera Sotomayor came out, hoping that by doing so the authorities would attack him, increasing the chance of Don Pedro being able to then come out without being immediately killed. Carmen Pérez came out next, telling authorities that Don Pedro was lying unconscious on the floor. Passed out from the gas, Doris Torresola and Isabel Rosado were taken out of the home, and then Don Pedro was carried out last.

With Don Pedro semi-conscious, journalist Teófilo Maldonado, who had been present for the siege and arrest, approached Don Pedro to ask if he had anything to say. Don Pedro mumbled to him, “We have done our duty.” Immediately, the nationalists were taken by ambulance to prison, first Don Pedro to the State Penitentiary in Río Piedras, and then the female nationalists to the women’s prison in Vega Alta. By the end of the following day–March 7–the leadership of the Puerto Rican Communist Party was arrested, as well as an additional 42 nationalists, for violation of the Gag Law. The second and final period of Don Pedro’s leadership, from 1947 to 1954, came to an end.


References:

  • Locura Por Decreto: El Papel De Luis Muñoz Marín Y José Trías Monge En El Diagnóstico De Locura De Don Pedro Albizu Campos, by Pedro Aponte Vázquez (2005).
  • 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).

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