Becoming A Living Legend
When Don Pedro was pardoned by Governor Muñoz Marín on November 15, 1964 he was still in the Presbyterian Hospital. His pardon produced a great reaction throughout Puerto Rico, and many people made their way to the hospital to witness his release from custody. By this point in his life Don Pedro had established a space for himself in the history of Puerto Rico as a symbol of the fight for liberation from colonialism. Juan Antonio Corretjer, the poet who worked so closely with Don Pedro and was imprisoned with him in Atlanta Penitentiary, would write later about him as being among those people who “by the strength of soul, passes to posterity still alive.” The legacy of Don Pedro was so significant that he was seen by some as a living legend.
One month later, on December 12, 1964, the Argentinian revolutionary Ernesto ‘Ché’ Guevara dedicated part of his speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly to highlight the case of Don Pedro: “We express our solidarity with the people of Puerto Rico and their great leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, who, in another act of hypocrisy, was released at age 72, almost unable to speak, paralyzed, after spending a lifetime in jail. Albizu Campos is a symbol of the as yet unfree but indomitable Latin America. Years and years in prison, almost unbearable pressures in jail, mental torture, solitude, total isolation from his people and his family, the insolence of the conqueror and his lackeys in the land where he was born–nothing broke his will. The delegation of Cuba, on behalf of its people, pays a tribute of admiration and gratitude to a patriot who dignifies our America.”
The Declining Condition Of Don Pedro
According to information provided to the FBI by an informant on November 17, 1964 regarding Don Pedro’s condition, the revolutionary leader once well-known as a captivating orator left the hospital hardly able to speak at an audible volume, with a vocabulary limited to about ten words, and that it appeared “he could not concentrate enough to understand the meaning of spoken or written words.” Once released from the hospital Don Pedro was taken to a residence in Hato Rey owned by Dr. Virginio Rodríguez Marrero who would be one of the doctors, along with Dr. Ricardo Cordero and Dr. Luis Cuello, that would be in charge of his care. He received support from countless other people, including friends, students, and associates in the political arena, all who would help cater to his needs or just keep him company. A nurse named Conchita Santos de Marks and a longtime nationalist and friend of Don Pedro’s, Juanita Ojeda Maldonado, also provided daily care.
Don Pedro’s daughter Laura, who had not seen him since 1950, was able to make her way to Puerto Rico from Peru in December 1964 with her four daughters. His wife Laura Meneses, who had been in New York City since 1960 working in the United Nations as a representative of the Cuban government headed by Fidel Castro, was able to get a diplomatic visa approved and travel to Puerto Rico on April 9, 1965. Don Pedro’s children Rosa and Pedro, however, were not allowed by immigration authorities to enter Puerto Rico. All during this time, Don Pedro’s health did not improve and his body began to gradually fail in its normal functioning.
In February 1965 he was recorded with a 104 degree fever, a viral respiratory infection, and uremic poisoning indicating his kidneys were not filtering toxins out of his body. In the month of April his condition began its final descent: on the 14th his paralysis began to affect his throat, making it difficult to swallow; on the 16th water had filled his lungs, and inflammation in his face and throat made him unable to move his lips and jaw; on the 17th he was confirmed to have pneumonia and kidney failure; and on the morning of the 19th his doctor said his kidneys had stopped functioning, his throat was blocked due to the inflammation, he had a 100 degree fever, and he was unconscious. At 7:30AM that day, a priest performed the Catholic sacrament of the last rites and those close to him began organizing his funeral. Finally, two days later, at 9:40PM on April 21, Don Pedro was pronounced deceased.
The Funeral And Recognition Of A Patriot
Taken to Jensen Funeral Home in Santurce, the body of Don Pedro was prepared for presentation over the course of more than 15 hours and was embalmed with a preservative used for the first time in Puerto Rico that would guarantee, according to the funeral home’s owner, “Albizu’s body will remain intact for the next 100 years.” The sculptor Francisco Vázquez Díaz also made a bust of his face and hands. Once fully prepared, Don Pedro was displayed in the funeral home for two days until he was carried in his casket, which was draped with the Puerto Rican flag that had been raised outside his home in the 1950s, to the Ateneo Puertorriqueño where he was displayed for one day. During this entire time an honor guard composed of six people per shift was maintained. University students also displayed a giant banner with Don Pedro’s image on it and raised the Puerto Rican flag to half-mast on the University of Puerto Rico campus in his honor.
After he passed and had been placed inside his casket, Don Pedro’s wife Laura Meneses said the following: “Albizu Campos lived for his people and for them he died in the sacrifice imposed by the enemy of freedom and the independence of his homeland. Lives devoted to a cause like the one he served transcend death. His example illuminates the future and the memory of him grows until it reaches an unsurpassed stature. Puerto Rico will reach the goal set by him and the recognition of his people will be the pedestal of his glory.” Many would speak to this immortal status that the legacy of Don Pedro had conferred upon him.
The death of Don Pedro was a significant event in Puerto Rico. People from all facets of society set aside any differences they might have had and united in paying tribute to the revolutionary leader–elders, children, nationalists, communists, socialists, statehood supporters, masons, students, union workers, feminists, artists, poets, lawyers, etc. Don Pedro was also recognized in meetings and motions of the Puerto Rico Senate and House of Representatives. The reaction went beyond Puerto Rico and into cities of the United States and other countries internationally, and many people from these places would make the trip to attend his services. The Venezuelan government, who had a representative present for the burial in Puerto Rico, observed five minutes of silence in a meeting held by their parliament. Hundreds of condolence cards were also sent to Don Pedro’s family from around the world.
While he wanted to be buried in the town of his birth, Barrio Tenerías in Ponce, Don Pedro’s wife made the decision to have him buried in Old San Juan. Becoming one of the largest processions in Puerto Rican history, over 100,000 people followed the casket of Don Pedro in the march from the Ateneo Puertorriqueño to the Santa María Magdalena de Pazzis Cemetery. On the way to the cemetery the procession stopped at the Church of San José where a short ceremony was held in his honor. Earth from Barrio Tenerías was brought to his burial and poured over his coffin.
At the burial site, Catholic priest and activist Víctor Margarito Santiago Arce–known as Father Margarito–shared these words: “We must honor Albizu Campos who manifested the repudiation of the humiliation our people suffer… Don Pedro has not died and will never die. The mourning must be celebrated in Puerto Rico for many people who are morally dead.”
- Los Últimos Días De Don Pedro Albizu Campos, by Pedro Aponte Vázquez (2012).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).