The Patriotic Struggle Of Don Pedro

Unwavering Commitment To The Nation

When Mexican philosopher and politician José Vasconcelos visited Puerto Rico in 1926 he was immediately impressed by not only Don Pedro’s intelligence, but also by his absolute commitment to working in defense of the oppressed and his decision to turn down high-paying positions within the U.S. or Puerto Rican government. Vasconcelos would write, “I am sure that one day this ungrateful America of ours will know him and greet him as one of its heroes. He lives in defense of the poor; that is, he hardly lives. Temptation stalks him daily in the form of commissions and jobs that he rejects because it is contrary to the doctrine of collaboration with the invaders… He lives like a saint…” This willingness to disregard his personal convenience and livelihood in favor of working towards the independence of Puerto Rico is something that remained consistent throughout his life and that many would highlight after he passed away in 1965. A lot of his support over the years came by way of family, friends, and members of the Nationalist Party.

In addition to committing to the struggle for liberation in Puerto Rico at the expense of his own livelihood and comfort, Don Pedro’s example of commitment holds significance in another respect. As explained by Juan Antonio Corretjer, this significance lies in “having been in Puerto Rico, lived in Puerto Rico, fought in Puerto Rico and died in Puerto Rico… None of our great men of the past had the privilege of living that kind of life. They had all died outside of Puerto Rico, but Albizu is the first to be born, live, fight and die in Puerto Rico, giving the great example that from Puerto Rico you don’t have to leave, you have to stay here until the end.” Having stated publicly that he did not believe in voluntary exile, Don Pedro lived out his commitment to Puerto Rico while being present there, despite the intense surveillance and repression he faced as well as the many threats and attempts on his life.

‘By Any Means Necessary’

In terms of the forms of struggle used by Don Pedro in the fight for liberation in Puerto Rico, he truly exemplified the phrase ‘by any means necessary’ made popular by Malcolm X. Independence activist and founder of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, Juan Mari Brás, highlighted this fact in his 1984 book ‘El Independentismo en Puerto Rico: Su Pasado, Su Presente y su Porvenir.’ In his book he wrote, “There is not a single one of the great and small forms of struggle tested in the history of independence that Albizu Campos had not handled at some point in his life, in his career. And the worst of it is that we have not created any new ones. All we have done is reheat Albizuist formulas, applying them to new situations, from new perspectives.”

Driving the point home, Mari Brás quoted a list written by Corretjer of the elements inherent in Don Pedro’s work towards the independence for Puerto Rico: “The philosophical disquisition, the legal exposition, the religious, political or agitating oration; the pamphlet, article and private correspondence, the discreet management between friends and sympathizers in the opposing field, suffrage as a means of political organization and doctrinal discussion, the boycott as resistance and revolutionary technique, the strike of workers and students, diplomatic means, international work, contacts with foreign governments and institutions at any given time available, Puerto Ricans residing abroad, mainly residing in New York, whom with his inspiration and mandate he turned into an election source that brought to Congress a representative of the independence of Puerto Rico; the great Vito Marcantonio, whose parliamentary genius turned his Puerto Rican base into a remarkable number of congressional votes; conspiracy, direct action, street fighting, insurrection…”

Today in Puerto Rico, there are still pro-independence political organizations that seek elected positions within the colonial government; pro-independence political organizations that boycott the national elections; groups that accept armed struggle as a valid tactic in the fight for the liberation of Puerto Rico; labor unions that seek to organize the power of workers in effecting meaningful change, through general strikes if necessary; student organizations that protest and work against harmful educational reforms, also conducting strikes if necessary; groups that work within the United Nations and other international bodies in support of decolonization; groups that promote the holding of a constituent convention as a first step in the de-colonial process; and the list goes on. Even more, many times these groups and efforts are explicit manifestations of the influence of Don Pedro, whose image and/or words these groups, organizations, and individuals sometimes display.

The Transfiguration Of A People

While Don Pedro was a devout Catholic, he was moreover a person that deeply contemplated profound spiritual aspects of life and connected these meditations to the liberation struggle. In an essay focusing on his statement following the Nationalist Revolution of 1950 that “the homeland is undergoing its glorious transfiguration,” author Ivonne Acosta points out Don Pedro’s approach of establishing sacred symbols and rites out of the relics and events of Puerto Rico’s revolutionary history–for example, the single-starred flag of Puerto Rico became a sacred symbol of the nation, and Lares became holy ground to be honored through a yearly pilgrimage on September 23rd. Symbols and rites were things he felt all national entities had, so he introduced them once he became President of the Nationalist Party in 1930.

In her essay, Acosta also highlights Don Pedro’s affirmation at the February 1936 funeral of Elias Beauchamp and Hiram Rosado that, “Nationalism has brought to the homeland the transmutation of its being, for man was not born to vegetate… courage is the only thing that allows the transmutation of man for higher purposes.” She points to this as the moment when he begins tying, publicly, the concept of transmutation with the mission of Puerto Rican nationalism. Acosta then cites Don Pedro’s April 8, 1950 statement about the monument of Ramón Emeterio Betances as another example of his use of the concept of transfiguration: “This monument is not only a monument, it is something that has undergone the transfiguration because that monument has within it the remains of the great patrician.”

This transmutation and transfiguration Don Pedro referred to was the transcendence of the people of Puerto Rico out of a defeated colonial mentality. It was the process of transforming from colonial subjects into human beings given historical purpose through a living connection with the revolutionary legacy of national patriots. Don Pedro commented on the need to undergo this process during a speech on October 10, 1935: “Today there form characterless beings who eat each other, the total happiness of our children is destroyed; to none the truth is preached, materialism leads them to death in body and soul. We must get out of this state and make of our people a people of humans, of martyrs, of saints.” This transformation was the primary objective of his nationalist leadership.

The process of transformation was initiated by Don Pedro in large part through his use of history as a tool to raise the consciousness of the masses. Not only did he speak on this history, but he provided symbols that could be seen, places that could be visited, and duties that could be performed. When consciousness had been raised to a certain level, and Puerto Ricans had genuinely developed within themselves the virtues of courage and sacrifice needed to defend the dignity and ideals inherent in any struggle towards liberation, Don Pedro knew the transformation had begun and would continue to take place. That these sacred symbols, places, and duties continue to be honored today is a testament to the significant and undeniable importance of Don Pedro’s leadership and legacy.


References:

  • Albizu Campos y la Independencia de Puerto Rico, by Laura de Albizu Campos (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2007).
  • El Independentismo En Puerto Rico: Su Pasado, Su Presente Y Su Porvenir, by Juan Mari Brás (Editorial Cepa, 1984).
  • La Espiritualidad de Pedro Albizu Campos, by Cristina Meneses Albizu-Campos (Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, 2008).
  • La “Transfiguración Gloriosa De La Patria” De Acuerdo A Pedro Albizu Campos, by Ivonne Acosta Lespier (Sin Mordazas Blog, 2013).
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).

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