A Purpose Connected To History
César Andreu Iglesias, one-time President of the Puerto Rican Communist Party and co-founder of the publication Claridad, published an article in El Imparcial on April 24, 1965, three days after the passing of Don Pedro. In it, he provided his own definition of what Don Pedro represented for the nation of Puerto Rico. His words speak to the profound impact Don Pedro had as the leader of a people’s revolution: “To define Albizu Campos, one word is enough: Albizu was the conscience of Puerto Rico. He was for those who followed him. He was even more so for the many who denied him… Albizu accepted his role as an inexorable fate. Nothing so terrible as making a conscience of a people. He spoke when it was necessary to speak. He denounced when it was necessary to denounce. He accused when it was necessary to accuse. And he was always ready to face the consequences. His action did not know of compromises, concessions, returns. He acted as what he was: an unappealable, absolute conscience.”
Besides accepting it as fate, Don Pedro was very clear that his Nationalist Party leadership was connected to the longer, historic struggle for independence, saying one time, “This is the continuation of the work of Betances and the founders of the Republic in Lares in 1868.” In 1931 an interesting event of great symbolic significance related to this continuity took place in Santurce’s Barrio Obrero. That year Manuel Rivera Matos, a journalist who was also serving as the Nationalist Party’s Secretary General at the time, conducted an interview with Don Pedro Angleró, a 110-year old former slave who took part in El Grito de Lares. In the interview Don Angleró explained he not only knew of Ramón Emeterio Betances, the leader of El Grito given the nickname “father of the nation,” but that he was the doctor of his home.
Present for the interview was Don Angleró’s grandnephew Ambrosio Angleró, who was serving as President of the Barrio Obrero chapter of the Nationalist Party, Juan Antonio Corretjer, and Don Pedro. During the meeting a symbolic moment took place where Don Angleró, in his position as the only remaining survivor of El Grito, recognized Don Pedro as the person to carry forward the legacy of the patriots of Lares. After this meeting took place Don Angleró became sick and, less than one month later on October 16, 1931, passed away. Just before the 100th anniversary of El Grito de Lares in 1968 the Nationalist Party published literature with the images of Betances, Don Angleró, and Don Pedro with the words “pass the torch of history and freedom.”
Upholding Don Pedro’s Revolutionary Legacy
Before Don Pedro passed away he might not have had a similar moment where he passed on the torch of the struggle, but he definitely had successors that would continue the work. Some of the movements and organizations he inspired ideologically were formed before he even passed away because of the state of his health during his final prison term from 1954 to 1964. Juan Mari Brás, who was a pro-independence student activist in the University of Puerto Rico in the 1940s, formed the Pro Independence Movement (MPI) in 1959, which later became the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP) in 1971. Juan Antonio Corretjer, who worked so closely with Don Pedro in the 1930s and then became active as a communist, formed the Puerto Rican Socialist League in 1962. As for the Nationalist Party, Jacinto Rivera Pérez, who upon Don Pedro’s return from exile in 1947 had been elected as its vice-president, served as the Party’s president for many years after Don Pedro passed away in 1965.
Of course, the legacy of Don Pedro cannot be discussed without taking into account the concept of armed struggle. Just like the groups mentioned previously, armed groups inspired by Don Pedro’s legacy would also be formed in the years before he passed away, though many more would be developed after. In his book focusing on Filiberto Ojeda Ríos, a Puerto Rican revolutionary killed by the FBI on September 23, 2005, and the Revolutionary Independence Movement in Arms (MIRA), an organization Ojeda Ríos helped to form, author Álvaro M. Rivera Ruiz wrote that Don Pedro was “ideologically and emotionally reincarnated in this generation of combatants,” referring to these armed groups that developed. Rivera Ruiz also points out the main difference between the strategy of the Nationalist Party and these new armed groups, writing, “the former made a direct confrontation with the regime, while the second opted for a clandestine struggle, as a security mechanism.” Another group formed by Ojeda Ríos, in 1976, and believed to be active today, is the Boricua Popular Army-Macheteros.
Just like Don Pedro, members of these armed groups also faced prison terms for seditious conspiracy. As an example, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), a group formed in the United States that emerged in 1974, had fourteen members arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy between 1980 and 1983. Most of these FALN members were released 19 years later in 1999 when U.S. President Bill Clinton granted them clemency, with Oscar López Rivera being the last one to be released when his sentence was commuted by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2017.
Another important organization to emerge that was strongly influenced by Don Pedro was the Young Lords, a Chicago street organization that became political in 1968 and which later expanded to be a national organization with a significant presence in New York City. The Young Lords, taking inspiration from the Black Panther Party, had a similarly militant approach and also ran several community service programs, organizing free breakfast for children, clothing donations for those in need, rehabilitation for drug addiction, child care, street clean-ups, political education, health testing, and more. Within both their political education classes and the articles printed in their newspaper, the Young Lords frequently focused on Don Pedro’s life and legacy in addition to other historical figures and events like Ramón Emeterio Betances and El Grito de Lares, Blanca Canales and the Nationalist Revolution of 1950, and Lolita Lebrón and the 1954 attack on Congress. Central to the Young Lords’ struggle, appearing as the first of their thirteen-point organizational program, was self-determination for Puerto Ricans–“liberation on the island and inside the United States.”
La Lucha Sigue/ The Struggle Continues
According to Ruth Reynolds, a few days after the devastating San Ciriaco Hurricane finishing passing over Puerto Rico in 1899, a young Don Pedro encountered an officer of the U.S. Army and was so struck by his remarks that he remembered and recounted them years later to Reynolds. Commenting on the effects of the hurricane, the officer called it a godsend, saying that the U.S. government could not have gained so much economic control in such a short time without it. What followed were the formative years of the colonial regime that sectors of the Puerto Rican people opposed, but that would not be seriously challenged until the 1930s when Don Pedro led the Nationalist Party. In September 2017, Puerto Rico endured two significant hurricanes just two weeks apart, the second, Hurricane Maria, rivaling San Ciriaco with its death toll in the thousands. Inaction, mismanagement, and corruption on the part of U.S. federal agencies involved in recovery efforts forced Puerto Rico’s residents and non-profit organizations to lead most of the recovery themselves, producing a national uproar.
Less than two years after Hurricane Maria, in July 2019, popular angst over long-standing government corruption and overall dissatisfaction with elected officials came to a historic head when a series of text messages by Governor Ricardo Rosselló and associates were leaked displaying racist, sexist, and homophobic language, in addition to jokes about the victims of Hurricane Maria. The mass protests that followed resulted in Governor Rosselló resigning from his post. These protests, continuous for almost two weeks and attended by hundreds of thousands on some days, became the largest mass protests in Puerto Rican history, surpassing in numbers the historic protests that successfully closed down controversial U.S. military bases on Vieques in 2003.
The colonial rule exercised over Puerto Rico by the U.S. government continues today in the same form that Don Pedro experienced it when he was organizing against it. Increasing numbers of people in Puerto Rico, and across the Puerto Rican Diaspora, want to see this colonial status changed. How this colonial status will change, and when, is still to be determined. In 1936, when Don Pedro felt he was so close to securing the independence of Puerto Rico, the U.S. government conspired to have him and several other leaders imprisoned. This historic repression of the Puerto Rican independence movement by sectors of the U.S. government, through efforts that also have included the killing of leaders as well as the infiltration and sabotage of organizations and movements, has continued ever since.
Without addressing this history of repression and allowing for a restorative education process through which the stigma and misrepresentation of independence as a viable status option is reversed, it is hard to see how Puerto Rico can emerge from colonialism through popular support for independence. Of course, it is by initiating exactly that process that Don Pedro became the leader of a movement that seriously threatened U.S. control in Puerto Rico. While there will never be another Don Pedro, his life and legacy is here to inspire us all and the struggle that continues.
- El Independentismo En Puerto Rico: Su Pasado, Su Presente Y Su Porvenir, by Juan Mari Brás (Editorial Cepa, 1984).
- Nacionalismo Revolucionario Puertorriqueño: La Lucha Armada, Intelectuales y Prisioneros Políticos y de Guerra (1956-2005), by Michael González Cruz (Editorial Isla Negra, 2018).
- Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas de la Aurora- Acercamiento a su Biografía, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2008).
- Plantao En La Revolución, by Partido Nacionalista De Puerto Rico (Ediciones Año Pre-Centenario De La Proclamación De La República, 1967).
- Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló To Quit After Weeks Of Protest, by Oliver Laughland (The Guardian, 25 July 2019).
- Puerto Rico Sees More Pain And Little Progress Three Years After Hurricane Maria, by Nicole Acevedo (NBC News, 20 September 2020).
- The Young Lords: A Reader, edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer (New York University Press, 2010).
- Violencia Política y Subalternidad Colonial: El Caso de Filiberto Ojeda y el MIRA (1960-1972), by Álvaro M. Rivera Ruiz (Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, 2020).