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 transition 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 liberation movement: “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 leadership of the Nationalist Party was connected to the longer, historic struggle for independence. He once proclaimed: “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.
The journalist Manuel Rivera Matos, who was also serving as the Nationalist Party’s secretary general that year, conducted an interview with Don Pedro Angleró, a 110-year-old former enslaved person who took part in El Grito de Lares. In the interview, Don Angleró explained that he more than just knew about Ramón Emeterio Betances—Betances was the doctor of his home. Present for the interview was Don Angleró’s grandnephew Ambrosio Angleró, at the time the president of the Barrio Obrero chapter of the Nationalist Party, as well as 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.
For the 100th anniversary of El Grito de Lares in 1968, the Nationalist Party highlighted this symbolic moment by publishing literature with the images of Betances, Don Angleró, and Don Pedro, and 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 continued the work. Because of the state of his health during his final prison term from 1954-1964, organizations inspired by him were formed before he even took his final breath.
Juan Mari Brás, a pro-independence student activist in the 1940s University of Puerto Rico, formed the Movimiento Pro-Independencia (MPI) in 1959, which later became the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP) in 1971. Juan Antonio Corretjer, who worked very closely with Don Pedro in the 1930s and then became active as a communist, formed the Liga Socialista Puertorriqueño in 1962. As for the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, Jacinto Rivera Pérez, who upon Don Pedro’s return from exile in 1947 had been elected its vice-president, served as the Party’s president for many years after Don Pedro transitioned in 1965.
Of course, the legacy of Don Pedro cannot be discussed without also discussing armed struggle and the armed groups that developed in Puerto Rico through his influence. Just like groups mentioned previously, armed groups inspired by Don Pedro’s legacy were also formed in the years before his transition, with many more developing after. In his book focusing on Filiberto Ojeda Ríos and the Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario Armado (MIRA), author Álvaro M. Rivera Ruiz wrote that Don Pedro was “ideologically and emotionally reincarnated in this generation of combatants.” Rivera Ruiz also pointed 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.” The next group formed by Ojeda Ríos, in 1976, and which continues to be active today, is the Ejército Popular Boricua-Macheteros.
Just like Don Pedro, members of these armed groups also faced prison terms for seditious conspiracy. As an example, the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a group based in the U.S. that emerged in 1974, had fourteen members arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy between 1980 and 1983. Most of these FALN members were released in 1999, after serving 16-19 years in prison, when U.S. President Bill Clinton granted them clemency. Oscar López Rivera was the last to be released, his sentence being commuted by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2017 after he had served 36 years in prison.
An important organization to emerge that was greatly influenced by Don Pedro was the Young Lords, a Chicago street organization that became political in 1968. They went on to have a national impact and a significant presence in New York City. The Young Lords, taking inspiration from the Black Panther Party, adopted a militant activist approach and ran several community service programs that organized 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 highlighted Don Pedro’s life and legacy in addition to others like Ramón Emeterio Betances and El Grito de Lares, Blanca Canales and the Nationalist Insurrection of 1950, and Lolita Lebrón and the 1954 attack on congress. Central to the Young Lords’ struggle, and 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.”
- 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).