Oscar Collazo

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Oscar Collazo
Rosa and Oscar Collazo .jpg
Oscar and Rosa Collazo
Born January 20, 1914
Florida, Puerto Rico
Died February 21, 1994(1994-02-21) (aged 80)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Political party
Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
Movement Puerto Rican Independence
Spouse(s) Rosa Cortez de Collazo
External audio
Newsreel scenes in English of the assassination attempt on U.S. President Harry S Truman on YouTube

Oscar Collazo (January 20, 1914 – February 21, 1994) was one of two Puerto Ricans activists of the Nationalist Party who attempted to assassinate U.S. President Harry S. Truman in 1950 in Washington, DC.

Early life[edit]

Collazo (birth name: Oscar Collazo López [note 1]) was born in what is now Florida, Puerto Rico. In 1920, Collazo's father died and his mother sent him to live with his brother in Jayuya. His brother was a member of the Liberal Party which had independence beliefs. When Collazo was 14 years old, he participated in a student demonstration, which the government had made illegal, commemorating the birth of José de Diego, a known advocate for Puerto Rican independence who had died two years before.

In 1932, when Collazo was 18 years old, he participated in another demonstration commemorating José de Diego. This time the main speaker was Pedro Albizu Campos, the president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. That day Collazo was so impressed by Albizu Campos' leadership that he joined the Nationalist Party and devoted himself to it.[1][2]

Collazo heard Albizu talk about the abuses of American imperialism, as symbolized by Cornelius P. Rhoads, an American doctor who had written a controversial letter claiming to have killed Puerto Ricans in experiments. Outraged, Albizu had complained to the governor and gained an investigation. (This eventually cleared Rhoads of any crime.)[2]

Move to New York City and political career[edit]

In 1941, Collazo moved to New York City, which had a large Puerto Rican community. There he met and married Rosa Cortez, a divorcee. The couple had a total of three daughters from previous marriages: Rosa with two and Collazo with one. He worked in a metal polishing factory and led a normal family life[3]

He met and became friends with Albizu Campos when the latter was hospitalized for a time at the Columbus Hospital. Collazo had become the secretary and later served as president of the New York branch of the Nationalist Party. After he met Griselio Torresola in New York, the two men soon became friends.[3]

Plot to assassinate President Truman[edit]

On October 30, 1950, Torresola and Collazo learned that the Jayuya Uprising in Puerto Rico, led by the nationalist leader Blanca Canales, had failed. Torresola's sister had been wounded and his brother Elio was arrested. Believing they had to do something for their cause, Collazo and Torresola decided to assassinate President Harry S. Truman, in order to bring world attention to the need for independence.[1][3]

On October 31, 1950, Collazo and Torresola arrived at Union Station in Washington, D.C. and registered in the Harris Hotel. On November 1, 1950, with guns in hand, they attempted to enter the Blair House, where the President was living during renovation of the White House. During the attack, one White House Police officer, Private Leslie Coffelt, was killed and multiple others were wounded. Torresola was killed by the mortally wounded Coffelt, and Collazo was shot in the chest and arrested.[4]

In prison, Collazo was asked why he had targeted Truman, who was in favor of self-determination for Puerto Rico and who had appointed the first native-born Puerto Rican governor. Collazo replied that he had nothing against Truman, saying that he was "a symbol of the system. You don't attack the man, you attack the system."[5] He said he had been devoted to the Nationalist Party since 1932 and hearing Albizu talk about the Rhoads' letter and US imperialism.[2]

In 1952, Collazo was sentenced to death, but President Truman commuted his sentence to life imprisonment. He was sent to the federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas.

More than two decades later, on September 6, 1979, President Jimmy Carter commuted his sentence to time served, after Collazo had spent 29 years in jail. President Carter also commuted the sentences of Collazo's fellow Nationalists: Irving Flores, Rafael Cancel Miranda, and Lolita Lebrón, convicted in a later attack on Congress. Collazo had been eligible for parole since April 1966, and Lebron since July 1969. Cancel Miranda and Flores became eligible for parole in July 1979. However, none had applied for parole because of their political beliefs.[6] Upon their return to Puerto Rico, they were received as heroes by the different independence groups.[4]

Collazo's wife, Rosa, had been arrested at the time of the assassination attempt by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on suspicion of having conspired with her husband. She spent eight months in federal prison.[1] Upon her release from prison, Rosa Collazo continued to work with the Nationalist Party. She helped gather 100,000 signatures in an effort to save her husband from the electric chair.[1]

Later years and legacy[edit]

Plaque honoring the women of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party

In 1979, Collazo and the other nationalists were decorated by Cuba's President Fidel Castro. In the Puerto Rican Cultural Center of Chicago, Illinois is a mural honoring Puerto Rico's independence leaders; it includes the images of Collazo and Torresola.[7]

Oscar and Rosa Collazo eventually were divorced. She continued to actively participate in Puerto Rico's independence movement, and in 1984 a commemoration for her fifty years of patriotic work was held in the Bar Association Building. She was also given recognition for her efforts towards the commutation of her ex-husband's death sentence. Rosa Collazo, who died in May 1988, lived the last years of her life by the side of her daughter Lydia Collazo Cortez.[1][8]

A plaque at the monument to the Jayuya Uprising participants in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, honors the women of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Rosa Cortez Collazo's name is on the ninth line of the third plate.

Oscar Collazo continued to participate in activities related to the independence movement. On February 21, 1994, he died of a stroke, having passed his 80th birthday by just over a month. The guns used by Collazo and Torresola in the assassination attempt are on display at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence, Missouri.[9]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Antonio Gil de Lamadrid Navarro, Los Indomitos
  • Oscar Collazo, Oscar Collazo
  • Jonah Raskin, Oscar Collazo: Portrait of a Puerto Rican Patriot (New York: New York Committee to Free the Puerto Rican Nationalist Prisoners, 1978).
  • Stephen Hunter and John Bainbridge, Jr., American Gunfight: The Plot To Kill Harry Truman - And The Shoot-Out That Stopped It (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005). ISBN 0-7432-6068-6

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Rosa and Lydia Collazo", Peace Host
  2. ^ a b c Susan E. Lederer, "Porto Ricochet": Joking about Germs, Cancer, and Race Extermination in the 1930s", American Literary History, Volume 14, Number 4, Winter 2002, accessed 23 October 2013
  3. ^ a b c 1950 Assassination attempt, Truman Library
  4. ^ a b New York Times
  5. ^ David McCullough, Truman, Simon & Schuster, 1992; p. 812.
  6. ^ Jimmy Carter: Puerto Rican Nationalists Announcement of the President's Commutation of Sentences
  7. ^ Puerto Rican Cultural Center
  8. ^ "Latinas in the United States: A Historical Encyclopedia By Vicki Ruíz, Virginia Sánchez Korrol, Inc NetLibrary; Published by Indiana University Press, 2006; Page 164; ISBN 0-253-34680-0, ISBN 978-0-253-34680-3
  9. ^ Truman Library
  1. ^
    This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Collazo and the second or maternal family name is López.

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