Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s
|Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s|
Puerto Rican flag removed by a member of the National Guard after the 1950 Jayuya Uprising
| Puerto Rico
Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
| United States
296th Regiment of the
U.S. National Guard
|Commanders and leaders|
|Pedro Albizu Campos||Mj. Gen. Luis R. Esteves|
|Casualties and losses|
|KIA: 16 Nationalists
WIA: 9 Nationalists
|KIA: 1 National Guard
7 Insular Police
WIA: 6 National Guard
23 Insular Police
|Additional PRNP paramilitary cells in Washington, D.C.|
|Part of a series on the|
Flag of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s were a series of coordinated armed protests for the independence of Puerto Rico led by the president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Don Pedro Albizu Campos, against the United States Government rule on the Island. The Party repudiated the "Free Associated State" (Estado Libre Asociado) status that had been enacted in 1950 and which the Nationalists considered a continuation of colonialism.
The Party organized a series of uprisings to take place in various Puerto Rican cities on October 30, 1950. The uprisings were suppressed by strong ground and air military force under the command of Puerto Rico National Guard Major General Luis R. Esteves. In a related event, on November 1 of that year, two Nationalists from New York City attempted to storm the Blair House in a failed effort to assassinate U.S. President Harry S. Truman, who supported the Puerto Rican government effort to draft a constitution that would rename the local government as a commonwealth of the United States and provide some limited local autonomy.
In 1952, nearly 82% of Puerto Rican voters approved such Constitution of the Estado Libre Associado. But the Nationalist considered the outcome of the vote a political farce since the referendum offered no option to vote in favor of independence or statehood, restricting the choices to only two: a continuation of the colonial status existing at that time and the proposed new commonwealth status.
On March 1, 1954, in another protest, four Nationalists fired shots from the visitors' gallery in the House of Representatives of the United States Capitol during a full floor debate, wounding five Congressmen, one seriously. The Nationalists were protesting what they perceived as a continuation of a colonial status in Puerto Rico.
- 1 Historical context
- 2 United States "Manifest Destiny" and the banana republics
- 3 Nationalist party response
- 4 Revolts and events of the 1950s
- 4.1 Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
- 4.2 Puerto Rico's Gag Law (Ley de la Mordaza)
- 4.3 Peñuelas Incident
- 4.4 Arecibo Incident
- 4.5 Ponce Incident
- 4.6 Mayagüez Incident
- 4.7 Jayuya Uprising
- 4.8 Utuado Uprising
- 4.9 San Juan Nationalist revolt
- 4.10 Naranjito Incident
- 4.11 Truman assassination attempt
- 4.12 U.S. Capitol shooting incident
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Notable Nationalist leaders of the 1950s
- 7 Photo gallery
- 8 Mundo Abierto (Open World)
- 9 Incarcerated Nationalists
- 10 See also
- 11 References
After 400 years of colonial domination under the Spanish Empire, Puerto Rico received sovereignty in 1898 through a Carta de Autonomía (Charter of Autonomy). This Charter of Autonomy was signed by the Spanish Prime Minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta and ratified by the Spanish Cortes. However, at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, it was still the age of imperialism and Manifest Destiny. The United States claimed rule over the island under the Treaty of Paris, and the US demanded cessions from its defeated foe, Spain. The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party arose among opponents to this action, who said that, as a matter of international law, the Treaty of Paris could not empower the Spanish to give what was no longer theirs. The US administered Puerto Rico as a territory, initially with a military government.
It was also the age of banana republics, and here was an opportunity to create a banana republic on US occupied territory. (It was not the first one, though, as Big Five-dominated Hawaii had been annexed in 1898.) In 1901, the first civilian U.S. governor of Puerto Rico, Charles Herbert Allen, became the president of the largest sugar-refining company in the world, the American Sugar Refining Company, which also dominated Puerto Rico's economy. This company was later renamed as the Domino Sugar company. In effect, Charles Allen leveraged his governorship of Puerto Rico into a controlling interest over the entire Puerto Rican economy.
The Federal government did not quite know how to classify Puerto Ricans at first. Were they Americans? Were they foreigners or quasi-foreigners? In 1904, the Immigration Service implemented more strict regulations that classified people from Puerto Rico as aliens who tried to enter the US, although previously they had easily migrated. In a case carried to the US Supreme Court by Isabel González in 1904, the court ruled that Puerto Ricans had the right of free travel to the US. In 1917, the US granted full US citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico; they were restricted from voting in presidential elections because they did not have the status of a state.
United States "Manifest Destiny" and the banana republics
The U.S. government supported expansion of its interests in the Caribbean area. The U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declared in the early 20th century that, “It is manifest destiny for a nation to own the islands which border its shores.” He also said that if “any South American country misbehaves it should be spanked.”
In 1912 the Cayumel Banana company, a U.S. corporation, orchestrated the military invasion of Honduras in order to obtain hundreds of thousands of acres of Honduran land, and tax-free export of its entire banana crop. By 1928 the United Fruit Company, another U.S. corporation, owned over 200,000 acres of prime Colombian farmland. When a labor strike erupted against the company in December 6 of that year, over one thousand men, women and children were shot and killed in order to "settle" the strike. This was known as the Banana Massacre.
By 1930 the United Fruit Company owned over one million acres of land in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Mexico and Cuba. By 1940, in Honduras alone, the United Fruit Company owned 50 percent of all private land in the entire country. By 1942, the United Fruit Company owned 75 percent of all private land in Guatemala - plus most of Guatemala's roads, power stations and phone lines, the only Pacific seaport, and every mile of railroad.
By 1930, over 40 percent of all the arable land in Puerto Rico had been converted into sugar plantations, which were entirely owned by former governor Charles Allen and U.S. banking interests. These bank syndicates also owned the entire coastal railroad, and the San Juan international seaport.
Social unrest increased during the Great Depression. In the mid-1930s, the Nationalist movement gained support after the Río Piedras and the Ponce massacres; they said the US-supported government resorted to violence to maintain its colonial regime in Puerto Rico.
In 1950, the US Congress passed a law authorizing a new status for Puerto Rico, as a "Free Associated State" (Estado Libre Asociado). It provided for popular elections of the governor, a bicameral legislature and bill of rights, and executive functions similar to those of the states. The US was to keep control over the money, defense, customs, and any foreign treaties. The Nationalists considered this a continuation of colonialism.
Nationalist party response
The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s were a call for independence from US rule. It demanded the recognition of the 1898 Charter of Autonomy, and Puerto Rico's international sovereignty. It also repudiated the so-called Estado Libre Asociado (Free Associated State) designation of Puerto Rico - a designation they regarded as a colonial farce.
|You may watch newsreel scenes of the Ponce massacre here|
The revolts began on October 30, 1950, upon the orders of Pedro Albizu Campos, president of the Nationalist Party. Uprisings occurred in Peñuelas, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Arecibo and Ponce. The most notable uprisings occurred in Utuado, Jayuya, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In Utuado, the insurgents were killed. In Jayuya the "Free Republic of Puerto Rico" was declared, until the U.S. sent bomber planes, heavy artillery, and Army infantry troops to end the Republic. In San Juan, the Nationalists made a failed attempt to assassinate the elected governor, Luis Muñoz Marín, at his residence La Fortaleza.
The revolts resulted in many casualties: of the 28 dead, 16 were Nationalists, 7 were police officers, 1 a National Guardsman, and 4 were uninvolved civilians. Of the 49 wounded, of 23 were police officers, 6 were National guardsmen, 9 were Nationalists, and 11 were uninvolved civilians.
The revolts were not limited to Puerto Rico. They included a plot to assassinate the President of the United States Harry S. Truman. On November 1, 1950, two Nationalists attacked the Blair House in Washington, D.C., where Truman was staying while renovations were being made to the White House.
The last major attempt by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party to draw world attention to Puerto Rico's situation occurred on March 1, 1954, when four Nationalists attacked the United States House of Representatives.
Revolts and events of the 1950s
Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
First organized on September 17, 1922, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party's main objective was Puerto Rican Independence. By 1930, disagreements between Jose Coll y Cuchi and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos as to how the party should be run, led the former and his followers to abandon the party.
On May 11, 1930, Albizu Campos was elected president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Under Albizu's leadership during the years of the Great Depression, the party became the largest independence movement in Puerto Rico. However after disappointing electoral results and strong repression by the territorial police authorities, by the mid-1930s Albizu opted against electoral participation, and advocated violent revolution.
Puerto Rico's Gag Law (Ley de la Mordaza)
Puerto Rico had a gag law from 1948 to 1957, and this law was in effect at the time of the revolt. On May 21, 1948, a bill, which would be passed and signed into law on June 10, was introduced before the Puerto Rican Senate, which would restrain the rights of the independence and Nationalist movements in the island. It was approved by the Puerto Rican Senate, which at the time was controlled by the PPD and presided by Luis Muñoz Marín.
The new law, also known as the "Ley de la Mordaza" (Gag Law), made it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to talk of independence, or to fight for the independence of the island. The bill was signed into law on June 10, 1948, by the U.S.-appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero and became known as Ley 53 (Law 53).
The first incident of the Nationalist uprisings was an act by a police force against the rebels, in the pre-dawn hours of October 29, 1950. The Insular Police of the town of Peñuelas surrounded the house of Melitón Muñiz Santos's mother. Melitón Muñiz Santos was the president of the Peñuelas Nationalist Party in the barrio Macaná, and the police were about to raid the house under the pretext that Muñiz Santos was storing weapons for the Nationalist Revolt.
Without warning, the police fired on the Nationalists in the house. A firefight ensued, killing three Nationalists (Arturo Ortiz, Guillermo González Ubides, José A. Ramos) and wounding six police officers. Nationalists Meliton Muñoz Santos, Roberto Jaume Rodriguez, Estanislao Lugo Santiago, Marcelino Turell, William Gutirrez and Marcelino Berrios were arrested and accused of participating in an ambush against the local Insular Police.
Tomás López de Victoria led the revolt in Arecibo. He ordered Ismael Díaz Matos to attack the local police station. Díaz Matos killed four policemen before fleeing. Fellow Nationalist Hipólito Miranda Díaz was killed while he covered the escape of his comrades. Díaz Matos and his group were captured and arrested by the National Guard. Among the cadets arrested and charged with organizing the attack were López de Victoria and Juan Jaca Hernández, cadet Captain of Arecibo.
Police Corporal Aurelio Miranda approached a car carrying some Nationalists. Fellow officers suggested they arrest them. Officer Miranda was shot dead in a gunfight between the Nationalists and the police. Antonio Alicea, Jose Miguel Alicea, Francisco Campos (Albizu Campos' nephew), Osvaldo Perez Martinez, and Ramon Pedrosa Rivera were arrested and accused of the murder of police Corporal Miranda. Raul de Jesus was accused of violation of the Insular Firearms Law.
The Nationalist group of Mayagüez was one of the largest. It was divided into several units, each assigned to attack different targets. One of the groups attacked the town's police station, resulting in the death of three policemen and three bystanders. This unit joined the others in Barrio La Quinta. After local police arrived, the men escaped into the mountains and avoided further casualties by using guerrilla tactics.
The Jayuya Uprising was a revolt in the town of Jayuya, Puerto Rico, which occurred on October 30, 1950. The revolt, led by Blanca Canales, was one of the most notable among the various revolts which occurred that day against the United States government. In the town square, Canales gave a speech and declared Puerto Rico a free Republic. The town was attacked by air by ten U.S. bomber planes and by land with artillery. The town was held by the Nationalists for three days.
The Utuado Uprising was a revolt that occurred in Utuado; Nationalists, led by the Captain of the Utuado branch of the Cadets of the Republic Heriberto Castro and Damián Torres, attacked the police station. The National Guard arrived that day and ordered the nine Nationalist men who survived their own attack to surrender. Once the nationalists surrendered, they were marched to the town plaza where they had to remove their shoes, belts and personal belongings. Taken behind the police station, the men were machine gunned. Five men died: Heriberto Castro, Julio Colón Feliciano, Agustín Quiñones Mercado, Antonio Ramos and Antonio González. The four survivors were seriously wounded. The event became known as "La Masacre de Utuado" (The Utuado Massacre). Over the next two days, the U.S. used ten P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes to bomb Utuado.
San Juan Nationalist revolt
The rebels also attacked the capital of Puerto Rico, San Juan, in the San Juan Nationalist revolt, on October 30, 1950. The San Juan uprising's main objective was to attack "La Fortaleza" (the Governors mansion) and the United States Federal Court House Building in Old San Juan. Four Nationalists died during the attempt: Raimundo Díaz Pacheco, Domingo Hiraldo Resto, Carlos Hiraldo Resto and Manuel Torres Medina. In the incident known as the Gunfight at Salon Boricua, Vidal Santiago Díaz, Albizu Campos' barber, was attacked by 40 police officers and guardsmen. The incident happened at Santiago Díaz's barbershop, "Salon Boricua", located in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. The gunfight was broadcast live over the radio to the Puerto Rican public.
José Antonio Negrón, a World War II veteran, led the revolt in Naranjito and Nationalists who attacked the police. Afterward, they retreated to the nearby mountains and formed a guerrilla group. They continued to raid several locations until November 6, when the National Guard arrived and attacked the house where the group was staying. Negrón escaped to Corozal, where he was arrested on November 10. The Nationalist Insurrection in Puerto Rico ended at Naranjito.
Truman assassination attempt
The revolt included the Truman assassination attempt, a failed attempt on the life of U.S. President Harry Truman, on November 1, 1950. Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, from New York, carried out the attack on Blair House, where President Harry Truman was living during renovations at the White House. In the firefight between the Nationalists and police and Secret Service officers, Torresola mortally wounded a White House Police officer, who killed him in return shooting. Collazo was wounded and stood trial; convicted, he was sentenced to death, but Truman commuted his sentence to life. Truman supported the Puerto Rican effort to draft and vote on a constitution for the island's government which would establish the islands' political status. In March 1952, the people of Puerto Rico voted overwhelmingly, nearly 82%, in favor of the new constitution establishing the Commonwealth.
U.S. Capitol shooting incident
There was also gunfire in the U.S. Capitol. On March 1, 1954, four Puerto Rican Nationalists: Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andres Figueroa Cordero, and Irving Flores Rodríguez, tried to highlight problems in Puerto Rico by attacking the House of Representatives of the United States. They fired automatic pistols from the Ladies' Gallery (a balcony for visitors) in the House of Representatives. The 240 representatives were on the floor during a debate over an immigration bill. They wounded five Congressmen, one seriously, but all survived. The Nationalists were tried and convicted in federal court and sentenced to imprisonment. In 1978 and 1979, President Jimmy Carter commuted their sentences to time served, and the four returned to Puerto Rico.
The revolt of October 1950 failed because of the overwhelming force used by the U.S. military, the Puerto Rican National Guard (the 296th Regiment, a component of the United States National Guard), the FBI, the CIA, and the Puerto Rican Insular Police, all of whom were aligned against the Nationalists. Dozens of Nationalists were killed and wounded, and hundreds of others were arrested and held in prison. The US also bombed the towns of Jayuya and Utuado. Critics have said that there was not sufficient coverage of the suppression of the uprisings. According to an anonymous and undated article in the New York Latino Journal in the early 2000s, it was described at the time in the mainland press as an "incident between Puerto Ricans."
After the assassination attempt against him in 1950, Truman pushed for a "status referendum" and accompanying "constitution." In a March 1952 vote, nearly 82% of voters in Puerto Rico approved the constitution. This result was controversial, since the referendum had only offered a choice between the existing colony or commonwealth, and neither independence nor statehood were on the ballot.
Among the factors which has affected the independence movement in Puerto Rico have been the "COINTELPRO program" and the "Carpetas program." The "COINTELPRO program" was a project conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), under J. Edgar Hoover, aimed at surveying, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting certain domestic political organizations. The "Carpetas program" was a massive collection of information gathered by the island's police on so called “political subversives.” The police had in its possession of thousands of extensive carpetas (files) concerning individuals of all social groups and ages. Approximately 75,000 persons were listed as under political police surveillance. The massive surveillance apparatus uncovered was aimed primarily against Puerto Rico's independence movement. Thus many independence supporters moved to the Popular Democratic Party as a means to an end to stop statehood.
Notable Nationalist leaders of the 1950s
- Pedro Albizu Campos - Party president.
- Alvaro Rivera Walker - Secretary to Albizu Campos.
- Juan Antonio Corretjer - 1st Secretary General of the Nationalist Party.
- Francisco Matos Paoli - 2nd Secretary General of the Nationalist Party.
- Vidal Santiago Díaz - President of the Santurce Municipal Board of the PRNP.
- Raimundo Díaz Pacheco - Treasurer General of the Nationalist Party, Commander of the Cadets of the Republic and leader of the San Juan Nationalist revolt.
- Tomás López de Victoria - Sub-Commander of the Cadets of the Republic and leader of the Arecibo Incident.
- Olga Viscal Garriga - Student leader and spokesperson of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party's branch in Rio Piedras.
- Blanca Canales - Jayuya Uprising leader.
- Heriberto Castro, Captain of the Utuado branch of the Cadets of the Republic, and Damián Torres - Leaders of the Utuado Uprising.
- Melitón Muñiz Santos - President of the Peñuelas branch of the Nationalist Party and leader of the Peñuelas Incident.
- José Antonio Negrón - Leader of the Naranjito Incident.
- Carlos Vélez Rieckehoff - Leader of the Vieques branch of the Nationalist Party.
- Hugo Margenat - Founder of "Acción Juventud Independentista" (Pro-independence Youth Action) and the "Federación de Universitarios Pro Independencia" (University Pro-Independence Federation of Puerto Rico).
- Ruth Mary Reynolds - Founder of "Americans for Puerto Rico's Independence".
Attempt against President Truman
- Oscar Collazo - President of the New York branch of the Nationalist Party.
- Griselio Torresola - Cousin of Blanca Canales who teamed up with Oscar Collazo in the assassination attempt.
U.S. Capitol shooting incident
- Lolita Lebrón - Leader of the attack against the U.S. Capitol in 1954.
- Rafael Cancel Miranda - Participant in the attack against the U.S. Capitol in 1954
|Gallery of Puerto Rican Nationalist Party leaders of the 1950s|
Mundo Abierto (Open World)
"Mundo Abierto " (Open World) is a poem written in 1956 by Hugo Margenat, in which he refers to the bombardment of the town of Jayuya by the U.S. military. This occurred during the Jayuya Uprising, which was headed by Nationalist leader Blanca Canales.
Hombre, rechaza el uniforme que denigra.
Man, reject the uniform that defames.
que como una avalancha de blanco estiércol
that as an avalanche of white manure
nuestros tejados en un día de octubre.
our rooftops in a day of October.
y a su calor la patria suspiró transformándose
and from its heat the fatherland sighed transforming
FBI list of names of the Nationalists who were incarcerated in 1950 and who were still in prison as of 1954.
|Names of the Nationalists who were incarcerated in 1950 and who were still in prison as of 1954.|
- List of famous Puerto Ricans
- List of revolutions and rebellions
- Puerto Rican Independence Movement
- Puerto Rican Nationalist Party
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- isla negra.
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