By Carlito Rovira
On October 30, 1950 an armed battle took place in the municipality of Jayuya which spread throughout Puerto Rico. It became known as the Jayuya Uprising. Men and women determined to make their dream of an independent republic come true, carried out daring armed confrontations with U.S.-trained police and the National Guard.
The fury that ensued was attributed to the inhumane colonial policy of the United States, which began with the 1898 military invasion. Leading up to October 1950 the U.S. colonizers were putting in place a plan to crush the independence movement and all expressions of anti-colonialism with brute force.
The colonization of Puerto Rico was motivated by capitalist economic interests of giant banks and corporations. Countries like Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Japan and the United States engaged in savage competition among themselves to obtain colonies. With the conquest of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico the U.S. became an imperialist power. U.S. rulers envisioned themselves controlling the world, especially Latin America where they had defined their intentions to make it their own in the 1823 Monroe Doctrine.
However, this historical trend did not go unchallenged. Millions of people resisted the savage onslaught by this system, especially after World War II and well into the 1960’s with the emergence of organized nationalist movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
It was a momentous period in history with national liberation movements becoming an integral part of the global class struggle, which came to a head at the height of the so-called Cold War. At the political-military poles of this conflict were the United States on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. Most notable in this historic turmoil were the Algerian, Angolan, Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban Revolutions, as well as the inspiring liberation movements of Palestine, South Africa and Northern Ireland. Imperialism did not foresee the resistance of its victims who chose to pick up arms in their quest for freedom.
The 1950 Jayuya Uprising
Under the leadership of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico proclaimed the inalienable right of colonized Puerto Rican people to independence. These freedom fighters gained the respect of multiple sectors of the population.
The Nationalist Party also became known for advocating the right to use whatever means necessary to achieve liberation, including the use of armed force. This made them the primary target of colonialism’s repressive agencies that sought to destroy the independence movement.
When the political Left in the United States was persecuted in the 1940-50’s, the result of an anti-communist witch-hunt spearheaded by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy, Puerto Ricans witnessed a harsher version of that same hideous campaign. People in the U.S. hardly knew that Nationalists were systematically imprisoned and murdered.
Laws were created to justify the killings of Nationalists in plain view. The cause for Puerto Rico’s right to self-determination was criminalized outright. Such was Law 53 of 1948 better known as the Gag Law, (Spanish: Ley de La Mordaza); it banned the Nationalist Party, prohibited possession and display of the Puerto Rican flag, outlawed public gatherings, literature and musical renditions that mentioned independence or were critical of U.S. colonialism.
This vicious law aimed to destroy the self-identity and aspirations for nationhood among the people. The tactics used by government officials and the colonial police were intended to instill fear in the entire population.
U.S. news media outlets aired the false claims of Washington officials which projected the uprising as an “internal matter among Puerto Ricans.” But nothing can dismiss the cold facts pointing to the contrary: the supposed “Government of Puerto Rico” did not come into existence by the will of the people, it was installed by the U.S. colonizers. Federal law mandates the U.S. President taking direct charge of matters there in cases of emergency. In addition, the governor of Puerto Rico is required to report and take directions from the White House.
Early in October 1950, Nationalist Party intelligence operatives obtained information of a secret government plan to eliminate the independence movement. The tactics in the planned onslaught involved attacking offices and homes of Nationalist Party members, especially its leader Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos.
With knowledge of the imminent attack Party leadership chose to uphold national dignity and their right to armed self-defense and decided that it was best to take the initiative by landing the first blow.
On the morning of October 30, 1950, a young woman named Blanca Canales led an armed contingency of Nationalists towards Jayuya. Once they arrived into the city the patriots launched their attack on the police headquarters. The Nationalists then surrounded the despised facility and a gun battle ensued.
Civil and police officials were shocked by the unexpected tenacity of the freedom fighters. The police were ordered to surrender and come out of the building with their hands raised. As soon as the Nationalists gained control of the situation Blanca Canales proceeded to give the command to burn down the building.
Surrounded by crowds of town residents the brave patriots displayed the prohibited Puerto Rican flag. With her weapon raised in the air Blanca Canales agitated the onlookers by shouting the historic words of the struggle — “QUE VIVA PUERTO RICO LIBRE!” She defiantly declared the independence of Puerto Rico.
Violent clashes between police and nationalists also occurred in Utuado, Ponce, Mayagüez, Arecibo, Naranjito, Ciales, Peñuelas and other towns. In San Juan, the police attacked the headquarters of the Nationalist Party. Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, Isabel Rosado and others undertook an armed battle until they were overwhelmed by tear gas.
The colonial government in San Juan imposed new repressive measures throughout the country, including martial law. Military airplanes were deployed to bomb Jayuya in which 70 percent of the municipality was destroyed. The National Guard immediately pushed to suppress the uprising and regain control of city.
Well aware of the potential political impact news of the rebellion would have in the court of public opinion the U.S. government imposed a news blackout of the situation. To silence the voice of the emerging struggle, there was a gradual but intense effort to twist the facts.
Nationalist Party members Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola went to the Blair House in Washington, D.C. to assassinate President Harry Truman. Their intended purpose was to counter Washington’s lies about the conflict before the world. Torresola was killed and Collazo was critically wounded in a shootout with capital police and Truman’s bodyguards. But their brave act did bring about exposure to what was occurring in Puerto Rico.
The meaning of Jayuya
As Puerto Ricans rebelled with guns in hand, anti-colonial struggles in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America waged on. The Jayuya Uprising in Puerto Rico was part of the global resistance of oppressed and exploited people.
Although the efforts of the Nationalist Party failed to expel colonialism a political victory was won. This episode proved that the colonizers will compel the people to rebel. It does not matter how great the repressive reach is it can never erase from the minds of colonized people the pride of their national identity and their revolutionary traditions.
The foreign rulers will unavoidably show contempt for the people it subjugates and robs, as vividly demonstrated by a not-so-hidden campaign of neglect following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria.
If one were to examine the chronology of the atrocities committed by the U.S. in Puerto Rico, like the secret sterilization of women, the cancer epidemic caused by the bombing destruction of Vieques, the thousands of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria and the deliberate policy of neglect that followed and other examples of genocide.
The impositions by the U.S. Government on the Puerto Rican masses explains why the heroic stance of the Nationalists during the 1950 Jayuya Uprising was justified.
For their own reasoning the U.S. colonizers will also remember the Jayuya Uprising as they recognize the great potential for the Puerto Rican people to rise up. And in that inevitable moment the valuable lessons gained from the Jayuya experience shall prove decisive in the battle for a free Puerto Rican nation.