There is no such thing as a “shutdown” of the capitalist state while the capitalist class is in power. The rulers are not that stupid to “shutdown” the apparatus that keeps them in power.
The police and the military will continue to function, maintaining this racist and criminal system of inequality. It is really a deception to make us believe that there is something fundamentally different between Democrats and Republicans, two political entities of the wealthy.
In actuality, what this debate among the different sectors of the ruling class is really about is to test how far they can go and get away with their political and economic subjugation of poor & working class people.
Trickery is a characteristic of those in this society who have made their fortunes at the expense of the many. In this case Republicans are attempting to demonize children of mostly Mexican origins as a way to sway the public to support the defunding and eliminate the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
But feverish and self-contradictory policies also existed under the Democratic Obama administration which contributed towards the anti-immigrant posture that exist today.
So-called “non essential” government workers will not be paid; recipients of social security and other desperately needed programs will not receive their checks. The military brass will continue to receive their payment and retain their privileges while the rank & file and their families will be left to float in the wind.
What is most ironic in all this is that the privileged men and women members of the U.S. Congress will continue to get paid, while millions of families throughout the country suffer.
Political crisis amongst the rulers such as what is now taking place, in which poor people are placed in a situation as pawns, is basically a fight among thieves. And as long as capitalism exist these farcical conflicts will continue to flourish as symptom of capitalist oppression. It is a reminder that WE NEED A FUNDAMENTALLY NEW SOCIETY.
In the days following the massive devastation caused by Hurricane Maria news reports have emphasized the “American citizenship” of Puerto Ricans. But why are Puerto Ricans suddenly being projected actively as American citizens when, traditionally, this has not been the case?
The same media outlets have discovered that most people in the U.S. do not know that Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship. For many North Americans—who often suspect that people who speak Spanish and come from a territory in Latin America are “illegal”—the concept of Puerto Ricans as “citizens” must be baffling indeed.
What is needed to clear up the confusion is a discussion of the origins of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S. and the peculiarities of Puerto Rican “citizenship.” The contradictions of that relationship have been vividly captured in the savagely unequal deployment of relief to Houston, devastated by Hurricane Harvey, and Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the underlying reason for the different responses—the colonial relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico—has not been clearly understood.
Puerto Rico was one of four countries colonized by the US in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898. In 1917, then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones–Shafroth Act. Commonly known as the “Jones Act” it imposed a second-class version of citizenship on Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico. The U.S. government expressed it’s imperial arrogance by ignoring opposition to the law by an organized sector of the island, including outspoken figures like Luis Muñoz Rivera and Jose De Diego.
The law identified the people of the island as “statutory citizens,” a new concept never before applied to anyone, anywhere, which means that certain rights and benefits of citizenship do not apply. Puerto Ricans residing on the island are denied the right to vote in Federal elections and the ability to declare bankruptcy, among other rights and benefits.
The double standard in the supposed “American citizenship” for Puerto Ricans was fueled by the same racist logic of the not-so-hidden second-class citizenship status this country maintains for Indigenous People and African Americans, only in the case of Puerto Ricans the second-class status was actually spelled out in the Jones Act itself instead of just existing de-facto.
The U.S. rulers concocted a way of disguising the fact that they had conquered and colonized a distinct nation, in a separate territory, with a separate economy and a distinct history, culture, language and national-identity. In short, the Jones Act allowed the U.S. rulers to disguise their colonizing intent and undermine the existence and identity of another nation.
At first many Puerto Ricans believed that “U.S. citizenship” would benefit them. But they soon discovered the opposite.
Statutory Citizenship and World War I
On April 6, 1917, barely a month after the imposition of “U.S. citizenship” on Puerto Ricans, the U.S. declared war on Germany. This was a war like none that had come before. It engulfed all the industrialized capitalist countries of the world. Their aim was the seizure of each others’ colonial possessions in order to obtain new commercial markets, new sources of raw materials and the labor of already-conquered and colonized people which they could then exploit for profit.
It was a struggle of global proportions facilitated by the most ruthless capitalists of the various imperialist countries. U.S. rulers did not want to be left out of the expected lucrative feeding frenzy, and so they sought ways to persuade the broader U.S. public to support corporate America’s desires to join one side in the conflict.
By November 1917, just 8 months after the imposition of citizenship, the military draft was applied to Puerto Rico. This came after government and military officials realized that Puerto Ricans were reluctant to voluntarily join the U.S. Armed Forces. About 20,000 young men were taken and sent to kill or be killed in the trench battles of Europe.
Many of these soldiers died or were maimed as a result of highly lethal chemical weapons used in this war. But the death toll among these soldiers is still unknown because U.S. military officials kept no records of Puerto Rican battle casualties.
It was of no concern to the warmongers in Washington that these Puerto Rican men did not have the slightest clue what the war was about in the first place. If we consider the chronology of events it becomes clear that the Jones–Shafroth Act, which imposed “U.S. citizenship,” was simply designed to use young Boricuas as cannon fodder.
2nd Class “Citizenship” and the Social & Economic Life of Puerto Rico
Today it has become indisputably clear that all of the facets of the Jones Act, especially its economic component, are designed to diminish and destroy the Puerto Rican nation—as Puerto Rican nationalist leader Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos predicted.
Giant U.S. corporations are now the sole beneficiaries of the imposed American “citizenship” in Puerto Rico. While it is true that Puerto Rico receives limited benefits from the colonial relationship it has also been historically subjected to a range of laws that benefit only the billionaires of Wall Street, and this is the primary effect. Not only are these avaricious capitalist enterprises exempt from paying taxes to Puerto Rico, they also extract from the country an annual average of $30 billion in profits. For an island with a population less than 3.5 million this is one of the highest rates of colonial exploitation per capita in the world.
And now there are new austerity measures known as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which aims to forcibly collect an imposed $73 billion dollar hedge fund debt by shutting down public schools, libraries, hospitals, and other public services, as well as eliminating pensions and reducing the minimum wage. This simply reveals what the aims of the U.S. colonizers have always been, since they militarily invaded Puerto Rico in 1898.
The draconian measures of PROMESA have become the latest version of U.S. colonial policy in Puerto Rico. Combined with the fact that Puerto Ricans residing in all U.S. territories constitute the second poorest nationality, this makes “American citizenship” for Puerto Ricans more meaningless than ever before.
When President Trump came to Puerto Rico it was certainly not to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. Despite his stupid behavior of throwing paper towels at a Puerto Rican audience and offending them with false claims of how much money Puerto Rico was “costing the federal treasury,” etc., he was consistent by expounding the traditional racist views of U.S. colonialism. Trump was insidiously reminding Puerto Ricans, in his own disrespectful style, how worthless their “U.S. Citizenship” really is.
Puerto Rican citizenship, in the truest meaning of the word, can only come about when the Puerto Rican people achieve the freedom to exercise their human rights: that is, to exercise their right to political independence and self-determination free from the domination of the U.S. Colonizers. The U.S. rulers shall then be brought before justice and forced to provide Puerto Ricans with the reparations due to them.
Throughout Puerto Rican history, women have played an exemplary and leading role in the struggle against colonialism and oppression. Political and military leaders like Mariana Bracetti, Lola Rodríguez De Tío, Juana Colón, Blanca Canales and many others, have been models of courage and devotion to the struggle for independence and self-determination.
One of the most widely known and respected women from the 20th century Puerto Rican liberation struggle is Lolita Lebrón.
Lolita came from a poor, working-class family. She was born in the year 1919, when U.S. colonial rule in Puerto Rico was open and brutal, with rampant social misery. Her family lived in the legendary city of Lares, known for the 1868 “El Grito de Lares” uprising against Spanish colonialism and chattel slavery in Puerto Rico.
The hardships her family faced during her youth, brought upon by the tightening of U.S. colonialism’s economic dominance in the country, contributed to Lolita Lebrón’s strong character. As a young woman, like so many of her compatriots, she decided to leave Puerto Rico in 1940 in search of a better life.
After World War II and into the 1960s, an average of 63,000 people migrated annually to the United States from Puerto Rico. By the end of this migration, nearly half of the Puerto Rican nation would be uprooted. They were pushed off their land in order to make way for lucrative agricultural and mining industries. This was an aspect of Washington’s colonial policy in the interests of giant capitalist corporations but at the expense of the Puerto Rican masses.
Lolita Lebrón settled in New York City’s East Harlem, then the largest community of Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico. Like so many who migrated to find work in New York City, Lolita was employed as a stitcher in the city’s garment district. She immediately came face to face with the racism and exploitation that defines life for immigrant workers in the United States.
The Nationalist Party
Having a proud sense of her self-identity and a strong belief in the cause for Puerto Rico’s independence, Lolita increasingly developed resentment for the presence of a foreign invader in the homeland she adored. And because Lolita witnessed first hand the suffering of her people who were compelled by colonialism to migrate to a distant land to endure racism and discrimination, she joined the New York committee of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, led by Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos.
The Nationalist Party was banned in 1938. It continued its activities under intense repression, especially following the 1950 Jayuya uprising and the attempted assassination in the same year of President Harry S. Truman by Nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola in retaliation for the crackdown that followed Jayuya. During the anti-communist, anti-labor and racist witch-hunts of the McCarthy era, the Nationalist Party committee in New York City secretly operated under the name “Movimiento Libertador” (Liberation Movement).
The New York committee served as a rear guard within the colonizing country to gather political and financial support for the movement in Puerto Rico. They held many public meetings with the hope of organizing the Puerto Rican community and to draw allies around the issue of independence.
Colonizers shift tactics
Taking advantage of the imprisonment of the revolutionary leadership, the U.S. government shifted its methods to disguise its role as colonizers. The governorship of Puerto Rico was no longer to be a military official appointed by the U.S. president. Instead, the U.S. granted supposedly “free elections” from among Puerto Rican candidates who were approved exclusively by the U.S. rulers. In addition, in 1952 the U.S.-dominated United Nations was persuaded to approve a resolution that designated the case of Puerto Rico as an internal matter of the United States.
Faced with this new reality, anti-colonial activists had to find new tactics to expose the colonial reality that Puerto Rico still experienced. Albizu Campos put out a call to carry out any form of action that would highlight the criminal nature of the U.S. domination of Puerto Rico.
A group of members from the New York committee—Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andrés Figueroa Cordero, Irvin Flores and Lolita Lebrón—secretly prepared to respond to Albizu Campos’s call. For many weeks and months the four patriots met to discuss the target, chosen with no regard for their own personal safety or survival.
With no mention of their plan to their families or friends, the four left for Washington, expecting never to return. Their only concern was to achieve the political objective in the action they were to take.
A bold and daring attack
On the morning of March 1, 1954, members of the House of Representatives were meeting to discuss immigration policy and the government of democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz of Guatemala—a government that the CIA overthrew in November of that year. The four patriots calmly entered the Capitol building, passing through the lobby and up the stairs to a balcony designated for visitors.
As the proceedings went on, the Nationalists unfurled the Puerto Rican flag. Lolita Lebrón then shouted, “Que viva Puerto Rico libre!” Within seconds of brandishing and aiming their automatic weapons, the four revolutionaries opened fire on the U.S. Congress.
Gunfire broke out and bullets whistled through the air. Panic erupted in the chamber. Many congressional figures and their staff began screaming as they frantically pushed one another to get to the exit doors. Others avoided being shot by running to hide underneath tables and behind chairs.
Before it ended, 30 rounds were fired. Five congressmen were wounded. All government buildings were shut down, and security throughout the city of Washington was increased.
The four Nationalists were immediately apprehended. The mass media launched a campaign to demonize them and the whole Puerto Rican independence movement. The four were ultimately convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
As the Puerto Rican people mounted their struggle for the right of self-determination in Puerto Rico and in the United States during the upsurge of the 1960s and 1970s, more and more people raised the demand for the immediate release of Puerto Rican political prisoners. Thanks to the diplomatic work and solidarity of the Cuban revolutionary government, an international campaign galvanized widespread support for their release.
The political pressure paid off in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Andrés Figueroa Cordero, Irvin Flores as well as Oscar Collazo. All five were released from prison.
The bold action taken by the four Puerto Rican patriots was an event that shocked the imperial-minded men of privilege—a shock that the U.S. ruling class has never forgotten. The colonizers of Puerto Rico never imagined that the people they victimized would dare such a bold act within the capital of the empire.
What Lolita, Rafael, Andrés and Irvin did on that day symbolizes not only the fury of the colonized Puerto Rican nation but of every oppressed people that strives for a world without imperialist oppression.
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 1948better 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.
On September 23, 1868, in the city of Lares, Puerto Rico, was the historic site of an uprising against African chattel slavery under Spanish colonial domination. The event is known as “El Grito de Lares”—the outcry of Lares— which affirmed the existence of the Puerto Rican nation and its struggle for national liberation, first against Spanish and then against U.S. colonialism. It is a struggle that continues to this day.
El Grito de Lares took place in a world context of bourgeois democratic revolutions against the remnants of feudalism in the dominant European powers. Feudal states like Spain, basing themselves on the wealth generated by large land holdings and colonial exploitation, were forcefully compelled to give way to the growing power of world capitalism.
The Haitian Revolution of 1802-04, coming in the wake of the French Revolution that began in 1789, marked the first Black republic in history. The victory of African slaves who rebelled and broke away from French colonial domination inspired millions throughout Latin America, the Caribbean and the world. Slave owners everywhere became apprehensive about this event, especially in the United States.
In 1810, Indigenous people in Mexico under the leadership of Miguel Hidalgo launched a drive to force the Spanish out of that country. Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1824.
Throughout the 1810s and 1820s, Simón Bolívar led an army of Indigenous people and former African slaves in an effort to win the independence of South American colonies from Spain. These successful military campaigns shattered the prestige of the Spanish Army. Puerto Rico and Cuba were Spain’s only remaining colonies in Latin America.
In the 1848 revolutionary upheavals that took place in France, Germany and Italy, workers took to the streets against the feudal monarchies. Despite the monarchies’ desperate efforts to hold on to political power, the development of capitalism and the rising of the working classes meant the end of the centuries-long rule of feudal states.
In the United States, the Civil War of 1861-65 led to the overthrow of the slave-owning class in the South. And because slavery in the U.S. was the most lucrative and brutal of all it’s defeat served as a death blow to that system everywhere. Due to the vigorous efforts by the African American masses, especially when they fought in organized, armed detachments of the Union Army, the final destruction of the slave system was certain.
In all these struggles, the political demands of freedom and independence were meant to benefit the growing capitalist class, although it was the most oppressed social layers in society that fought the battles to destroy feudalism and chattel slavery.
The Puerto Rican nation
Under Spanish colonialism, the people of Puerto Rico—like the people in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America—evolved to have the characteristics of self-identity typical of nationhood. The development of nations in the Americas inspired many to seek their freedom. Colonialism defined the class relationships that the newly formed nations would have to Spanish imperial power.
By 1867, there were close to 650,000 people in Puerto Rico. Slightly over half were of white Spanish background; the others were Black slaves, mulattos and mixed-race mestizos. The economy was largely centered on sugar production and the sugar trade, although there was a native capitalist class that gave rise to the Puerto Rican working class.
Spanish colonial rule in Puerto Rico was harsh and allowed for little political participation by the local elites. All policies relating to politics and economy were dictated by the Spanish monarchy. Taxes were heavy. Any expressions for more autonomy—not to mention independence—were brutally put down.
El Grito de Lares took place in the context of increasing resistance to foreign oppression and the socioeconomic developments in the Western Hemisphere.
The Revolutionary Committees
A central figure in the Grito de Lares uprising was Ramón Emeterio Betances. The son of an African mother and a white father, he was reared in a relatively wealthy and privileged family. However, Betances began to question the causes for the inequalities that existed under a slave-owning colonial system. He was active in the movement to abolish slavery and in the anti-colonial movement. Today, Betances is considered the “father of the Puerto Rican homeland.”
Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis founded the Revolutionary Committees of Puerto Rico on Jan. 6, 1868, while they were in exile in the Dominican Republic. Soon, Revolutionary Committees were formed throughout Puerto Rico to organize for an eventual revolt among all sectors of the population. Under the most secretive measures, organizers reached out to Africans who were toiling as slaves. The punishment for slaves caught in seditious activity was harsh.
A significant portion of the Puerto Rican combatants galvanized by the Revolutionary Committees were former African slaves who had escaped and were living in hiding. In some cases African slaves were granted freedom in exchange for partaking in the planned war; Some of these slave owners also desired to break away with Spain, but their class interest was different from most people in Puerto Rico, their aspirations were to develop economically free of hindrance by a foreign power.
Other freedom fighters were Tainos, the original Indigenous people of Puerto Rico who were living in the mountains and working as day laborers in the towns. Haitians, Dominicans and Jamaicans were also among the insurgents who fought in Lares.
Betances sailed on a ship with a cargo of rifles, cannons and other weapons from the Dominican Republic. But the Spanish colonial authorities discovered the plans. On his return from the neighboring island as he entered the harbor of Arecibo, the Spanish Navy surrounded the rebel ship, capturing the cargo and arresting the crew.
News of the ship’s capture reached the revolutionaries in the mountains who were preparing for the rebellion. With Betances in Spanish custody, the leading organizers of the movement decided to call for the rebellion ahead of schedule.
The uprising begins
On the evening of Sept. 23, 1868, about 800 hundred insurgents on foot and horseback stormed the city of Lares. The army of freedom fighters entered the city, and as the sounds of shouts and gunfire were heard, the day laborers of the city stopped working while African slaves staged a revolt that weakened the defenses of the Spanish garrison.
The principal demands of the revolutionaries were the abolition of chattel slavery, an end to the “libreta” (notebook) system and the independence of Puerto Rico. They called for the right to bear arms, the right to determine taxes and freedom of speech and of the press.
After an hour of gun battle, the Spanish military authority was overwhelmed. Government and military officials were forced by the fury of the people to lay down their weapons and surrender. The rebels declared the Republic of Puerto Rico.
The Spanish prisoners were then paraded and displayed for all to view as trophies of war. Colonial officials who were guilty of crimes against the people were dealt with. What was unimaginable at one time—defeating by force an oppressor that projected itself as invincible—was now a reality.
The people rejoiced at the power they now had over their oppressors while celebrating their new freedom. With jubilant emotions the revolutionaries held their weapons in the air as crowds gathered at the town plaza in the center of the city. The Spanish flag, a dreaded symbol of tyranny, was lowered, stepped on and burned. In its place, the flag of the newly proclaimed Puerto Rican republic was raised on a pole at the municipal building.
It was on this occasion that the people heard for the first time the solemn words of the Puerto Rican struggle: “¡QUE VIVA PUERTO RICO LIBRE!”—long live a free Puerto Rico!
The revolutionaries’ plans were to capture Lares, then attack the surrounding cities where other groups of revolutionaries awaited instructions. Lares was chosen for the initial attack because of what was believed to be a strategically advantageous location for a starting point, in the mountainous region.
But because the Spaniards were better equipped and more experienced in the techniques of war, the victory at Lares was short-lived. What followed was the suppression of the independence and abolitionist movement throughout Puerto Rico. Many were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. Madrid issued new decrees and sent troop reinforcements to secure its domination over the Puerto Rican people.
But the uprising did lead to some concessions. For example, amid continued turmoil over the question of slavery — something which politically troubled Madrid did not want — the Spanish National Assembly abolished the hated system on March 22, 1873. In addition, the Spanish government granted a limited form of home rule to Puerto Rico in 1897. But one year later, in the course of the Spanish-American war, U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico which remains a U.S. colony to this day.
Before his death on September 16, 1898—a few months after the U.S. invasion—Betances stated, “I do not want to see Puerto Rico under the colonial domination of Spain nor the United States.”
A symbol of struggle
El Grito de Lares is today a celebrated and respected holiday in the U.S.-colonized Caribbean island. Even the U.S.-installed colonial government recognizes El Grito de Lares as an official holiday, closing schools and government offices — while trying to strip the holiday of its revolutionary content.
Although the martyrs of Lares did not achieve their quest, they provided the movement today with a sense of the necessity to build a people’s movement that can defeat U.S. colonialism. Their fierce attempt to end slavery is a continuing model for anti-racist struggle as well.
Betances and his fellow revolutionaries also provided a living example of the internationalism of oppressed peoples against colonialism. The “Society for the Independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico,” founded in the 1860s by exiled revolutionaries living in New York City is such an example.
Many of the Lares combatants that managed to survive the Spanish onslaught throughout the country chose to continue their efforts by retreating to join the struggle in Cuba, including Juan Rius Rivera who became a commander in the Cuban rebel army. About 2000 Puerto Ricans seized Spanish vessels in order to set sail to join their Cuban comrades in the “Grito de Yara” uprising, three weeks after El Grito de Lares.
It was this act of solidarity that solidified the historic relationship between Cuban and Puerto Rican revolutionaries, known today by Lola Rodriguez De Tio’s famous poetic expression “Two Wings of the Same Bird.”
To many in today’s movement for Puerto Rican independence, the experience of Lares underscored that the national salvation and liberation of the people can be achieved only with complete political independence and absolute freedom from foreign interference. It is having pride in the well rooted self-identity of the Puerto Rican people that the U.S. colonizers tirelessly strive to eradicate.
On September 23, 2005 Machetero leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios was killed in a gun battle with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. They chose the date to launch a vicious attack on the most revered leader of the struggle for independence in modern times in an attempt to shatter the fighting spirit of the movement. But U.S. colonialism’s efforts of psychological warfare came short of it’s goal. All that Washington officials managed to do was to give the annual El Grito De Lares commemorations added meaning. Boricuas continue to wage the liberation struggle.
Today, Puerto Rico has a developed working class population with a long tradition of fighting the exploitative horrors typical in a colonial setting. And now with the “Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA)”, a law designed to intensify U.S. colonial domination using the pretense of a $73 billion debt imposed on Puerto Rico, suffering has undoubtedly intensified.
And in a colonial setting of neglect following the massive destruction of Hurricane Maria one can expect a potential for mass rebellion. It came as no surprise when an outpouring occurred when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and succeeded in forcing the resignation of the U.S. puppet and scoundrel Governor Ricardo Rossello.
Puerto Rico is a country that is still under the complete military and political domination of U.S. imperialism. The continued struggle for an independent state — the only way to guarantee the right to self-determination to a people who have endured five centuries of colonial oppression — is today part and parcel of the international struggle against imperialism. The sacrifices made by the martyrs of El Grito De Lares shall one day prove to inspire a decisive battle that will bring about an independent and sovereign Puerto Rico.
For the many people who have engaged in the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence, July 25 has a special significance. On that date in 1898, U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico, beginning a period of U.S. colonial domination on the island that continues to this day.
The United States invaded Puerto Rico, along with the Philippines, Guam and Cuba, in the setting of the Spanish-American War. That war was the opening of what would be the menacing role and predatory nature of the U.S. capitalist class in the Caribbean, Latin America and the entire world.
The seizure of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines by the United States signaled the quest of the U.S. capitalist class to become a world power. European powers had pursued a policy of colonial acquisitions since the end of the 15th century.
But only in the late 19th century had the mature and developed capitalist powers virtually colonized the entire planet. The projection of U.S. power outside of the North American mainland signified a rush not to be left behind in this global division of markets.
Imperialism was transforming from a policy into a global system. No capitalist power could stand on the sidelines. Eventually this scramble and competition for colonies led to the first “world war” in human history, from 1914 to 1918, involving all the major capitalist powers.
V.I. Lenin (leader of the Russian socialist revolution) noted this trend in the very first sentence of his classic 1916 work “Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism.” “During the last 15 to 20 years, especially since the Spanish-American War (1898) and the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the economic and also the political literature of the two hemispheres has more and more adopted the term ‘imperialism’ to describe the present era.”
Until the Spanish-American War, capitalism in the United States was focused on expansion within North America. The expansion came from the push west and the seizure of the land of the Native American population and the theft of nearly half of Mexico’s territory in the 1846-1848 U.S.-Mexican War.
Following the end of chattel slavery and the conclusion of the U.S. Civil War in 1865, industrial capitalism was able to grow rapidly. Facilitating trade and the transfer of raw materials, railroad track was laid throughout the entire stretch of the U.S. territory. Mining of raw materials increased. Factories, ports, bridges and dams were constructed at a greater pace.
Beneath this supposed progress in U.S. society, there was a tremendous cost in human suffering. The consolidation and expansion of capitalism in the country could be measured by the genocide of the indigenous people—Native Americans. By the late 1890s, Native people were virtually annihilated within the territories of the continental United States with the close of the so-called “Indian Wars.”
Eventually the dynamism of capitalism meant that the home market was insufficient. New markets, raw materials and cheaper labor were increasingly required for continuation of a vast increase in productive forces. Capitalist development began to be propelled in the direction of a new kind of expansionism, aimed at subordinating the economies of other lands.
THE COMPETITION BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND SPAIN
The more benefits that U.S.-based companies derived from economic investments made in the Spanish colonies of Cuba and Puerto Rico before the war—amounting to $50 million in 1897—the more that U.S. manufacturers and bankers desired direct control of these markets.
Throughout the 1890s, there was a growing war fever among the U.S. ruling class. Prominent bourgeois figures, politicians, journalists and the clergy encouraged hostilities and openly called for the military seizure of Spain’s remaining colonies. “Democracy” and “freedom” became the banner for all sorts of demagogic warmongers.
Militarism and arrogance, nurtured by capitalist expansion in the centuries of campaigns to expel Indigenous people from their lands and enforce a genocidal system of slavery, were now utilized to justify imperialist expansion. The use of brutal force against people in the invaded lands was justified as “divine will” or “manifest destiny.”
With mounting tensions between Washington and Madrid, the U.S. Navy targeted and harassed any vessel flying the Spanish flag in the open sea. U.S. Navy warships were instructed to stop Spanish freighters, carry out searches, and in many cases seize the cargo. This was despite the fact that a state of war did not yet exist.
Spain was a crumbling feudal power facing severe internal political strife. It no longer had the empire status that it enjoyed centuries ago. The Spanish government was not in a position to engage in hostilities with any country—especially the United States, which was demonstrating its industrial might and was obviously eager to test its military ability.
A PRETEXT FOR WAR
On the evening of Feb. 15, 1898, the battleship USS Maine exploded while docked in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. While 266 sailors were killed as they slept in their quarters, the ship’s captain and his close officers were not harmed.
Washington officials were quick to blame the Spanish government, claiming that the explosion was caused by a floating mine. The fact that many eyewitnesses saw the force of the explosion coming from within the bow of the ship did not matter to U.S. investigators.
Later investigations discounted the possibility of a mine explosion altogether. Whatever the cause, the Spanish government was in no way responsible.
Despite Spain’s repeated diplomatic efforts and willingness to compensate for the loss of life and the destroyed ship, the U.S. government exploited the situation as a perfect excuse for war.
On April 25, 1898, President William McKinley, with the consent of the U.S. Congress, made his infamous declaration of war against Spain. The United States would now be recognized as a world imperialist power.
The military campaigns that followed impacted the lives of millions of people in the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico. They were now to become subjects of a new colonial oppressor.
On July 25, 1898, 26,000 U.S. soldiers stormed the shores of Guanica, Puerto Rico—the stepping-stone to the invasion of the entire island nation. The invasion was led by the notorious Gen. Nelson Appleton Miles—a reliable servant of U.S. capitalist expansion in the western U.S. states. Miles was infamous for his role in the suppression of the Pullman strike and other labor struggles. He was also known for his capture of Native leaders like Geronimo and Sitting Bull after hard fought resistance battles waged by Native people. But Miles’ most outstanding crime was the Dec. 29, 1890, massacre of 300 Indigenous men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
As the U.S. Army marched through the mountains of Puerto Rico, they encountered peasants who had been forewarned of the invasion’s brutality. These mountain people, armed solely with machetes, valiantly attacked the invaders. Those captured by the invaders were often bound to trees and shot.
That resistance today symbolizes the beginning of the ongoing Puerto Rican resistance to U.S. colonialism.
The U.S. military occupations in the Philippines, Guam, Cuba and Puerto Rico were the opening shots of a wave of imperialist invasions over the next decades in the Western Hemisphere and other parts of the world. U.S. troops were sent to Nicaragua in 1898 and again in 1899, 1907 and 1910, and from 1912 through 1933; to Panama from 1901 through 1914; to Honduras in 1903 and again in 1911; to the Dominican Republic in 1903; to Korea in 1904; to China in 1911; to Mexico from 1914 through 1918; to Haiti from 1914 through 1934; to Cuba in 1906 to 1909, 1912 and again from 1917 through 1933; to the Soviet Union from 1918 through 1922; and to Guatemala in 1920.
The list continued throughout the 20th century. With hundreds of military bases around the world today, U.S. military interventions are a constant feature of world affairs.
CONTINUED ANTI-COLONIAL STRUGGLE
The big business mass media make every effort to disguise the foreign subjugation of Puerto Rico. But events take place that push the truth about the U.S. occupation to the surface. The FBI assassination of Machetero leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios in September 2005, the struggle to stop U.S. Navy bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in 2000 and the present fight against the Hedge Fund $73 billion debt imposed on the Puerto Rican people.
Despite the many U.S. claims about Puerto Rico’s “progress,” the island’s people never asked to be invaded and colonized, have economic hardships imposed upon them or be forced to uproot and emigrate to the colonizing country. Within the United States, Puerto Ricans are among the poorest nationalities.
The U.S. invasion of July 25, 1898, is why today Puerto Ricans have no say in any fundamental matters pertaining to the economic and political life of their homeland. The U.S. government’s colonial policy denying the Puerto Rican masses their right of self-determination and independence accounts for the continued people’s resistance there.
The historical struggle of the African American people was the inevitable consequence of the introduction of slavery by capitalists in the Western Hemisphere. The collective experience of the African American people over the course of many generations ran parallel to the development of U.S. capitalism at every stage. Their plight, from the era of the slave trade to the present day, reveals the inherent oppression within capitalism.
Racist terror, degradation, and discrimination were the objective circumstances that compelled into existence the militant tradition of resistance in the African American masses. Their steadfastness in many key moments in history proved exemplary to the U.S. working-class movement, and particularly to other oppressed nationalities. African American history is replete with displays of genuine solidarity with other liberation struggles. The Black press, the Black church and outspoken African American figures such as W.E.B. DuBois, openly condemned the motives behind the 1898 Spanish-American War. The U.S. government and giant banking enterprises sought military conflict with Spain to win colonial control of Guam, the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico.
Black Puerto Rican scholar Arturo Alfonso Schomburg devoted his life to compiling vast collections of writings documenting significant events in Black history. Before moving to New York City’s Harlem community, Schomburg was a member of the clandestine Revolutionary Committees of Puerto Rico, which organized the famous 1868 Grito de Lares uprising. He eventually became a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance, which challenged the ideological facets of white supremacy through the literary, visual and performing arts.
At many of his performance appearances, renowned African American singer, actor and Communist Paul Robeson would call upon his audience for a moment of silence to express solidarity for the incarcerated Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalist leader, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos.
The young Pedro Albizu Campos gained recognition among African American figures for being very critical of the racism within the United States. Campos’s mother was Black, which gave him first-hand insight into the impact of racist oppression. Campos’s outspoken oratory against the “racist practices in the house of the empire” caught the attention of Pan-Africanist leader Marcus Garvey, who traveled to Puerto Rico to meet the renowned leader.
Despite their differences in goals and tactics, this meeting was highly symbolic for that period in history. The Russian Revolution emboldened workers’ struggles and nationalist movements throughout the world, including the United States and Puerto Rico, and instilled a sense of vulnerability in the U.S. capitalist class.
Black Struggle Inspires Puerto Rican Militancy
The Spanish-American War had a significant impact on African Americans, amongst them soldiers who were sent to wage the colonial war. Black troops resented their white officers using racial slurs against Filipino people, which were reminiscent of their own experience in the United States. Many Black soldiers defected to join the anti-colonial Filipino guerrilla army. The most notable of them was David Fagan, of the 24th Infantry Division. Fagan won the admiration and respect of the Filipino people and was made a commander in their guerrilla army.
Puerto Ricans have migrated to New York City and surrounding counties since the mid-1800s—in most cases, to escape Spanish colonial persecution. But in the years after World War II and well into the 1960s, Puerto Ricans migrated to U.S. industrial centers at an annual average rate of 63,000 due to economic hardships caused by U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico.
What the Puerto Rican migrants encountered was not what they expected when they uprooted in search of a better life. In addition to the agony of having to come to a strange land, the Puerto Rican experience now included greedy racist landlords, housing and job discrimination, cultural stigmatization by the mass media, police brutality and the terror of racist white gangs.
While Puerto Ricans began their exodus in the late 1940s African Americans were already involved in their “Great Migration” from southern states where they had been historically concentrated. Fleeing racist Jim Crow laws and Ku Klux Klan terror, more than 5 million African Americans migrated to the North, Northeast and California between the 1920s and the 1960s.
The instinct of any oppressed people is to seek allies and find ways to resist. Puerto Ricans facing the realities of colonialism and impoverishment could relate to the Civil Rights movement and were attracted to its boldness.
The Nation of Islam began to approach the newly arrived immigrants with the aim of politicizing them. And when the Black Panther Party began organizing in the Puerto Rican community of Chicago, it caused the transformation of a street youth group (“gang”) known as the Young Lords.
The Young Lords were the first Puerto Rican revolutionary organization to arise in the United States based on the concrete political circumstances of this country. They were a decisive factor in the spread of militancy in Puerto Rican communities in various U.S. cities. Like the Black Panthers, they advocated for a multinational revolution in the United States.
As this movement gained momentum, Puerto Ricans gained a sense of hope and became inspired to fight for their political and economic rights. By the second half of the 1960s, Puerto Ricans in the United States had become much more politically adept, thanks to the struggles of the African American masses.
African Americans and Puerto Ricans further developed their mutual affinity based on a resistance to racist oppression. In cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, at street demonstrations and on college campuses, African American and Puerto Rican masses instinctively aligned with each other in common struggle. It was not unusual for the Black liberation flag (red black & green) to be accompanied by the Puerto Rican flag.
A particularly significant examples of solidarity, one which became of concern to the ruling class, is the 1969 student takeover of City College in New York City. African American and Puerto Rican students, sons and daughters of Puerto Rican immigrants, captured the attention of many throughout the U.S. when they defiantly seized control of buildings to demand free tuition in the entire City University system. To further demonstrate their boldness, these students lowered the U.S. flag from the tallest flagpole on campus and hoisted the Black Liberation Flag and the Puerto Rican Flag.
The great lessons gained from this experience are still deeply relevant today. Black oppression was instrumental in the rise of U.S. capitalism, and the African American masses have confronted head-on some of its most oppressive manifestations. Their struggle will continue to be a source of inspiration to the working class and oppressed peoples, and help forge genuine solidarity with deep consequences for struggles at home and abroad.