Arturo Alfonso Schomburg was born on January 24, 1874 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. He was a Black Puerto Rican scholar, historian, author and activist, who devoted his entire life to compiling vast collections of writings and art documenting significant events in Black history.
When Schomburg was just 8 years old he was told by a school teacher that Black people had no history. This assertion naturally bothered him for a long time. But as he gradually grew older, Schomburg found the teacher’s claim to make absolutely no sense. That encounter became Schomburg’s motivation which led him to set out and prove wrong such racist notions.
African chattel slavery also took place in Puerto Rico, it was the consequence of Spanish colonialism in both Africa and Latin America. In 1527 the first slave revolts in Puerto Rico was among the bloodiest in the Western Hemisphere.
Despite the numerous contributions Schomburg made to the preservation of Black-Latino history, like many other Black scholars and professionals in different fields he was not immune to anti-Black discrimination. Throughout his entire life, Schomburg experienced blatant racism, sadly within the Puerto Rican community as well.
Colorism, as an extension of white supremacy, often permeated conversations about “Los prietos” (the dark ones), “Pelo bueno y pelo malo” (good hair and bad hair), and so on. As in the United States, the not-so-hidden practices of racism has also existed in Puerto Rico and all of Latin America.
Arturo Schomburg was instrumental in documenting the role of African people in the cultural development of the Puerto Rican nation. The psychic, spirituality, linguistics, diet, music and dance of Puerto Rico pointed to the contributions made by Africans. Schomburg proudly identified as an Afroborinqueño (Afro-Puerto Rican).
Harlem Renaissance & Puerto Rico’s independence struggle
Schomburg became a prominent figure of the Harlem Renaissance. He collaborated with famous individuals like Langston Hughes, Alain Leroy Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois and other pillars of that movement. The Harlem Renaissance succeeded in challenging the ideological facets of white supremacy through the literary, visual and performing arts. It was an exciting and enlightening period in history for the African diaspora, following the struggles to end the horrors of slavery.
Thanks to the powerful momentum inspired by Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) Black people now had relative freedom to develop culturally, economically and politically in the surroundings of a white racist society. This was the setting in which Arturo Schomburg was able to make his contributions to Black history.
Before moving to New York City, at 17 years old, Schomburg was a leader in the secret Revolutionary Committees of Puerto Rico. This organization was created several years before Schomburg’s birth for launching the 1868 anti-slavery & pro-independence revolt known as El Grito De Lares. Although the attempt to rid Spanish colonialism failed, the Revolutionary Committee continued to exist clandestinely.
Throughout his life Schomburg remained a firm advocate for Puerto Rico’s independence. In fact, he was the founder of Las Dos Alas (The Two Wings), an organization in New York City devoted to the independence cause of Puerto Rico and Cuba. In 1895 Schomburg partook in a meeting at Chimney Corner Hall to discuss and approve what became today’s official Puerto Rican Flag.
But as the 19th Century came to a close with the U.S. military invasion and occupation of both Cuba and Puerto Rico, these conditions caused the independence movement in both countries to enter a period of stagnation. As a result, Schomburg and other like-minded activists who resided outside of Cuba and Puerto Rico, began to re-vise their activities based on the change in the climate of imperialism.
Schomburg’s shift in central focus
As the persecution of Black people in the United States intensified, with the extension of Jim Crow laws, lynching and white racist riots presenting a dangerous and menacing setting, coupled by Schomburg’s childhood memory of a demeaning comment made to him by a school teacher, raised his commitment to the idea of affirming the validity and truth of Black history.
Ridiculing the racist fables about the origins and history of Black people became Schomburg’s central focus. His noble quest eventually proved the extent of white supremacy’s corruption and baseless reasoning for existing.
Once in New York City, and for the remainder of his life, Schomburg collected large amounts of materials relevant to the history of Africa and the African diaspora. His work unavoidably brought to light the falsehood of white historians who interpreted the history of human social development strictly from a European perspective, thus concealing what are the African people’s pivotal role in that process.
Although Arturo Schomburg never proclaimed to be a revolutionary, his academic achievements coupled with such fervent passion to preserve and protect the historic culture of the Diaspora shows otherwise. Long after his death, Schomburg’s accomplishments continue to shatter racist myths.
His devotion to raise Black history to its rightful grandeur contributed immensely to the ideological struggle against white supremacy, thus, adding to the majestic qualities of Black nationalism.
Moreover, Schomburg was a consistent leader of debunking the dangerous narratives of racial superiority that ushered in social Darwinism and Eugenics. These world perspectives were often used by capitalists to politically hinder and divide working class people.
The vast and beautiful collection of literature and art materials he compiled throughout his life are permanently housed at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center For Research of Black Culture, located at 515 Malcolm X Blvd, in Harlem, NYC.
Arturo Afonso Schomburg shall be remembered for his bold intellectual defiance and as a hero of the oppressed. His lifelong contributions have strengthened the legitimacy of Puerto Rico’s independence cause as well as the historical struggle for Black liberation. Schomburg’s’ life embodied the epitome of Black & Puerto Rican solidarity.
Since the earliest human societies, people have used animal images to express their beliefs. Painting animals on pottery, garments and cave walls arose from ritual notions about the power of this imagery.
With the development of class society, animal symbols took on new meaning. Animal characteristics have been interpreted in folklore to explain the miserable reality of the poor or to justify social privileges for wealthy rulers.
Leading capitalists like J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie promoted Herbert Spencer’s “social Darwinism” during the rise of imperialism. This “theory” described the exploited and oppressed as “weaker species”, etc.
Moreover, the predatory bald eagle was chosen to glorify a government that sanctioned genocide and African chattel slavery.
On the other hand, the oppressed have also used symbols, in this case to express their resistance. One famous example is the “Two Wings of the Same Bird” concept. This metaphor was created by the legendary Puerto Rican revolutionary literary and poet Lola Rodriguez De Tio. It was later on used in musical rendition by Cuban poet and revolutionary leader Jose Marti. It describes the historical relationship of solidarity between Cuba and Puerto Rico.
Since some of the most beautiful birds in the world inhabit the Caribbean, it was easy for Lola Rodriguez De Tio to use this life form as poetic symbolism in revolutionary politics. The “bird” she described is made up of the island countries of the Greater Antilles — the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica, with Cuba and Puerto Rico on opposite ends of the region, functioning as wings.
The concept of a Caribbean federation of nations originated from the Haitian Revolution. For most of the 1800’s Haiti was the beacon of revolution in the Western Hemisphere, like what the Soviet Union was during the early part of the Twentieth Century.
Ramon Emeterio Betances, who was of African descent himself, was the symbolic leader of the 1868 El Grito De Lares uprising in Puerto Rico. He had a deep respect for the ideals of the Haitian struggle. Coupled with the political commonalities Betances had with Lola Rodriguez De Tio, his trusted comrade, is likely what motivated her poetic expression of “Two Wings of the Same Bird”.
Both Lola Rodriguez De Tio and Jose Marti were internationalists and expressed revolutionary traditions in poetic form. De Tio and Marti identified with all anti-colonial struggles in addition to having a special affection for the liberation struggles of each other’s country, which shared a common suffering under Spanish tyranny.
In the early 1860s revolutionaries from both countries secretly met in a hotel on Broome Street in New York City to form the Society for the Independence of Cuba & Puerto Rico.
Members of this group helped facilitate the 1868 “El Grito De Lares” uprising. Under the leadership of Ramon Emeterio Betances, African slaves, workers and peasants all did their part to build the efforts for this battle. When their attempt for independence failed, about 2000 Puerto Rican rebels went to Cuba to continue the fight against Spanish colonialism. Among the Puerto Ricans to join this venture was Juan Rius Rivera, who became a commander in the Cuban rebel army.
Caribbean People Fight for Cuban & Puerto Rican freedom
Haitians, Dominicans, Jamaicans and Puerto Ricans were among the insurgents who fought in El Grito De Lares and Cuba’s El Grito De Yara, both in 1868. This inspired Jose Marti to preserve the use of the “two wings” metaphor.
Marti recognized the threat a rising U.S. imperialist power would pose to the Caribbean peoples. His wish for a united Caribbean federation was based on a calculated necessity. Familiar with the atrocities the U.S. rulers committed against the oppressed at home, Marti knew he could expect no better treatment from the United States than from Spain.
In 1895 Cuban revolutionaries launched a war for independence. They were gaining the upper hand in the war against Spain. But in 1898 their efforts were interrupted when the United States invaded Cuba, Guam, the Philippines and Puerto Rico.
Two years later on March 24, 1897 Puerto Ricans attempted once again to use force in their quest for freedom at the uprising known as “Intentona de Yauco.”
Jose Marti died in 1895. He never saw his wish for a free Cuba in a Caribbean federation come true.
But thanks to the 1959 Cuban Revolution, his ideals remain alive today. Although Puerto Rico and Cuba live under opposite social systems, there is still solidarity between the peoples of the “two wings.”
Cuba’s revolutionary government has officially recognized Puerto Rico’s independence struggle. It even established an “Office of Puerto Rico.”
Cuba has also given political asylum to Puerto Rican anti-colonial fighters sought by the U.S. government. At the United Nations, Cuba has fought for world recognition of Puerto Rico’s historical struggle for independence and self-determination.
Many Puerto Ricans return this solidarity by continuing to break the criminal U.S. blockade against Cuba, traveling there from Puerto Rico itself. For decades these anti-colonialists travel back and forth to Cuba.
The oppressed peoples’ drive to unite and maintain such traditions in their common struggle is a vital weapon to end U.S. imperialism’s rule. No country in the world has remained committed and firm in their solidarity to Puerto Rico’s struggle for national liberation than Cuba.
On July 25, 1978, Puerto Rican police assassinated two young pro-independence activists. This brutal and blatant murder, known as the Cerro Maravilla murders, exposed for the world to see the violence with which U.S. imperialism keeps Puerto Rico in chains to this day.
The controversy and the cover-up that followed were like none other in Puerto Rico’s political history. It involved government officials at the highest level, top police brass as well as theFederal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)and Justice Department.
Arnaldo Darío Rosado, 24, and Carlos Soto Arriví, 18, had been involved in pro-independence groups before. Inspired by the heroes of independence who championed the liberation of the homeland from U.S. rule by any means necessary, they joined the Armed Revolutionary Movement (MRA). The MRA had no experience in such matters, it never carried out any military actions in the past.
A police agent, Alejandro González Malavé, infiltrated the group. He recruited Darío and Soto to set fire to a communications tower on the mountain named Cerro Maravilla. The act was supposed to protest the imprisonment of Oscar Collazo (imprisoned for the 1950-armed attack on U.S. President Harry Truman) and Lolita Lebron, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores, and Andres Figueroa Cordero (imprisoned for a 1954-armed attack on the U.S. Congress).
By 1978, the freedom of these political prisoners was a campaign of paramount importance, both to the pro-independence movement in Puerto Rico and to human rights advocates around the world. In fact, it was a frequently mentioned issue in news outlets throughout the world and at United Nations Organization discussions.
It was a clever manipulative tactic by the Puerto Rico Police. First and foremost, July 25th is the date of the U.S. military invasion in 1898. And because Arnaldo and Carlos were highly devoted to the cause for Puerto Rico’s independence but were too inexperienced to detect how they were being lured into a trap; it was easy for the police to lead them to their deaths.
COLONIAL POLICE MURDER ARNALDO & CARLOS
On the evening of July 25, 1978, the three forced taxi driver Julio Ortiz Molina to drive them to the communications tower at the top of the mountain in Cerro Maravilla.
Once the vehicle arrived at the location, heavily armed police opened fire on the cab. Darío and Soto shouted, “Don’t shoot, we surrender,” according to well-documented testimony. The two were dragged out of the car, savagely beaten then forced to kneel. They were then shot, execution style.
Cops who testified during the investigation disclosed that several hours before the murders, officers assigned to the sting were ordered by Col. Angel Perez Casillas, commander of the Intelligence Division, that, “These terrorists should not come down (from the mountain) alive.”
Eyewitness accounts confirmed what many in the independence movement had all along asserted. The assassination of the two independence activists was a political statement on the part of the Puerto Rico Police.
Then Governor of Puerto Rico, Carlos Romero Barcelo, of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, immediately hailed the cops as heroes.
Pretentious investigations were conducted by the colonial government, as well as by the FBI and the Justice Department, but only to assist in a systematic cover-up motivated by the already existing colonial setting in Puerto Rico.
In the aftermath of the killings, every agency involved in the investigation was quick to exonerate the killer cops and demonize the two victims, and for clear-cut and well-defined reasons. The Puerto Rico Police exists as the principal enforcer of U.S. colonial policy.
Historically, every repressive act involved the complicity of the Puerto Rico Police. It has served as the pit bull of U.S. agencies, most especially the FBI, dating back to the attacks on Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the Nationalist Party and the brutal Rio Piedras and the Ponce Massacres.
This specially trained armed attachment of U.S. colonialism is perhaps one of the most sophisticated apparatuses of law enforcement in all 50 states and occupied territories. It is defined by colonial law as a “quasi-military” organization which is granted assistance by the National Guard, in everything involved to the work of a “civilian” police force.
TYRANTS ARE NOT INVINCIBLE. POLITICAL ADVANTAGE CAN SHIFT
Regardless of differences in political beliefs, widespread indignation to these murders came from all sectors of the population. A momentum grew to such a degree of pressure that it caused a political crisis for the U.S. colonizers in Puerto Rico.
On April 29, 1986, the undercover cop Alejandro González Malavé was assassinated in front of his mother’s house in Bayamón. He was shot three times by a group identifying itself as the “Volunteer Organization for the Revolution.” Boricuas in Puerto Rico and the diaspora applauded his death and viewed it as a well-deserved act of justice.
The FBI considered this group “one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the United States.” On December 3, 1979, the V.O.R. claimed responsibility for an attack on a U.S. Navy bus in Puerto Rico in which two Navy personnel were killed and 10 injured, and the destruction of 6 jet fighters at the Muniz Air National Guard base near San Juan on January 12, 1981.
In the end, eight police officers were convicted and given prison sentences, ranging from 6 to 30 years. But these prison sentences were merely a concession made by the colonial court to ease the mounting outcry for justice. The greatest concern Washington officials have always had about it’s stranglehold on Puerto Rico is the everlasting potential for mass rebellion.
Protest demonstrations occurred everywhere in Puerto Rico and the diaspora, demanding justice for Arnaldo and Carlos. News of the details surrounding this case reached global attention and pointed to the inhumanity of the U.S. presence and domination in Puerto Rico.
The Cerro Maravilla murders were not the first lives to be taken away from brave men and women who fought for independence and loved their homeland. Nor will the threat be gone of future incidents like Cerro Maravilla in 1978, so long as U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico continues to exist. It is the armed agencies of U.S. colonialism who have repeatedly proven to be the real terrorists.
No matter where, when or how the decisive battles for Puerto Rican national liberation may ensue, it shall certainly be a contribution to the worldwide defeat of U.S. imperialism. The murders of Arnaldo Darío Rosado and Carlos Soto Arriví will most definitely serve as reason to condemn and bring about the demise of this vile system.
Arnaldo Darío Rosado & Carlos Soto Arriví – PRESENTE!
On December 22, 1895, Boricuas affiliated with the Cuban Revolutionary Party, created the flag of Puerto Rico at a secret meeting held at the Chimney Corner Hall in New York City. At the helm of this noble effort were the prominent Manuel Besosa, Antonio Velez Alvarado and Juan de Mata Terreforte, an exiled veteran of the 1868 Grito De Lares uprising. Among the other 59 attendees was also the renown literary and archivist of Black history Arturo Schomburg.
From the early 1800’s, New York City served as a safe haven for both Cuban and Puerto Rican revolutionaries who were being sought by Spain’s repressive agencies. Cuba and Puerto Rico were Spain’s remaining colonies, after a series of successful revolutions for independence in Latin America. Madrid wanted to preserve it’s colonizer status for as long as it was able. It is no wonder why New York City became the birthplace for both the Cuban and Puerto Rican flags.
The Puerto Rican patriots chose to invert the colors of the Cuban Flag, following the traditions of the “Two Wings of the Same Bird” – a poetic metaphor by the legendary female literary Lola Rodriguez De Tio. This metaphorical expression was later used in musical rendition by Cuban revolutionary leader, Jose Marti. Freedom fighters from both countries collaborated for centuries in a mutual struggle against Spanish tyranny.
It is believed by many that the idea of inverting the colors of the Cuban flag originated from Lola Rodriguez De Tio. And understandably so, Lola collaborated closely with Cuban revolutionaries in exile when she lived in New York City.
To Puerto Ricans, like all oppressed people striving to build nationhood, the flag represents many things. It is the one representation that compels us to express our aspirations and deepest sentiments connected to history, culture and heritage.
Twenty-seven years prior to the Chimney Corner Hall meeting, Ramon Emeterio Betances and other revolutionary leaders of the 1868 El Grito De Lares uprising saw the necessity of creating such a symbol for the newly established nation in struggle. The leadership of that movement understood quite well the role spirituality plays in a fierce battle for liberation.
In collaboration with Betances, Mariana Bracetti Cuevas, who was also a professional seamstress, handstitched the very first Puerto Rican flag. She put together a banner comprising of two red and two turquoise blue boxes, divided by a white cross (similar to the Dominican flag) with a white star on the upper left. It was a tribute to the Dominican people for allowing Boricua revolutionaries to have a base in their country, and because Betances’ mother was also Dominican.
In the years following the courageous attempt by the Lares insurrectionists, the independence movement continued to exist clandestinely, due to an unfavorable political climate. The Lares martyrs and their supporters were systematically imprisoned, tortured and brutally killed by the Spanish authorities. Puerto Rico was under the most repressive circumstances, compelling the movement to retreat.
Many who survived the onslaught fled to New York while others went to Cuba to join their comrades fighting to liberate their country. Among these brave Puerto Rican patriots was Juan Ruiz Rivera, who would earn the rank of general in the Cuban revolutionary army.
Despite the difficult circumstances, the anti-colonial movement in Puerto Rico gradually regained momentum. Moreover, it was these harsh conditions that motivated the meeting at Chimney Corner Hall and the creation of the current Puerto Rican flag.
On March 24, 1897, the present-day flag of Puerto Rico was flown for the first time in the municipality of Yauco, in an uprising known as “Intentona de Yauco.” It was the last attempt made to win independence from Spanish colonialism.
Since the Intentona de Yauco, the Puerto Rican Flag has served to inspire the anti-colonial movement in Puerto Rico as well as in the struggles waged by the Puerto Rican diaspora for civil rights and against all forms of brutal oppression. It has been tradition for the flag to be an inspiration in the battle for freedom and justice.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017 coupled with the continued enforcement of U.S. colonial policy, made the flag a symbol of hope. Nationalism became a critical force that provided moral strength to the Puerto Rican people in the ongoing resistance.
In fact, Mother Nature’s destructive forces can never compare with the attitudes of U.S. government officials. With their policy of neglect U.S. officials contributed to the lost of 4,645 Puerto Rican lives — a death toll the Trump administration blatantly disputed and trivialized. The criminality of the Jones Act combined with the dangerously ineffective FEMA administrators, showed us (and the World) the genocidal policies of both past and present U.S. Presidents — regardless of political party affiliation.
Criminalization of the Puerto Rican Flag
Adding insult to injury, after the U.S. militarily invaded and colonized Puerto Rico in 1898, use of the flag was discouraged and stigmatized as something evil by U.S. officials. But it was during the imposition of Law 53 of 1948, better known as the Gag Law, (in Spanish: Ley de La Mordaza), anyone caught displaying or possessing the Puerto Rican flag was immediately arrested by the colonial authorities. This vicious law aimed to quell mass support for independence but was also used to persecute Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party.
Without warrants, homes, schools, businesses and houses of worship were randomly searched by colonial police looking for the “contraband flag”. Thanks to the nationalist fighting spirit of the Puerto Rican masses the U.S. rulers were compelled to eliminate this law.
In 1957, Law 53 of 1948, was removed as well as the ban on the Puerto Rican flag. However, the original turquoise blue on the flag was replaced by the same dark blue in the U.S. Flag, in an attempt to psychologically cause a false sense of assimilation between Puerto Ricans and the foreign oppressors.
When we wave the Puerto Rican Flag in annual events, let’s not do it in vain and end up taking this honor for granted. Those who continue to colonize us want to ensure our national symbols be no more than a passing fad. The Puerto Rican flag was conceived as a result of sacrifices made by many who fought for the freedom of our people.
That is why on this date, December 22nd, we celebrate the Puerto Rican Flag and salute the memory of our ancestors who fought gallantly for a noble cause. Despite everything the rulers have done to us through racism and attempts to destroy our identity as a people, Boricuas continue to raise our highest symbol with pride. QUE BONITA BANDERA!
Latin America has produced many revolutionary figures who have left imprints in history with their outstanding examples of courage and selfless deeds. Whether or not these freedom fighters were conscious of it what they demonstrated in their actions would serve for future generations to emulate to complete the task of eliminating the reign of oppressors forever.
These exemplary men and women, like Anacaona, Simon Bolivar, Petra Herrera-Ruiz, Celia Sanchez, Augusto César Sandino, Lolita Lebron, Fidel Castro and Valentina Vazquez, just to mention a few, came about as a consequence of the determination of oppressed people who seek whatever means to achieve their freedom.
Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the once leader of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and present-day icon of the Puerto Rican liberation struggle, has secured an important place in the history of struggle of all oppressed people.
The imagery of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, like the photographic or artistic depiction of other renown revolutionary figures, ceases to be the visual property of the individual once it becomes a representation of a people with a cause. In actuality, such depictions are the visual expression of a people in a historical endeavor for emancipation.
And because it is an artistic rendition symbolizing a historical revolutionary quest it must therefore be treated with the utmost respect, as if it were a people’s national flag.
The recent defamation of a well known photographic pose of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos has to be viewed critically and the motives behind its creation must be questioned because of the context of who Don Pedro Albizu Campos was and precisely what would have been his disposition of the devastating events now occurring in Puerto Rico, which have exacerbated the impact of U.S. colonialism there.
Some will argue that this is an “art challenge”, elevating LGBTQ themes and so on. However, there is good art and there is bad art, no equilibrium among the two. There is art that serves the oppressors and art that serves the oppressed, that is, the liberation struggle. A quick view of the defamed image would tend to make the revolutionary appear as a clown or charlatan.
I know quite well that the once transgender leader of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising and eventual member of the Young Lords Silvia Rivera, would have been appalled by this.
To superimpose color shading on the facial features of this revolutionary is to diminish the dignity and seriousness of the memory of someone who the U.S. colonizers continue to despise and dread.
Placing lipstick and eyeshadow on an imagery many revolutionary nationalists view as unassailable is equal to placing shades over his eyes, a baseball cap over his head and a blunt in his mouth. That would naturally be offensive at the highest degree to anyone who embraces the meaning of Don Pedro.
Needless to mention, that the creation of such images can only entertain the wishes of those who are hostile to the cause for Puerto Rico’s independence.
Shame on those who endorse this display of self-hatred, whether implicitly or explicitly, especially as we approach the 53rd anniversary of Pedro Albizu Campos’ death, April 21, 1965.
The colonizers also understand that art is political and that it can be used as a weapon. The question automatically then becomes — who do you want art to serve, the aims of the colonizers or the aims of the colonized?
With this article is a rendition of the same pose ( featured photo ) which I painted 3 years ago. Dimensions: 24″ X 34″, acrylic on canvas. It was created with my love for Puerto Rico, our people and our historical national liberation struggle.
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 in 2017, 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 United States and the peculiarities of Puerto Rican “citizenship.” The contradictions of that relationship have been vividly captured in the savagely unequal deployment of relief to other hurricane devastated areas 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 U.S. 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 its imperial arrogance by ignoring the unanimous opposition to the law by the Legislative Assembly, a long-existing political body in Puerto Rico, including outspoken figures like Luis Muñoz Rivera and Jose De Diego. But because Puerto Ricans under a U.S. military dictatorship decrees were not up for negotiation but blatantly imposed.
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 and African American people, 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 people.
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 various U.S. military bases and installations around the world.
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 Life in 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 4 million this is one of the highest rates of colonial exploitation per capita in the world.
And President Barrack Obama’s austerity measure known as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), which had aimed 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 reducing the minimum wage, revealed what the aims of the U.S. colonizers have always been, since they militarily invaded Puerto Rico in 1898.
Such draconian measures, combined with the fact that Puerto Ricans residing in all U.S. territories constitute the second poorest nationality, makes “American citizenship” for Puerto Ricans meaningless.
When former President Donald 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. But in actuality Trump was merely expressing the disposition of U.S. colonial policy in Puerto Rico under every president, no matter which political party.
Another blatant example of the hypocrisy of in U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans was in an April 2022 Supreme Court decision. The high court ruled that people residing in Puerto Rico and other “territories” are not eligible for Supplemental Security Income, a program that provides desperately needed benefits for low-income residents who are older than 65, blind and disabled. Colonialism is blunt and will remind us of its inhumanity, among other things.
Citizenship, in the truest meaning of the word can only come about when the Puerto Rican people achieve freedom to exercise their human rights, that is, to exercise the right to independence and self-determination, and free from the domination of U.S. Colonialism. The U.S. rulers shall then be brought before justice and forced to provide Puerto Ricans with the reparations due to them.
On October 30, 1950 (72 Years ago) an armed battle took place in the municipality of Jayuya which spread throughout Puerto Rico. It became known as the Jayuya Uprising. It is an event in Puerto Rico which bourgeois apologists for U.S. colonialism would prefer to dilute or completely erase from history.
Men and women determined to bring about an independent Puerto Rican republic carried out daring armed confrontations with U.S.-trained police and the National Guard. The fury that ensued was due to U.S. colonial policy, which began with the 1898 military invasion. Leading up to October 1950 the U.S. colonizers were putting in place a brutal plan to crush the independence movement and all expressions of anti-colonialism.
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-70’s with the emergence of organized revolutionary 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 revolutions in Algeria (1954), Angola (1961), Bolivia (1952), Congo (1960), China (1949), Dominican Republic (1965), Egypt (1952), Iraq (1958), Vietnam (1945) and Cuba (1959), as well as the inspiring liberation movements of Palestine, South Africa and Northern Ireland. Imperialism did not foresee the resistance of its victims picking up arms in their quest for freedom. The Jayuya uprising occurred in the context of existing world circumstances.
The 1950 Jayuya Uprising
Under the leadership of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico proclaimed the inalienable right of the 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 despicable campaign. People in the U.S. hardly knew that Nationalists were systematically imprisoned and murdered.
Laws were created to justify killing Nationalists in plain view. The cause for independence was criminalized outright. Such was the nature of 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, prohibited criticism of the U.S. presence and mention of independence in literature, musical renditions and in all mass media. This vicious law aimed to destroy the Puerto Rican people’s self-identity by instilling fear.
U.S. news media outlets only told the false narrative of Washington officials who 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 U.S. colonial decree. Federal law mandates the U.S. President to take 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 to be used in the planned onslaught involved attacking offices and homes of Nationalist Party members. With knowledge of the imminent attack Party leadership chose to uphold national dignity and their right to armed self-defense. They 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 in 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 residents the brave patriots raised the outlawed 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 Arecibo a gun battle ensued at the site of the police station there in which several Nationalists were killed. Among the 12 patriots wounded was former political prisoner Carlos Feliciano.
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. Campos was then sentenced to life imprisonment. But U.S. puppet Governor Luis Muños Marin conveniently granted Campos a pardon a few months before his death in 1965. Many pro-independence activists, including medical experts, maintain that Campos’ physical deterioration was due to torture with secret radiation experiments.
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. New repressive measures were imposed throughout the country, including martial law.
A news blackout kept the events of the rebellion out of mainstream outlets in order to avoid the condemnation of colonialism in the court of public opinion. To guarantee silencing voices of the emerging struggle U.S. officials intensified their efforts to twist the facts. When the news media asked about the rebellion President Harry Truman falsely projected the conflict as being among Puerto Ricans.
On November 1, 1950, 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 Secret Service bodyguards. But the brave act of the two martyrs 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 that global resistance of oppressed and exploited people.
Although the efforts of the Nationalist Party failed to expel colonialism a political victory was won nevertheless. 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 Jayuya Uprising did force U.S. rulers to change their administering form of domination. In 1952 the Governor of Puerto Rico was no longer a military high ranking official appointed by the U.S. President. Elections were introduced for the office of Governor, but only to disguise the colonizing nature of the U.S. presence. By 1957Law 53 of 1948, (the Gag Law)was lifted. The removal of this notorious law included lifting the ban of the Puerto Rican flag.
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 U.S. Navy 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, points to why the uprising was justified.
For their own reasoning U.S. colonizers will also remember the Jayuya Uprising, as they recognize the potential threat Puerto Ricans pose once they rise up in rebellion. And in that inevitable moment the lessons gained from the Jayuya experience shall prove decisive in the future battle for a free Puerto Rican republic.
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 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 wars 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. Half were of white Spanish background; the others were Black slaves, Tainos, mulattos and mixed-race mestizos. The economy was largely centered on sugar production and the sugar trade, with a capitalist mode of production 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 El Grito de Lares uprising was Ramón Emeterio Betances. The son of an African mother and a white father, Betances 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 clandestine movement for independence and to abolish slavery. Today, Betances is considered the “father of the Puerto Rican nation”.
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 slaves toiling the land. The punishment for slaves caught in seditious activity was harsh.
A significant portion of the Puerto Rican combatants galvanized by the Revolutionary Committees were escaped African slaves living in hiding. In some cases slaves were granted freedom in exchange for partaking in the planned war; Some slave owners also desired to break away with Spain. But the class interest of this privileged sector was different from most people in Puerto Rico, their class aspirations were to develop capitalism 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.
Women also played an important role in the leadership of this revolutionary movement, such as Mariana Brecetti Cuevas and Lola Rodriguez De Tio. Both of these women partook in organizing the clandestine Revolutionary Committees. Mariana Bracetti Cuevas created what the revolutionaries hoped would become the flag of an independent Puerto Rican republic. Lola Rodriguez De Tio was the author of the Puerto Rican National Anthem — not the revised, non-revolutionary version approved by the U.S. colonizers.
Betances sailed on a ship with a cargo of rifles, cannons and other weapons from the island of Española (Haiti & Dominican Republic). These were weapons obtained during the Haitian Revolution’s defeat of French colonialism on January 1, 1804. Haiti had such an abundance of captured weapons that much of it was provided to other liberation struggles in the Western Hemisphere, especially to Simon Bolivar’s military campaign to expel Spanish colonialism.
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
At about 2 AM on September 23, 1868, 900 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 city awakened, crowds of people poured onto the streets, and the African slaves staged a revolt. The people were emboldened to fight which weakened the ability of the Spanish military forces to maintain control.
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 authority was overwhelmed. Government and military officials were forced by the fury of the people to lay down their weapons and surrender. The rebels then declared the Republic of Puerto Rico.
The Spanish prisoners were then paraded and displayed for all to view as trophies of war. Colonial officials guilty of heinous crimes against the people were dealt with accordingly. 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. 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, the despised symbol of tyranny, was lowered, stepped on and burned. In its place, the flag of the newly proclaimed Puerto Rican republic (shown below) 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 liberation 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 & 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 chose to continue their efforts by retreating to join the struggle in Cuba. About 2000 Puerto Ricans seized Spanish vessels in order to set sail to join their Cuban comrades in “El Grito de Yara” uprising, three weeks after El Grito de Lares. Among the Puerto Ricans to join this venture was Juan Rius Rivera, who became a commander in the Cuban rebel army.
It was this act of solidarity that solidified the centuries-long relationship between Cuban and Puerto Rican revolutionaries. This special collaboration became tradition. It is what motivated Lola Rodriguez De Tio’s famous poetic expression “Two Wings of the Same Bird”.
For many Puerto Ricans, the experience of Lares emphasis that the national salvation and liberation of the people can only be achieved with total independence and absolute freedom from foreign interference.
Added Meaning of El Grito De Lares
On September 23, 2005, Filiberto Ojeda Rios was killed in a gun battle with Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents. Filiberto was leader of the clandestine armed group Los Macheteros. The FBI chose the date to launch this vicious attack on the revered leader as an attempt to shatter the fighting spirit of the independence 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 an added meaning. Boricuas continue to wage the liberation struggle.
Today, Puerto Rico’s hard social reality has defined many new forms of struggle but with its long fighting traditions kept well intact. Regardless of what Washington officials throw against the Puerto Rican people, the historic instinct to rebel cannot be destroyed. The passion that existed during El Grito De Lares continues to live on.
The continued struggle for an independent state is the only suitable direction. Having a free and self-determining republic is the only guarantee for freedom from colonial rule. The sacrifices and lessons made by the martyrs of El Grito De Lares shall one day prove to inspire a decisive battle that will bring about the defeat of U.S. colonialism in 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.
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (the renown leader of the 1917 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 westward which came with seizure of Indigenous/First Nation people’s lands and the theft of nearly half of Mexico’s territory in the 1846-1848 U.S.-Mexican War.
Following the end of African 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 by laying railroad tracks 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 many horrific acts of genocide on Indigenous/First Nation people. What began at Plymouth Rock proceeded to become a tradition and custom of white supremacy. Outright murder and rape became a requirement for U.S. capitalism’s further development. By the late 1890’s, Indigenous people were virtually annihilated within continental United States, as the so-called “Indian Wars” came to a close.
However, the westward expansionist drive by the white supremacist policies of Washington officials encountered the resistance of many Indigenous tribal nations. Their fighting spirit shall forever be exemplary to the freedom struggles of oppressed people everywhere. Tribal figures like Chief Joseph, Crazy Horse, Captain Jack, Red Cloud, Cochise, Sitting Bull and Geronimo, all stood up with dignity and led their people in many fierce battles against the encroaching white racist conquerors.
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 1890’s, 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 racist arrogance, in the centuries of campaigns to expel Indigenous people from their lands and enforce a genocidal system, 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 eager to test its military ability.
A PRETEXT FOR WAR
On the evening of February 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. None of the officers were on board.
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, the notorious U.S. 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.
THE U.S. MILITARY INVASION & COLONIZATION OF PUERTO RICO
In the early morning hours of May 12, 1898 a fleet consisting of several U.S. Navy warship began the military campaign for the conquest of Puerto Rico. These Warships conducted a devastating bombardment on the port city of San Juan, by firing a volley totaling 1,360 shells. Several Spanish Navy vessels were sunk while in the interior of the municipality many buildings were destroyed. What came after the bombing of San Juan was a naval blockade of Puerto Rico’s principle ports.
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 war criminal U.S. Army General Nelson A. Miles — a reliable servant of the U.S. capitalist westward expansion.
Miles was infamous for his role in the vicious suppression of the 1894 Pullman strike and other labor struggles fighting for the eight hour day and the right to unionize. He was also known for his capture and mistreatment of Indigenous leaders like Geronimo and Sitting Bull. But Miles’ most outstanding crime was the December 29, 1890, massacre of 300 Indigenous men, women and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.
While American troops began their onslaught on Guanica, U.S. warships entered the Bahia De Ponce (Ponce Bay). These warships threaten to use their destructive heavy guns on the city of Ponce if the inhabitants did not surrender.
As the U.S. Army marched through the mountains, they encountered peasants who had been forewarned of the invasion’s brutality. These mountain people (Jibaros), armed solely with machetes, valiantly attacked the U.S. soldiers. The peasants who were captured by the invading forces were often bound to trees and shot by firing squad.
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 and again in 1989; to Honduras in 1903 and again in 1911; to the Dominican Republic in 1903 and again in 1965; to Korea in 1904 and again in 1950; 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; to Guatemala in 1920; to Vietnam from 1955 through 1975; to Grenada in 1983, and so on.
The list of U.S. military invasions continued throughout the 20th century. With hundreds of military bases and interventions around the world it became a constant feature of world affairs to the present day.
CONTINUED ANTI-COLONIAL STRUGGLE
The corporate media has always made every effort to disguise the foreign subjugation of Puerto Rico. But events occasionally occur that push the truth to the surface, especially when the colonized people are driven to rise up and rebel.
The U.S. invasion of July 25, 1898, is the core reason as to why Puerto Ricans have no say in their fundamental civil and human rights. This insurgence by the U.S military included all aspects of economic and political life of our homeland. Moreover, the imposition of the 1917 Jones Act and the more recent 2016 Puerto Rico Oversight Management & Economic Stability Act — also known as “PROMESA”, have all contributed to the island’s current deplorable reality.
Due to colonial circumstances Puerto Rico is one of the most plundered inhabited territorial entities on the globe. Giant U.S. corporations extract an average of $30 billion dollars annually in profits. For a country with a population less than 4 million makes the rate of exploitation one of the highest per capita in the world. And because its resources are robbed by multi-billionaires in the U.S. Puerto Rico continues to suffer economic devastation, especially after Hurricane Maria and the present COVID-19 pandemic.
Because the United States is the most advanced capitalist country in the world, for it to use the oldest form of foreign subjugation dating back to the Assyrian, Greek, Byzantine and Roman Empires, says volumes about the barbarity and cruelty of U.S. colonial policy. That is why denying the right of self-determination and independence justifies the continued people’s resistance, in Puerto Rico and throughout the diaspora.