In the past week many people have been devastated, especially in New York City’s Bronx community, by news video coverage of 15 year old Lesandro Guzman-Feliz, who was also known as “Junior.” The graphic video shows Lesandro being savagely stabbed and hacked to death by members of a street youth gang known as “Los Trinitarios.”
There has been a tremendous outpouring of sympathy by people throughout the city and across the country for Lesandro Guzman-Feliz’s grieving mother and family, who will be impacted by this tragic event for years to come. Unfortunately, public discussion of this case was immediately limited by the media and has not addressed the social context that fuel these events in poor working-class communities.
Media reports have emphasized the perpetrators’ life-time record of criminal activity and zeroed-in on outcries for justice by neighborhood residents. And understandably so, mainstream news outlets sensationalized reports of this tragedy and have in various ways called upon stepping up police activity in oppressed people of color neighborhoods while insidiously attempting to facilitate community support for this end.
First we must ask, why is the racist police —with the assistance of the news media— trying to manipulate the justified anguish of this predominantly Dominican Bronx neighborhood? Why is the police controlling the narrative of these events?
As we well know, the police have never been a friend of the Latino community. The NYPD has historically been responsible for killing scores of unarmed Black and Latino people in this city, with violence comparable to that which was deployed against Lesandro.
And despite the police’s repeated mention that Lesandro Guzman-Feliz aspired to be a cop and that he was a member of the Explorers, a youth club under the auspices of the NYPD, when the police was called to the scene it treated Lesandro with the same contempt it treats all youth of color.
In fact, the attitudes of the two responding NYPD officers serve as a window into how the police view violence among people of color. A later-released video shows that as Lesandro laid bleeding to death two uniformed cops stood back without attempting to save his life.
No one can deny that these hideous crimes merit punishment and justice. Such acts are indisputably a clear indication of a mental and emotional departure from basic moral values and a sense of humanity. Death by senseless violence continues to be part of a disturbing panorama that describes the reality for many communities of color.
Violence conducted by individuals for the pettiest of reason is a behavioral matter that can only be addressed in a discussion of culture of the society within which it happens. That is, the violent historical setting from which capitalist culture developed. And because culture is at the heart of this matter, it is unfortunate that a percentage of unstable individuals among oppressed people will tend to mimic the violence of our oppressors.
Violence among oppressed people will never be a problem that the police will attempt to eradicate. They will point to its existence but only as a ploy to convince us that diminishing civil liberties and other meager freedoms works to our “safety.” In short, the deviant behavior of a few will always be used to enhance the powers of the police, courts and prisons.
In fact, since the very beginning of the police, dating back to slavery, their profession centers on inflicting violence on our people whenever they deem necessary. For this reason alone poor working class people cannot rely on the police state for salvation.
Gang violence was never as acute of a problem as it is now, until the 1980’s, when an influx of drugs consumed many communities of color. There was ample evidence, then, pointing to law enforcement, along with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as the main perpetrators in what soon thereafter became a widespread crisis. Gang leaders were corrupted which made these organizations an essential part of the operations that led to funneling drugs into poor communities.
Ultimately every oppressed person in this country will be compelled to realize that peace and security can only come about from our own actions and organizing efforts.
Historically, not all street organizations involved themselves in hideous criminal activity. Many youths joined these groups for noble reasons and simply to obtain a sense of safety and belonging. There are instances in history where street youth groups protected neighborhood residents from crime.
One good example is the Young Lords, a Puerto Rican/Latino youth group that developed on the streets and prisons in Chicago during the 1960’s. They were influenced by the political events of that decade, especially by the activist work of the Black Panther Party. Eventually the Young Lords transcended to become a revolutionary entity.
Such is the direction that these street youth groups of today must take. They must either side with the people and fight on their behalf or allow themselves to be absorbed by the efforts of the police state. In which case they would risk feeling the wrath of a rising revolutionary mass movement.
Justice and protection from criminal elements that have gone to the point of no return, and forgiveness, as Lesandro Guzman-Feliz’s killers, can only come about with a politically and organizationally sophisticated militant mass movement. And that would automatically imply our people exercising the right to use all techniques and methods of self-defense.
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.
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 our 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 that 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.
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 the 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!
On May 5, 1818 in the city of Trier, Prussia, a great historic figure was born who would eventually send shock waves towards every school of thinking. Karl Marx would impact all of society, including those who served to protect the insecure class of oppressors, tyrants and exploiters, during his time.
This gallant revolutionary eventually formulated ideas that would serve to provide oppressed and exploited people with a comprehensive revolutionary theory, based on the social and economic status of the working class. It was in collaboration with his most trusted comrade and friend, Friedrich Engels, that Marx was able to develop a scientific approach for examining capitalism — in order to expedite it’s overthrow.
One of the greatest achievements made by Marx was his analytical conclusions of how capitalist profits are created. The capitalist class were not the lords of society because they worked harder or were smarter than anyone else. Their position was thanks to their theft of surplus value — the value of commodities above and beyond what is socially necessary to produce them. This surplus value is the fruit of unpaid labor, which becomes the nucleus of the vast wealth stolen by the capitalists.
The rapidity of production that resulted meant that abundance tended to cause scarcity, when overproduction caused job layoffs thus making commodity goods unaffordable for workers, while capitalists were only interested in satisfying themselves with a lust to maximize the rate of surplus value.
Once these commodity goods circulated in the market and sold the already created surplus value would then be realized as profits.
And because capitalism collectivized commodity production with concentrations of workers organized for a distribution of labor, a socialization of production was introduced. The magnitude of production gradually reached levels never before seen in human history. The capability of the productive forces meeting the needs of everyone in this society several times over revealed why poverty and want are an absurdity that is inherited in this system. This is a phenomenon that shall inevitably compel working people to rebel.
In the words of Karl Marx: “The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.“
It was this analysis that led Marx and Engels to become adamant and unforgiving in their critiques of Political Economy, that is, the deceitful methods and hypocritical overtures used by the rulers to justify their parasitic behavior in the brutal exploitation of working people.
This analysis was also central in Marx’s world outlook that defined his conceptions in philosophy, ideology, politics, history, culture, but most important of all his attitude towards the antagonistic relationship between opposing social classes.
KARL MARX’S TREMENDOUS IMPACT ON THE WORLD
Marx’s ideas impacted progressive and revolutionary movements on every continent throughout the 20th Century, long after his death. Thanks to the political leadership of the Russian V.I. Lenin, Marx’s ideas guided the developments of the Soviet Union, the world’s first experiment in socialist planned economy.
For the most part Marx’s theories proved consistent with his expectations as workers in industrialized capitalist countries rose up in fierce rebellion while in the plundered and colonized regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America capitalist imperialism was challenged by the fury of national liberation struggles.
It is no wonder why revolutionary figures like Amilcar Cabral, Celia Sanchez, Ho Chi Minh, Claudia Jones, Madame Nguyễn Thị Định, Fidel Castro Ruz, Patrice Lumumba, Nguyễn Thị Bình, Ernesto Che Guevara, Mao Zedong, Steve Biko, Kim Il-Sung and many others, resorted to embrace Marxism and sought ways to apply it’s many lessons to their respective realities.
Contained in Marx and Engel’s earliest writings like the Philosophical & Economic Manuscript, The Communist Manifesto, The Origins of the Family, Private Property & the State, The Civil War in the United States, Utopia and Scientific Socialism, On Religion, Wage, Price and Profit, along with the rest of their vast collection of writings, are many valuable lessons which are indisputably applicable in our experiences today. That is why, to this day, 138 years after his death, Karl Marx continues to be despised and dreaded by the capitalist rulers.
In the United States, African American figures like Cyril Briggs, Harry Haywood, W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, and many more, were able to see how the Black liberation struggle had natural affinities with the fundamental analysis of Marxism. By the 1960’s-70’s Marxism’s most notable writing “The Communist Manifesto” became one of several political education study requirements for members of the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords.
KARL MARX & THE CIVIL WAR IN THE UNITED STATES
One of the most notable of Marx’s political involvements was his intervention in the events of the Civil War in the United States. African chattel slavery in the U.S. was the most lucrative and most brutal in all of history. It was a system that served as the economic impetus for capitalism and allowed it to grow into the colossal wealth it comprises today.
Through his correspondence with President Abraham Lincoln and through his column in the New York Tribune Karl Marx sought to build pressure by being firmly insistent about the need for a decree that made slavery technically illegal.
On January 1, 1863 Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This monumental document became the legal precedent for recruiting and arming former slaves. Although Lincoln’s motives were of military consideration the Emancipation Proclamation hastened the outcome of the war and would eventually guarantee the defeat of the Southern Slavocracy.
Sectors of the British ruling class who had vested economic interest in the South’s slave economy had desired to militarily intervene in support of the Confederacy. Thanks to Karl Marx’s leadership in the powerful International Workingmen’s Association of England the British rulers were prevented from coming to the aid of the Southern slave owning class.
Karl Marx’s leading role mobilizing the English working class to prevent the prolongation of African chattel slavery in the United States was in every objective sense a profound act of solidarity to the African American people. Marx’s convictions were firm, it is why he stated, “Labor in the white skin can never free itself as long as labor in the black skin is branded.”
MARXISM MORE RELEVANT TODAY THAN EVER BEFORE
The revolutionary contributions of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels continue to be the target of bourgeois philosophers, economists and historians. Ruling class scholars demonstrate their contempt for working class people by falsely accusing Marxism of being “totalitarian” or by asserting that it is filled with nothing but “unrealizable fantasy,” etc.
Similarly, there are those even within the predominantly white socialist left of this country who claim, dripping with social arrogance, that Marxism and the nationalism of oppressed people are contradictory, and can never be reconciled to complement one another, in the fight against the capitalist rulers. Others in the more conservative sectors of the national movements, strictly concerned with the narrowest, cultural sentiments of nationalism, mistakenly assert that Marxism is a European or “white thing” and is therefore irrelevant to national liberation struggles.
Both of these views only serve to promote the reactionary notions of white supremacy and anti-communism. Objective material facts prove the opposite. Under the intense circumstances of imperialism today all oppressed entities have a definite class relationship to capitalism. It is a phenomenon which no one can escape.
People of color in the United States are the most exploited, persecuted communities. They are victims of police violence and imprisonment. If anyone is to have a greater stake and say in the downfall of this vile system and the establishment of a new society, it is those who have been historically on the bottom of social and economic disparity.
It is an absurdity and a reflection of how deeply embedded white privilege is in the culture to believe that mastering Marxism requires that people of color dismiss their self-identity as historically constituted national groupings within the broader population. This distortion of the meaning of Marxism dismisses the necessity of socialism coming about on equal terms and has resulted in preserving bourgeois traditions disguised under the mantle of upholding working class “unity.”
The teachings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are today more relevant than ever before to the liberation struggles of Black, Latino, Asian, Arab and Indigenous people, especially because of the super-exploitation and increasing numbers of these national groups coming into the U.S. working class.
The capitalist ideological institutions like the church, the mass media, public education, etc., will implicitly and explicitly encourage us to accept what exist, that is, to be submissive to the racist injustices of the police state and the rule of wealthy exploiters. It was precisely the social class oppression, bringing so much suffering in our world that Karl Marx selflessly devoted his entire life to condemn and worked towards undoing.
If Karl Marx were alive today, he would have surely been part of the movements condemning the persecution of immigrant and undocumented families in the United States, the racist police killings of African Americans, the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation of Palestine as well as the U.S. colonization of Puerto Rico.
It is Marx’s uncompromising devotion to revolution on behalf of the workers and oppressed people of the world that explains the ruling class’s utter hatred for the conceptions he developed, including the relevance of Marxism to every question facing the world today. The rulers cannot bear the thought of a well-articulated analysis that calls for an end to capitalism and points towards the only direction for bringing about the complete emancipation of the human race.
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.
I’m happy to say that I took some time out and went to see the Marvel Studios movie production Black Panther. I was compelled to make this happen by the range of discussion about it, by people at work, friends and social media. I have to admit that I enjoyed watching it very much. It is the best movie I have seen since the first Star Wars in 1977.
The special effects, color, costumes and most especially of all the cast. Every actor in this movie merits an Oscar, especially Michael B Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Guirira, Forest Whitaker, Lilitia Whight and Winston Duke. Although “Wakanda” is a fictitious African country the quality of this movie will tend to make you believe for a brief moment that such a place exist.
But despite the movie’s acting and technical sophistication and well deserved praises, like all areas of aesthetics especially the cinema, Black Panther can not avoid having political content.
And for progressive minded people, especially people of color with connections to the liberation struggle, we should not be reluctant to divide the one into the two; this movie production has many beautiful aspects that will be appreciated by all especially young people of color.
One would easily feel that Black Panther is promoting a sense of African empowerment, and understandably so with such a powerful display of Black actors. Unfortunately that is not the case.
Let’s not lose sight that it was the backing of avaricious capitalist corporations, that partake directly or indirectly in the plunder of Africa, that made this movie possible. It became apparent to me how the political content of this movie was insidiously well pronounced and sugar coated for the purpose of mass acceptance.
Throughout most of the stretch of the movie I could not avoid being baffled when Black warriors of “Wakanda” are shown harmoniously collaborating with a white C.I.A. operative played by Martin Freeman. In one of the scenes he is wounded in battle and is affectionately cared for by the Wakadans.
The absurdity in this key element of the plot is knowing the criminal history of the C.I.A. in Africa – from the murder of Patrice Lumumba, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, and the countless bloody atrosities it has committed throughout the African continent. The profiteers of this movie are hoping that we are ignorant of these historical facts.
In another insidious and politically significant part of this movie the Black Panther (the King) speaks before an international body of delegates from various nations to announce how Wakanda will no longer keep from the world its precious resources but instead will begin to share them. What is absurd in this scene is that in reality imperialist powers have always robbed Africa of all of its resources, human and material. In this same scene the C.I.A. operative is shown applauding the Black Panther’s announcement, as if giving approval.
Many Blacks and other people of color will feel inspired by this movie for many good reasons; Black Panther was excellently made and its cast was mostly Black who performed their roles with the utmost skills.
But while we admire the talents that comes from an oppressed people let’s not ever forget who controls the aesthetics and institutions of culture in this society, it is not the oppressed. There are reasons why capitalist corporations with complicity in racist oppression in the United States and the colonization of Africa, like the Walt Disney Company, were motivated to partake in making this movie.
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.
Of the events in African American history that bourgeois historians and apologists of slavery tend to dread is the Nat Turner Rebellion. This monumental chapter in Black history occurred on August 21, 1831 at the Belmont Plantation in Southampton County, Virginia. Since then Nat Turner’s name symbolizes defiance for African Americans but for white privilege it continues to be a moment in history that torments the imagination.
White supremacy’s preferred narrative of that rebellion is overemphasizing the violence inflicted on the slave owning families. False interpretations of that history aim to project slavers as victims and insidiously criminalize the justified rage of Black people, both in the pass and present.
To understand why this slave revolt was one of the bloodiest in U.S. history it is necessary to have a grasp of the horrific experiences the African American people endured under that system.
Great Britain perceived the Thirteen Colonies as their goose that laid golden eggs, and valued them more than all of its conquered territories throughout the globe. Of all the countries where slavery was practiced it was in the United States where this system became the most lucrative and brutal.
The rapid economic accumulation of wealth created from enslaved labor allowed the United States to develop into the giant capitalist bastion it is today. The enormous financial power that derived from the harshest circumstances of human suffering compelled the rulers to develop a set of ideas which ultimately served as their ideological justification for Black oppression — White supremacy.
Despite the glorification of the “old South” by the mainstream Black people were subjected to extreme forms of degradation, beatings, castration, torture, murder, and the rape of women, men and children alike. Black families lived under constant fear of being separated; Without warning children, mothers and fathers were sold to other slave plantations. In addition, among the most shocking and heinous acts committed by slave owners as a sport and for punishing insubordinate slaves was having their children tossed in rivers to be killed by crocodiles.
The gall of bourgeois historians who dare to make false judgement while minimizing the crimes inflicted on Black people. The blame for the not-so-pleasant details of slave uprisings falls strictly on those who firmly preserved the cruelty that came with this centuries-long system. Black people have historically been driven to use force as a means to end their suffering.
No uprising in history has ever been pretty. When a subjugated people realizes that struggle is the only path to freedom there are no guarantees that bloodshed will be absent from the equation. Tyrants have always reserved the right to use violence, as a way to preserve their power. For oppressed people breaking away from the yoke of their plight has always been achieved by whatever means available to them.
Although Nat Turner was traumatized from abuses since childhood he managed to develop strong leadership qualities which allowed him to develop and serve as preacher among the slaves. According to his supposed “confession” made after his capture, to a Southampton attorney Thomas Ruffin Gray, Turner stated that he had received a message from God commanding him to lead the slaves in an uprising.
On the evening of August 21, 1831, Under the leadership of Nat Turner numerous slaves abruptly began to rebel. They ran to the supply sheds to arm themselves with work tools used for toiling the land. With weapons in hand the enslaved laborers proceeded throughout the plantation to bludgeon and stab to death the well-armed overseers.
The intensity of the revolt continued with Nat Turner and his followers entering the hated resident mansion which symbolized the depth of their oppression as slaves. It was there where all members of the privileged White slave owning family were killed.
A state of panic widely consumed the White populace of Virginia and neighboring states, as the Black insurgents were hunted by bands of racist vigilantes. Unfortunately, by October 30th all of the insurrectionists were captured and put on a showcase trial.
On November 11, 1831 Nat Turner and 56 of his followers were executed and about 200 non-participants of the revolt from neighboring plantations were beaten and tortured. The repressive decrees implemented throughout the South were intense which lasted until the Civil War.
As if killing Turner and his followers were not enough to satisfy the frenzied vindictiveness of slavers, the bodies of the martyrs were gruesomely chopped to pieces, burned and used to make oil and glue. In the aftermath whites proved to be psychologically impacted, they became increasingly fearful of Black people. New repressive measures were instituted throughout the South with harsher laws that restricted the movement of slaves and free Blacks alike.
Nat Turner contributed to the rising momentum of that period which popularized the use of armed force against that vile institution. By all accounts Nat Turner’s Rebellion of 1831 inspired John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, which triggered the momentous political storm that resulted in the Civil War of 1861-1865 and the overthrow of the slave-owning class.
The Attempt to destroy slavery by the slaves themselves is of the utmost significance. This event will continue to inspire today’s anti-racist struggles as we continue to grapple with the historical consequences of slavery in the modern era.
Although the rebellion was suppressed, with the martyrs tortured and executed, this history continues to inspire a yearning for freedom in the present period. The legacy of this slave revolt added to Black traditions that brought into being other heroic examples like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Ida B. Wells, Marcus Garvey, the African Blood Brotherhood, Malcolm X, Black Panther Party, and today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
History has given Nat Turner the noble title of revolutionary, during his lifetime. A future revolutionary struggle in the United States will surely bring about a broad desire for erecting statues and monuments dedicated to the memory of freedom fighters like Nat Turner. Giving the highest tribute to men and women who fought for Black liberation will be part and parcel of realizing the demand for reparations.
LONG LIVE THE MEMORY OF NAT TURNER, OCTOBER 2, 1800 – NOVEMBER 11, 1831
Among the historical demands of the African American liberation struggle viewed with the utmost contempt by the capitalist class is the demand for reparations. At least 12 million Africans were kidnapped and taken to the Americas in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
The demand for reparations is based on the outright theft, degradation and genocide of the African American population during the hundreds of years of slavery in the United States. It is based on the continued impact of this period that lasts to this day in the form of systematic racism and inequality experienced by the Black community throughout the country.
It is also based on the continued benefits the U.S. capitalist class still derives from the wealth extracted from Black labor during the period of chattel slavery.
Unlike the human bondage of slavery in antiquity, African chattel slavery arose in the 15th century based on the expansion of capitalism. The exploitation of the labor of millions of African slaves allowed the then-infant European capitalist economies to achieve a level of growth never before seen by any social system.
Chattel slavery began around 1441 when armed Portuguese “explorers” captured Africans and shipped them to Europe. Once Christopher Columbus made his infamous intrusion into the Western Hemisphere, chattel slavery expanded and lasted well into the second half of the 19th century. This system formed the economic basis of deeply embedded racist ideology among people of European descent in the United States.
The initial process of rapid capital accumulation, a requirement for capitalist economic development, was accomplished by the European capitalist classes from the wealth created by enslaved Black labor and the massive theft of gold and other wealth from the Indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere also victims of genocide.
Today, bourgeois historians try to exonerate or distance the capitalist class from complicity in the brutal system of chattel slavery. But slavery, while not based on the “free” wage labor associated with capitalism, was inextricably bound to the development of capitalism. Slavery became an inseparable appendage of rising capitalism until its abolition in the 19th century.
The wealth accumulated from slave labor strengthened capitalist industries and commerce. Textile industries, agriculture and shipbuilding prospered as a result of cheaper goods and raw materials obtained by enslaved African labor. The more Black slavery expanded, the more it became an impetus for capitalist economic development not only in the United States, where slavery was strongest, but throughout the world.
But what was first a tremendous stimulant for capitalist economic growth ultimately became an economic depressant in the United States. The slave-based plantation economy in the South competed directly with the growing manufacturing economy in the north, based on “free labor.”
The competition between these social systems was the basis for the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865. African chattel slavery in the United States was the most lucrative of all.
Slavery was abolished after the Civil War. But the impact of that brutal system of exploitation remained, both in the wealth of the U.S. ruling class and the devastation and continued racist oppression of the Black population.
The colossal wealth today, amounting to trillions of dollars, is boasted about in stock market reports by the world’s richest corporations like FleetBoston Financial, the railroad firm CSX and the Aetna insurance company. These entities owe their growth to the brutally exploited labor of millions of African people.
But like any system of exploitation, slavery also provoked the aspirations of the Black masses for justice and compensation. The demand for reparations is an expression of these aspirations to benefit from the vast wealth that millions of enslaved people produced.
The exact formulation of the demand for reparations has varied over the many phases of the Black liberation struggle through the era of slavery itself, the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, to the present day. But whatever the form in which the demand has manifested, it has always expressed the collective desire of African Americans to be compensated for the criminal exploitation they endured as an enslaved people.
`Forty acres and a mule’
During the Civil War, the southern slave-owning class held a special hatred for the northern general William Tecumseh Sherman. In 1864 and 1865, Sherman led an army of Black and white Union soldiers marching through South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Along the way, he ordered the total destruction of munitions factories, crops, railroad yards, clothing mills, warehouses and other targets to deny resources to the Confederacy. It was an effective measure of psychological warfare aimed at all who resisted the will of the Union Army.
On Jan. 11, 1865, Sherman met with leaders of the Black community in Savannah, Georgia. Most of them were former slaves. The spokesperson of the Black leaders was 67-year-old Garrison Frazier, who was born a slave in North Carolina.
Frazier gave voice to the aspirations of the millions of African Americans who had just been released from slavery as a result of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. “The way we can best take care of ourselves is to have land,” Frazier told the Union general.
These African Americans were a principal factor in Sherman’s decision to issue Special Field Order 15 on Jan. 15, 1865. That military order provided 40,000 former slaves with 400,000 acres of land confiscated from the defeated slave owners. It is believed to have been the origin of the demand for “40 acres and a mule.
For the first time, a representative of the northern capitalist class had recognized, in a limited way, the rights of former slaves to receive some form of compensation for their centuries of oppression. And while the order was issued for tactical purposes by the northern capitalist government in its campaign against the southern slavocracy, it provided a glimpse of what the oppressed Black nation could achieve in a full-blown social revolution.
Reversal of Civil War gains
Hopes for real economic reparations for former slaves were short-lived. The immediate needs of the northern ruling class in crushing their southern competitors were replaced by the overall goal of stifling the aspirations of the oppressed Black masses. Sherman himself went on to unleash U.S. government terror against the Native American people.
The overthrown slave owners were enlisted as allies in this project. Former members of the Confederacy engaged in counter-revolutionary activities, setting up the terrorist Ku Klux Klan to roll back the gains of the postwar period of Radical Reconstruction.
One of Andrew Johnson’s first acts as president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln was to rescind Special Field Order 15, returning the old land titles to their former owners. Throughout Johnson’s presidency, he vetoed every proposal that granted land to former slaves in the southern states and the western frontier.
Radical Republicans made other attempts to pass legislation compensating former slaves, such as providing pensions for the former slaves. These bills met fierce opposition in Congress; none survived.
As the United States entered the 20th century as a rising imperialist power, it became ever clearer that the capitalist class’ motives during the Civil War had nothing to do with genuine Black emancipation. Instead of receiving reparations, African Americans were the constant target of disenfranchisement, persecution and racist terror.
The struggle to win reparations for African Americans diminished in the earlier part of the 20th century, largely overshadowed by the necessary struggles against lynching and KKK terror. At the height of the Civil Rights movement during the 1950s and 60s, reparations once again became a central demand of the Black liberation struggle. The Black Panther Party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Nation of Islam and others reintroduced the demand for reparations, often in militant and defiant ways.
The complicity of white people in Black oppression can only be rectified when they raise the banner of Black liberation as their very own.
During the course of the mass civil rights and Black liberation movements, the U.S. government was forced to allow some progressive legislation. In particular, voting rights, expanded welfare programs and some elements of affirmative action were achieved although all of them are under constant attack.
The question of property rights
But throughout this period, all sectors of the U.S. ruling class have been hostile to any form of reparations to the African American community. The reason is simple: The demand raises the question of property rights. The bottom-line function of the U.S. government is to preserve capitalist property against all demands from those without property.
Economics is the lifeblood that allows for human social development. Destroying, hindering or depriving a people of an economic means of life is an essential step for an oppressor in carrying out the business of subjugation. This is why the capitalist class is hostile toward any reference to reparations.
Of course, the capitalist rulers never hesitate to demand reparations in the form of financial compensation when it comes to their own property or interests. For example, they still whine about property that was expropriated by the Cuban people after the 1959 revolution.
Ruling-class commentators and pundits try to use bourgeois legality in arguing that African slaves are no longer living and that the claim for reparations should not apply to their descendants. But the wealth created by slave labor became the foundation of many U.S. corporations, and was the basis for the rise of the U.S. capitalist class: the railroad conglomerate CSX, Aetna, JP Morgan Chase, Westpoint Stevens, Union Pacific and Brown University, to name just a few.
It is by that bourgeois legality that the wealth created by the slaves and appropriated by the slave owners has continued in the form of corporate wealth and passed down through inheritance laws to families and individuals.
Under the legal codes of capitalism, the debt owed to the ancestors of the vast majority of African Americans in the United States today should be recognized by the same inheritance laws by which the rich have benefited. The denial of these rights is another example of the racist disenfranchisement of the Black nation in the United States.
What will reparations look like?
Of course, the concrete expression of how reparations should be granted has generated discussion and debate, even among advocates of reparations. For example, some call for reparations in the form of material incentives such as funds for education programs.
At a September 2000 forum sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus and initiated by Rep. John Conyers, Congressperson Tony Hall supported a call for a panel to study the call for reparations. “I would hope that it would consider among many things, investments in human capital for scholarships, for a museum like Congressman [John] Lewis has proposed, for things that would improve the future of slaves’ descendants,” he testified.
The Black Panther Party placed reparations at the center of their political perspective. Hall, who is white, articulated a modest message. He had sponsored legislation calling on Congress to issue a formal apology for slavery something that the U.S. government has never done. The version of reparations he described is one designed to be tolerated by some sector of the capitalist class itself.
Activist and author Sam Anderson, representing the Black Radical Congress at the same 2000 panel, projected a more radical vision of the movement for reparations. “[A] comprehensive reparations campaign embraces all of our sites of struggle and areas of concerns,” he said. Anderson laid out a program of fighting for free health care, debt cancellation both for the Black community in the United States as well as African nations and freedom for political prisoners. “A reparations campaign is fundamentally anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist,” he said.
Reparations and Socialism
Throughout the decades that the demand for reparations has been raised, it is clear that the ruling class is vehemently opposed to any form of economic redress for the descendants of victims of slavery. Every effort to make the most moderate version of reparations is rejected out of hand.
Every effort of groups like the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and others deserves the support of all working people of every nationality. Solidarity among the working class means recognizing the right of oppressed nations to real redress for the exploitation of centuries.
Reparations for African Americans automatically means the expropriation of the capitalist class. In short, taking back the wealth, and everything connected to it, that the rulers stole from oppressed and exploited people since their existence first began.
Socialists and revolutionaries concern themselves with raising the anti-capitalist essence of the demand for reparations, making it a central theme for the revolution in this country. For anyone to claim that they are “socialist” but are either ambiguous or opposed to reparations are in essence promoting a sham version of “socialism.”
Given the dynamics of the class struggle in the United States and the extreme reliance on racism by the ruling class, reparations for the oppressed automatically imply the expropriation of the capitalist class.
The demand for African American reparations has wide-ranging implications with regard to the history and social structure that prevails in this society.
It is a demand that has been taken up around the world by other oppressed nationalities. In fact, reparations for Native American people after the U.S. genocidal campaign, for Mexican people for the conquest of territory, for the Puerto Rican people, for more than a century of U.S. colonialism, for Cuba, Palestine, Haiti, Venezuela and so on. These and more are part and parcel of the U.S. working-class program for socialist revolution.
REPARATIONS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS & ALL OPPRESSED PEOPLE, NOW!
On October 30, 1950 (71 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 recent Puerto Rican history which bourgeois historians and apologists for U.S. colonialism would prefer to dilute or completely erase.
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.