Nationalist attack of San Juan

Nationalist attack of San Juan
Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Series
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Flag of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.svg
Flag of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party

The Nationalist attack of San Juan was one of many uprisings against United States Government rule which occurred in Puerto Rico on October 30, 1950 during the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party revolts. Among the uprising's main objective was to attack "La Fortaleza" (the Governors mansion) and the United States Federal Court House Building in Old San Juan.


Events leading to the revolt

On September 17, 1922, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was formed. Jose Coll y Cuchi, a former member of the Union Party, was elected its first president. He wanted radical changes within the economy and social welfare programs of Puerto Rico. In 1924, Pedro Albizu Campos, a lawyer who once served in the U.S. Army during World War I as a Second Lieutenant, joined the party and was named its vice president. He believed that Puerto Rico should be an independent nation even if it meant an armed confrontation. By 1930, Coll y Cuchi departed from the party because of his disagreements with Albizu Campos as to how the party should be run. On May 11, 1930, Albizu Campos was elected president of the Nationalist Party.

In the 1930s, the United States-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Blanton Winship, and police colonel Riggs applied harsh repressive measures against the Nationalist Party.[1] In 1936, Albizu Campos and the leaders of the party were arrested and jailed at the Princesa Jail in San Juan and later sent to the Federal Prison at Atlanta, Georgia. On March 21, 1937, the nationalists held a parade in Ponce and the police opened fire on the crowd in what was to become known as the Ponce Massacre. Albizu Campos returned to Puerto Rico on December 15, 1947 after spending 10 years in prison.

On June 11, 1948, the United States appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero, signed the infamous "Ley de la Mordaza" (Gag Law) or Law 53 as it was officially known, passed by the Puerto Rican legislature which made it illegal to display the Puerto Rican Flag, sing a patriotic song, talk of independence and to fight for the liberation of the island. It resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States.[2] On June 21, 1948, Albizu Campos gave a speech in the town of Manati where nationalists from all over the island, including Utuado and Jayuya were gathered in case there was an attempt by the police to arrest him.


Military troops enter Jayuya

From 1949 to 1950, the nationalists in the island began to plan and prepare an armed revolution hoping that the United Nations would take notice and intervene on their behalf. The revolution was to take place in 1952, on the date the United States Congress was to approve the creation of the political status Free Associated State ("Estado Libre Associado") for Puerto Rico. The reason behind Albizu Campos' call for an armed revolution was that he considered the "new" status a colonial farce.

On October 26, 1950, Albizu Campos was holding a meeting in Fajardo when he received word that his house in San Juan was surrounded by police waiting to arrest him. He was also told that the police had already arrested other nationalist leaders. He escaped from Fajardo and ordered the revolution to start. On October 27, the police in the town of Peñuelas, intercepted and fired upon a caravan of nationalists, killing four.[3] On October 30, the nationalists staged uprisings in the towns of Ponce, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Arecibo, Utuado (Utuado Uprising), Jayuya (Jayuya Uprising) and San Juan. The first battle of the nationalist uprisings occurred during the early hours of the day of October 29, in the barrio Macaná of town of Peñuelas. The first incident of the Nationalist uprisings occurred during the early hours of the day of October 29, when the insular police of that town surrounded the house of the mother of Melitón Muñiz Santos, the president of the Peñuelas Nationalist Party in the bario Macaná, under the pretext that he was storing weapons for the Nationalist Revolt. Without warning, the police fired upon the Nationalists in the house and a firefight between both factions ensued, which resulted on the death of two Nationalists and the wounding of six police officers.[4] Nationalists Meliton Muñoz Santos, Roberto Jaume Rodriguez, Estanislao Lugo Santiago, Marcelino Turell, William Gutirrez and Marcelino Berrios were arrested and accused of participating in an ambush against the local insular police.[5][6]

Attack of the United States Federal Court House

Old Federal Court House in Old San Juan

In accordance to the planned uprising in San Juan, a group of nationalists were supposed to attack simultaneously the governmental mansion "La Fortaleza", where Puerto Rican governor Luis Muñoz Marín resided, and the United States Federal Court House which is located close to an area called "La Marina" in Old San Juan, at noon in what was supposed to be a surprise attack. The government however learned of the planned attacks from Luciano Cuadra, the president of the San Juan Nationalist Party in San Juan. Cuadra betrayed his organization and became a government witness, therefore forewarning the police and National Guard, who prepared themelves to face the nationalists in San Juan and the rest of the island.[7] Jesús Pomales González, one of five nationalists assigned to attack the court house, approached the building and witnessed the police arresting his fellow comrades Carlos Padilla, Diego Quiñones González, Juan Sandoval Ramos and Joaquín Padín Concepción. Pomales then opened fire on the police. The police responded by firing on Pomales, severely wounding him. He was then taken to the municipal hospital where he would recover from his wounds.[7]

Attack of "La Fortaleza"

The bodies of Carlos Hiraldo Resto and Manuel Torres Medina lie on the ground

Earlier that morning, nationalists Domingo Hiraldo Resto, Carlos Hiraldo Resto, Gregorio Hernández and Manuel Torres Medina who were assigned to attack La Fortaleza, met at the house of fellow nationalist Raimundo Díaz Pacheco in the San Juan sector of Martín Peña. At 11 A.M. they boarded a green Plymouth and headed towards Old San Juan to accomplish their mission. The men arrived at La Fortaleza at noon and stopped their car 25 feet from their objective's main entrance [8] They got out of the car with a submachine gun and pistols in hand and immediately began firing towards the mansion. Díaz Pacheco headed towards the mansion while the others took cover close to their car and fired with their pistols from their positions. The Fortaleza guards and police, who already knew of the planned attack, returned fire and a firefight between the two groups ensued. Díaz Pacheco, who carried the sub machine gun, fired at the second floor of the mansion where the executive offices of Governor Luis Muñoz Marín were located. During the firefight, Díaz Pacheco wounded two police officers, Isidoro Ramos and Vicente Otero Díaz before he was killed by Fortaleza guard Carmelo Dávila.[8]

Meanwhile, the police continued to fire upon the other nationalists. Domingo Hiraldo Resto was seriously wounded, but despite his wounds he dragged himself towards the mansions entrance. He was able to reach the mansions main door and once there he was motionless and appeared to be dead. He suddenly turned and sat on the steps and with his hands held up pleaded for mercy, his pleas however, were answered with a fusillade of gunfire.[9]

Hernández, who was also severely wounded continued to fire against the police from under the car. A police officer and a detective from La Fortaleza with submachine guns approached the car and fired upon Hernández, Carlos Hiraldo Resto and Torres Medina. Both Carlos Hiraldo Resto and Torres Medina were killed and their motionless bodies laid in the ground by the right side of the car. It was believed that Hernández was dead, however he wasn't and was taken to the local hospital along with the wounded police officers where they were operated for their respective wounds. The battle lasted 15 minutes and at the ended of the battle there were five nationalist casualties, four dead and one wounded, plus three wounded police officers.[9] E. Rivera Orellana, a sixth nationalist, who later turned out to be an undercover agent, was arrested close to La Fortaleza grounds and was later released.[9]

Gun fight at "Salón Boricua"

The following day, October 31, at 2:00 p.m., 15 police officers and 25 National Guardsmen arrived at 351 Calle Colton (Colton Street), esquina Barbosa (at the corner of Barbosa Street), of "Barrio Obrero" (a section named Workers Barrio) in Santurce and surrounded "Salón Boricua", a barbershop. The barbershop was owned and operated by Vidal Santiago, a nationalist who was the personal barber of Albizu Campos. The men who had surrounded the barbershop believed that a group of nationalists were inside and attacked the structure with machine gun fire, grenades and small firearms. The only person inside the shop was Santiago who responded by firing his pistol at the attackers. The firefight lasted 3 hours and ended when Santiago received five bullet wounds, among them one to the head. The battle, which also resulted with two bystanders and a child wounded, made Puerto Rican radio history since it was the first time that an event of this nature was transmitted "live" via the radio airwaves to the public in general. The reporters who covered the event for "WIAC" were Luis Enrique "Bibí" Marrero, Víctor Arrillaga, Luis Romanacce and 18 year old Miguel Angel Alvarez.[10]

Student March

Dr. Olga Viscal Garriga during her trial

Olga Viscal Garriga, a student at the University of Puerto Rico was a student leader and spokesperson of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party's branch in Rio Piedras. Garriga, who befriended Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos was a talented orator and political activist, led a demonstration that turned deadly in Old San Juan, after the United States Forces opened fire on the demonstrators. In the violent confrontation between the "Nationalists" and the United States backed forces, a demonstrator was killed. Although she was not directly involved in any violent act Garriga was arrested and was detained in "La Princesa" jail. During her trial in the federal court room in "Old San Juan", she was uncooperative with the U. S. Government prosecution and refused to recognize the authority of the U.S. over Puerto Rico. She was sentenced to 8 years in prison for contempt of court and was released after serving 5 years.[11]

The arrest of Francisco Matos Paoli

On November 2, 1950, the police arrived at Francisco Matos Paoli's home in Río Piedras and searched for guns and explosives, however the only thing that they found was a Puerto Rican flag. Paoli, one of the island's greatest poets, was named Secretary General of the party in 1949. Some of his responsibilities as Secretary General of the party included the presentation of patriotic speeches. In September 1950, Paoli traveled to the towns of Cabo Rojo, Santurce, Guánica and Lares in participation of nationalist activities. Paoli was arrested and accused of violating the "Ley de la Mordaza" (Gag Law). The evidence used against him was that he had a Puerto Rican Flag in his residence and that he had made four speeches in favor of Puerto Rico's independence.[12] Paoli was fired from his professorship at the UPR and was sentenced to a twenty year prison term, the sentence was later reduced to ten. In jail, he shared his cell with Albizu Campos. Campos suffered from ulceration's on his legs and body caused by radiation and Paoli tended to his needs.[12]

Incarcerated Nationalists

The following is an FBI list of the San Juan Nationalists who were incarcerated in 1950 and who were still in prison as of 1954[13] :

  • Olga Isabel Viscal Garriga
  • Juan Pietri perez
  • Rufino Rolon Marrero
  • Oliverio Pierluissi Soto
  • Joae Rivera Sotomayor
  • Pablo Rosado Ortiz
  • Antonio Moya velez
  • Enrique Muniz Medina
  • Willism Rios Figueroa
  • Vidal Santiago Diaz


External audio
Newsreel scenes in Spanish of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s here

United States law mandated that U.S. President Harry Truman take direct charge in all matters concerning Puerto Rico. In addition, the Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marín was required to consult directly with the White House.[14] News of the military action involved however, was prevented from spreading outside of Puerto Rico. It was called an incident between Puerto Ricans.[15][16]

Pomales, Hernández and Santiago were hospitalized at the municipal hospital and recovered from their wounds. Pomales was released after six months and was accused of three counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years of prison. Hernández was accused of two counts of attempted murder and sentenced to 15 years of prison. Nationalists Carlos Padilla, Diego Quiñones González, Juan Sandoval Ramos, Joaquín Padín Concepción and Vidal Santiago were also sentenced to various years of prison. Santiago was eventually pardoned and released from prison.[9]

Paoli was released on January 16, 1952, on probation. During his confinement he suffered from hallucinations which resulted in a mental breakdown and he was sent to a Psychiatric hospital. In 1977, the Department of Hispanic Studies at the University of Puerto Rico campus in Mayagüez nominated him for the Nobel Prize in literature in recognition of his substantial contribution to world literature.

The top leaders of the nationalist party were arrested, including Albizu Campos and the leader of the Jayuya Uprising Blanca Canales, and sent to jail to serve long prison terms. On November 1, 1950, nationalists Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attacked the Blair House with the intention of assassinating U.S. President Truman. Torresola and White House police officer Leslie Coffelt lost their lives in the failed attempt. Collazo was arrested and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment by President Truman, and he eventually received a presidential pardon.[17]

The last major attempt by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party to draw world attention to Puerto Rico's colonial situation occurred on March 1, 1954, when nationalist leader Lolita Lebrón together with fellow nationalists Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores and Andrés Figueroa Cordero attacked the United States House of Representatives. Lebrón and her comrades were charged with attempted murder and other crimes.[17]

See also


  1. ^ "Puerto Rico" By Kurt Pitzer, Tara Stevens, page 224, Published by Hunter Publishing, Inc, 2001, ISBN 1588431169, 9781588431165
  2. ^ Puerto Rican History
  3. ^ Puerto Rico history
  4. ^ El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza. by Pedro Aponte Vázquez. Page 7. Publicaciones RENÉ. ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
  5. ^ Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico-FBI files
  6. ^ El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza; by Pedro Aponte Vázquez; Page 7; Publisher: Publicaciones RENÉ; ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
  7. ^ a b "El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza"; by Pedro Aponte Vázquez; Page 2; Publisher: Publicaciones RENÉ; ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
  8. ^ a b "El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza"; by Pedro Aponte Vázquez; Page 4; Publisher: Publicaciones RENÉ; ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
  9. ^ a b c d "El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza"; by Pedro Aponte Vázquez; Page 7; Publisher: Publicaciones RENÉ; ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
  10. ^ Premio a Jesús Vera Irizarry
  11. ^ Viscal Family
  12. ^ a b Francisco Matos Paoli, poeta
  13. ^ "Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico"; FBI Files; (NPPR); SJ 100-3; Vol. 26; Pages 44-63
  14. ^ PNPR
  15. ^ Puerto Rico Uprising Journal
  16. ^ NY Latino
  17. ^ a b Ribes Tovar et al., p.132

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