Puerto Rican independence movement

Puerto Rican independence movement
Puerto Rican independence movement
Lares Revolutionary Flag of 1868 (Pale Yellow Star).svg · Flag of Puerto Rico (Light blue).svg · Flag of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.svg · Pip Flag.png

Antonio Valero Bernabe.gifRamon Emeterio Betances sitting.jpgBracetti.JPG
Antonio Mattei Lluberas.jpgJose de Diego 2.jpgAlbizu.jpg

First row
Antonio Valero de Bernabe • Ramón Emeterio Betances • Mariana Bracetti
Second row
Antonio Mattei Lluberas • José de Diego • Pedro Albizu Campos
Third row
Lolita Lebrón • Gilberto Concepción de Gracia • Filiberto Ojeda Ríos

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The Puerto Rican independence movement (Movimiento de la Independencia Puertorriqueña) refers to initiatives throughout the history of Puerto Rico aimed at obtaining independence for the Island, first from Spain, and then from the United States. The movement is not localized to one group of individuals or even one organization throughout the years, but represents instead the events and activities of dozens of groups and organizations, and thousands of individuals, that share the common goal of advocating, supporting, or seeking political independence for Puerto Rico.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, the independence movement in Puerto Rico has used both peaceful, political means as well as violent, revolutionary approaches in search of its objectives. Organized political movements have existed since the mid-19th century and have advocated independence of the Island, first from Spain (in the 19th century) and then from the United States (from 1898 to the present day). Today, a spectrum of autonomous, nationalist, and independence sentiments and political parties exist in the Island.


Independence from Spain

Revolts by the Tainos

Cacique Agüeybaná lead the first revolt against the Spanish invaders

Modern Puerto Rican independence movements can be traced back to the 16th century with the Taíno rebellion of 1511 led by Agüeybaná II.

In this revolt, Agüeybaná II, the most powerful cacique in the island at the time, together with Urayoán, cacique of Añasco, organized a revolt against the Spaniards in the southern and western parts of the island in 1511. He was joined by Guarionex, cacique of Utuado, who attacked the village of Sotomayor (present day Aguada) and killed eighty of its Spanish inhabitants.[1] Juan Ponce de León then led the Spaniards in a series of offensives that culminated in the Battle of Yagüecas.[2] Agüeybaná II's people, who were only armed with spears, bows, and arrows, were no match for the better armed Spanish forces, and Agüeybaná II was shot and killed in the battle.[3] The revolt ultimately failed and many Taínos either committed suicide or left the island.[4][5]

Revolts by criollos

Several revolts against the Spanish rulers by the native born, or "criollos", occurred in the 19th century. These include the conspiracy at San Germán in 1809[6] to the uprisings of Ciales, San Germán and Sabana Grande in 1898.[7]

Many Puerto Ricans became inspired by the ideals of Simón Bolívar to liberate South America from Spanish rule with the intention of creating a federation which would include Puerto Rico and Cuba. Among those who were inspired were Brigadier General Antonio Valero de Bernabé also known as "The Liberator from Puerto Rico". Valero de Bernabé was a military leader who fought for the independence of South America together with Simón Bolívar and who wanted the independence of Puerto Rico. He was an advocate of the formation of a confederation of Latin American nations. Another patriot who was inspired with the ideals of independence was María de las Mercedes Barbudo, a political activist who was the first female from Puerto Rico "Independentista" meaning that she was the first Puerto Rican woman to become an avid advocate of Puerto Rican Independence,[8] and who joined forces with the Venezuelan government, under the leadership of Simon Bolivar, to lead an insurrection against the Spanish colonial forces in Puerto Rico.[9]

The Spanish occupation forces were the object of more than thirty conspiracies. Some, like the Lares uprising, the riots and sedition of 1897 and the Secret Societies at the end of the 19th century, became popular rebellions. The most popular revolts, however, were the one in Lares in 1868, and the one in Yauco in 1897.

Roman Catholic Church and Plaza de la Revolución in Lares where the 1868 Grito de Lares took place

In 1868, the Grito de Lares took place, in which revolutionaries took over the town of Lares and declared the Republic of Puerto Rico. Ramón Emeterio Betances was the leader of this revolt. Earlier, Segundo Ruiz Belvis and Betances had founded the "Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico" (Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico) from their exile in the Dominican Republic. Betances authored several "Proclamas" or statements attacking the exploitation of the Puerto Ricans by the Spanish colonial system and called for immediate insurrection. These statements soon circulated throughout the island as local dissident groups began to organize.

Most dissidents were "criollos" (born on the island). The critical state of the economy, along with the increasing repression imposed by the Spanish, served as catalysts for the rebellion. The stronghold of the movement were towns located on the mountains of the west of the island. The rebels looted local stores and offices owned by "peninsulares" (Spanish-born men) and took over the city hall. Spanish merchants and local government authorities, considered by the rebels to be enemies of the fatherland, were taken as prisoners. The revolutionaries then entered the town's church and placed their revolutionary flag on the High Altar to signify that the revolution had begun.[10] The Republic of Puerto Rico was proclaimed, and Francisco Ramírez Medina was proclaimed interim presidency. The revolutionaries offered immediate freedom to any slave who would join them.

Upon moving on to the next town, San Sebastián del Pepino, the Grito de Lares revolutionaries encountered heavy resistance from the Spanish militia and retreated to Lares. Upon an order from governor Julián Pavía, the Spanish militia soon rounded up the rebels and quickly brought the insurrection to an end. Some 475 rebels were imprisoned, and a military court imposed the death penalty, for treason and sedition, on all the prisoners. However, in Madrid, Eugenio María de Hostos and other prominent Puerto Ricans were successful in interceding and a general amnesty was dictated with all the prisoners being released. Betances, Rojas, Lacroix, Aurelio Méndez, and other, however, were sent into exile lending a permanent end to their revolt.[11]

The 1897 "Intentona de Yauco" was the last revolt against the Spanish Government

In 1896, a group of residents of Yauco who believed in full independence of Puerto Rico joined forces and made plans to overthrow the Spanish government in the Island. The group was led by Antonio Mattei Lluberas, a wealthy coffee plantation owner, and Mateo Mercado. Later that year, the local Civil Guard discovered their plans and proceeded to arrest all those involved, however they were soon released and returned to their respective homes.[12]

In 1897, Mattei Lluberas traveled to New York City and visited the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee, which consisted, among others, of the exiled group from the 1868 Grito de Lares revolt. There they made plans for a major coup in Puerto Rico.[13] Lluberas returned to Puerto Rico with a Puerto Rican flag to be used for such coup.[14] However, the Mayor of Yauco Francisco Lluch Barreras heard the rumors of the planned uprising, and soon notified the governor of the island. When Fidel Velez, one of the separatist leaders, found out that the Spanish authorities knew about their plans, he called together for a meeting with Mattei Lluberas and the other leaders, and fearing that they all would soon be arrested, Velez demanded that the insurrection start immediately.[14]

On March 24, 1897, Fidel Velez and his men, which included José "Aguila Blanca" Maldonado Román, marched towards Yauco planning to attack the barracks of the Spanish Civil Guard there with the aim of gaining control of the arms and ammunition which were stored there, but the plan failed because when they arrived they were ambushed by the Spanish forces who had set up positions and were waiting for them. A firefight ensued upon the arrival of the group and the rebels quickly retreated. On March 26, another group headed by Jose Nicolas Quiñones Torres and Ramon Torres also attempted to fight the Spaniards in a barrio called "Quebradas" of Yauco, however said revolt also failed.[14] Over 150 rebels were arrested, accused of various crimes against the state and sent to prison in the City of Ponce. Velez fled to St. Thomas where he lived in exile, while Mattei Lluberas went into exile in New York City and joined a group known as the "Puerto Rican Commission".[15]

These attacks came to be known as the "Intentona de Yauco" (Attempted Coup of Yauco). The revolt, which was the second and last major attempt against the Spaniards in the island, was the first time the flag of Puerto Rico was used in Puerto Rican soil.[16][17]

Independence from the United States

Events under U.S. colonial rule

Jose Coll y Cuchi, founder of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party

After Puerto Rico was invaded during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Manuel Zeno Gandia traveled to Washington, D.C. where, together with Eugenio María de Hostos, he proposed the idea of independence for Puerto Rico. The men were disappointed when their ideas were rejected by the government of the United States and the island was converted into a territory. Zeno Gandia returned to the island where he continued to be politically active.

A number of leaders, including a well-known intellectual and legislator called José de Diego, sought disconnection from the United States via political accommodation. On June 5, 1900, President William McKinley named De Diego, together with Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, José Celso Barbosa, Manuel Camuñas, and Andrés Crosas to an Executive Cabinet under U.S. appointed Governor Charles H. Allen. The Executive Cabinet also included six American members.[18] De Diego resigned from the position in order to pursue the island's right to govern itself. In 1904, he co-founded the "Unionist Party" along with Luis Muñoz Rivera, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón and Antonio R. Barceló.[19] De Diego was then elected to the House of Delegates, the only locally elected body of government allowed by the U.S., which De Diego presided from 1904 to 1917. The House of Delegates was subject to the U.S. President's veto power and unsuccessfully voted for the island's right to independence and self-government and petitioned against imposition of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. De Diego became known as the "Father of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement".[20]

The newly-created Puerto Rico Union Party, advocated allowing voters to choose among non-colonial options, including annexation, an independent protectorate, and full autonomy. Another new party yet, the Puerto Rico Independence Party emerged, founded by Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón in 1912, which promoted Puerto Rico's independence. That same year, Zeno Gandía, Matienzo Cintrón, and Luis Llorens Torres wrote a manifesto which stated that it was time for Puerto Rico to have its independence.[21] The Independence Party, was the first party in the history of the island to openly support independence from the United States as part of its platform.[18]

In 1919, Puerto Rico had two major organizations that supported independence: the Nationalist Youth and the Independence Association. Also in 1919, José Coll y Cuchí, a member of the Union Party of Puerto Rico, left the party and formed the Nationalist Association of Puerto Rico. In 1922, these three political organizations joined forces and formed the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party with Coll y Cuchi as party president. The party's main goal was to achieve independence from the United States. In 1924 Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos joined the party and was named vice-president.

Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos advocated revolution

On May 11, 1930, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos was elected president of the Nationalist Party. Under Albizu Campos' leadership, the party became the largest independence movement in Puerto Rican in the 1930s. However, after disappointing electoral outcomes and strong repression by the territorial police, by mid 1930s Albizu opted against electoral participation and advocated violent revolution as the means to achieve independence.

In 1932, the pro-independence Liberal Party of Puerto Rico was founded by Antonio R. Barceló. The Liberal Party's political agenda was the same as the original Union Party's agenda and urged independence as a final political solution for Puerto Rico.[22] Among those who joined him in the "new" party were Felisa Rincón de Gautier and Ernesto Ramos Antonini. By 1932, Luis Muñoz Rivera's son, Luis Muñoz Marín had joined the Liberal Party. During the elections of 32' the Liberal Party faced the Alliance which was now a coalition of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico and Santiago Iglesias Pantin's Socialist Party. Barceló and Muñoz Marín were both elected Senators. By 1936, differences between Muñoz Marín and Barceló began to surface between those who considered Muñoz Marín the true leader and those who considered Barceló as their leader.[23] After the assassination of police colonel Francis Riggs in San Juan as an indirect result of the Rio Piedras massacre, which involved the police and students of the University of Puerto Rico, U.S. Senator Millard Tydings presented a legislation proposal to grant independence to Puerto Rico with unfavorable economic conditions which in the long run would leave the island in ruins. Barceló and the Liberal Party favored the Bill, because it would give Puerto Rico it's independence, Muñoz Marín opposed the Bill because he wanted Puerto Rico's immediate independence with favorable conditions.[23] Muñoz Marín and his followers, among which were included Felisa Rincón de Gautier and Ernesto Ramos Antonini, held an assembly in the town of Arecibo founded the Partido Liberal, Neto, Auténtico y Completo ("Clear, Authentic and Complete Liberal Party").

Nationalist Party partisans were involved in a variety of dramatic and violent confrontations during the 1930 and 1940s:

Elias Beauchamp, moments before being executed at the police headquarters
External videos
Newsreel scenes of the Ponce Massacre here
  • On April 6, 1932, Nationalist partisans marched into the Capitol building in San Juan to protest the legislative proposal to establish the present Puerto Rican flag, the official flag of the insular government. Nationalists preferred the emblem used during the Grito de Lares.
  • On October 24, 1935, a confrontation with police at University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus, killed four Puerto Rican Nationalist Party supporters and one policeman. The event came to be known as the Río Piedras massacre.
  • On February 23, 1936, Colonel Elisha Francis Riggs, a former Colonel in the United States Army and who was at the time the U.S. appointed superior police officer in the island, was considered by the nationalists to be responsible for the massacre, was assassinated in retaliation by Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elías Beauchamp, after he attend mass in San Juan's Cathedral and while he was on his way home. Rosado and Beauchamp were arrested, and summarily executed without a trial at the police headquarters in San Juan, but not before Beauchamp posed solemnly for a news photographer outside and proffered a stiff military salute.[24]
  • On March 21, 1937, a peaceful march in Ponce by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party organized to commemorate the ending of slavery in Puerto Rico resulted in the deaths of 17 unarmed citizens and 2 policemen at the hands of the territorial police, an event known as the Ponce Massacre.
  • On July 25, 1938, shots were fired during a military parade and speech by the US colonial governor on the Island Blanton Winship, slaying Police Colonel Luis Irizarry. Soon afterward, two Nationalist partisans attempted to assassinate Robert Cooper, judge of the Federal Court in Puerto Rico.
  • On June 11, 1948, the United States-appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero, signed into law a bill that made it illegal to talk of independence or to fight for the liberation of the island, and significantly curtailed other Puerto Rican independence activities. The infamous "Ley de la Mordaza" (Gag Law) or Law 53 as it was officially known, even made it illegal to display the Puerto Rican Flag, sing a patriotic song and to talk of independence for the island.[25]

Events under Commonwealth status

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

The new Commonwealth status forced a new set of initiatives from the Puerto Rican independence movement. On October 30, 1950, with the new autonomist Commonwealth status about to go into effect, multiple Nationalist uprisings occurred. There were about a dozen skirmishes throughout the Puerto Rico, including Peñuelas,[26] the Jayuya Uprising,[27] the Utuado Uprising, the attack in San Juan, and other shootouts in Mayagüez, Naranjito, and Arecibo. During the 1950 Jayuya Uprising, Blanca Canales declared Puerto Rico a free republic. Two days after the creation of the Commonwealth, an assassination attempt was made against President Harry S. Truman.

In 1952, Puerto Rico was allowed to have a constitution under the U.S. Territorial Clause.[28] However, it was subject to U.S. laws and to approval by the U.S. Executive and Legislative branches of government, branches which Puerto Ricans did not participate in electing or creating. The government suppressed the Nationalist leaders and their activities and the influence of the Nationalist Party waned.[29] Members of the Nationalist Party opened fire onto the floor of the US. Congress in 1954.

By the 1960s, the United States was coming under increased criticism internationally for holding onto one of the world's last colonies.[30] By the 1960s, a new phase of Puerto Rican resistance began. After the decimation of the Nationalist Party, several organizations began to use "clandestine armed struggle" against the U.S. government. Underground "peoples armies" such as El Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario en Armas (MIRA),[31] Los Comandos Armado de Liberacion (CAL),[32] Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), la Organización de Voluntarios por la Revolución Puertorriqueña (OVRP),[33] The Ejército Popular Boricua (EPB), and others began engaging in subversive activities against the U.S. government and military to bring attention to the colonial condition of Puerto Rico.

Current approaches

A majority of independentistas today seek to achieve independence through either the electoral or the diplomatic process. In 1946, Gilberto Concepción de Gracia founded the Puerto Rican Independence Party, the most influential organization participating in the electoral process. The party has elected some legislative candidates, but has yet to win more than a few percentage points of the vote in gubernatorial elections (2.04% in 2008) or the legislative elections (4.5-5% of the island-wide legislative vote in 2008).[34]

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration (1940). "History from Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquén". The University Society. http://newdeal.feri.org/pr/pr06.htm. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  2. ^ "A Historical Overview of Colonial Puerto Rico: The Importance of San Juan as a Military Outpost". Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  3. ^ Smithsonian Institution (1907). Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology. Harvard University. p. 38. http://books.google.com/books?id=c2ESAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA39&dq=%22Urayo%C3%A1n%22&as_brr=3#PPA38,M1. Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  4. ^ Land Tenure Development In Puerto Rico
  5. ^ Puerto Rico's First People
  6. ^ Schwab, Gail M. The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 978-0-313-29339-9. P.268.
  7. ^ Ayala, César J. Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898. UNC Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8078-3113-7. P.343
  8. ^ Meaning of "Independentista"
  9. ^ Mercedes - La primera Independentista Puertorriquena
  10. ^ The Women from Puerto Rico. Mariana Bracetti. Retrieved on September 26, 2007.
  11. ^ Puerto Rico Encyclopedia
  12. ^ "Historia militar de Puerto Rico"; by Hector Andres Negroni (Author); Pages: 305-06; Publisher: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario (1992); Language: Spanish; ISBN 978-84-7844-138-9; ISBN 978-84-7844-138-9
  13. ^ Noticias de la XVII Brigada Juan Rius Rivera en Cuba
  14. ^ a b c "Historia militar de Puerto Rico"; by Hector Andres Negroni (Author); Pages: 307; Publisher: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario (1992); Language: Spanish; ISBN 978-84-7844-138-9; ISBN 978-84-7844-138-9
  15. ^ Projecto Salon Hogar
  16. ^ Sabia Usted? (Spanish), Sabana Grande, Retrieved Feb. 25, 2009
  17. ^ The Flag, Flags of the World, Retrieved Feb. 25, 2009
  18. ^ a b Chronology of Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War
  19. ^ José de Diego - Library of Congress
  20. ^ Articulos (Spanish)
  21. ^ Luis Llorens Torres
  22. ^ Antonio Barcelo
  23. ^ a b "Puerto Rico Por Encima de Todo: Vida y Obra de Antonio R. Barcelo, 1868-1938"; by: Dr. Delma S. Arrigoitia; Page 292; Publisher: Ediciones Puerto (January 2008); ISBN 978-1-934461-69-3
  24. ^ The Puerto Ricans: a documentary history. Markus Wiener Publishers, 2008P179
  25. ^ Puerto Rican History
  26. ^ El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza; by Pedro Aponte Vázquez; Page 7; Publisher: Publicaciones RENÉ; ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
  27. ^ NY Latino Journal
  28. ^ See Insular Cases
  29. ^ http://www.pr-secretfiles.net FBI Files on Puerto Ricans. Retrieved on 2008-12-04
  30. ^ Navarro, Sharon Ann, and Mejia, Armando Xavier, Latino Americans and Political Participation Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2004. ISBN 978-1-85109-523-0. page 106.
  31. ^ Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario en Armas (MIRA) - Case # SJ-100-12315. Retrieved on 2008-12-04
  32. ^ http://www.start.umd.edu/data/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=3947 Terrorist Organization Profile: Armed Commandos of Liberation. Retrieved on 2008-12-04
  33. ^ Bosque Pérez, Ramón. Puerto Rico Under Colonial Rule: Political Persecution and the Quest for Human Rights. SUNY Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-7914-6417-5. P.8.
  34. ^ 2008 Election Results (Spanish)

External links

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