By Efrain Nieves
On Palm Sunday, March 21st 1937, The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party peacefully marched to recognize the ending of slavery by the governing Spanish National Assembly in 1873 and in protest of the imprisonment of Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos by the U.S. government in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Days before the massacre, organizers of the march received legal permits by the mayor of Ponce José Tormos Diego. But when the U.S. appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, General Blanton Winship, heard of the protest he immediately demanded the permits be revoked. Governor Winship then directed Colonel Orbeta to gather police units from across the island and stop the protest. It was reported that over 200 heavily armed police officers surrounded the protesters.
As Puerto Rico’s national song La Borinqueña began playing, the demonstrators started marching. The police fired at them from four different positions for over 15 minutes killing 17 men, 1 woman, a 7 year old girl, wounding over 235 and arresting over 150 unarmed protesters.
Afterwards an investigation took place on whether the protesters or the police shot first. Governor Winship pressured the district attorney’s office and prosecutor Rafael Pérez Marchand to not file charges against the police officers and arrest more Nationalists but Pérez Marchand resigned seeing that he was not allowed to conduct proper investigation. The US Commission for Civil Rights, led by Arthur Garfield Hays, independently investigated the incident and concluded the March 21st event constituted a massacre.
On July 25th 1938, Governor Winship held a military parade in Ponce, Puerto Rico to prove his success against the Nationalists. But the parade was met with gunfire aimed at the grandstand where the Governor sat in an attempt to assassinate him. This was the first time an attempt on a Puerto Rico’s Governor life was made.
Today, We remember the dead and wounded on that unfortunate day and pray a time will come when justice is served. Pa’lante!
The video below shows actual footage of the Ponce Massacre:
Reports on the Ponce Massacre: How the U.S. Press Protected U.S. Government Interests in Puerto Rico in the Wake of Tragedy (PDF)
I was just reading about this topic today in the wonderful book of Juan Gonzales, Harvest of Empire, a book that I think should be mandatory in High schools around the USA. Thanks for the reminder!
Here are two more!
On July 25, 1978 (anniversary of the 1898 US invasion of PR and the 1952 Constitution of PR), the police again carried out a plan to assassinate two men who advocated independence for Puerto Rico. They were lured by the police to a mountaintop where the killings occurred. The police alleged that the men were killed in self-defense. A senate investigation, however, revealed that they were in fact killed cold-bloodedly by police as they pleaded for their lives.
The most recent act of state terrorism was the assassination of Filiberto Ojeda Ríos by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). On the very day when Puerto Ricans who favor independence celebrated an uprising during Spanish colonialism called, “El Grito de Lares,” FBI agents shot and allow Ojeda Ríos – a fugitive and independence advocate -to bleed to death at his home in Hormigueros, Puerto Rico. The FBI could have arrested him at any time. But, it chose rather to have a confrontation with him, so that he could be assassinated precisely on this meaningful day for the Puerto Ricans who want independence for their homeland (September 23, 2005).
With a history like this, who could believe that decolonization could ever be possible through a process whereby the United States (US) has control over? Isn’t this why we study history to answer a question like this?
Therefore, the best way for a serious Puerto Rico (PR) decolonization is by protesting the hypocrisy of democracy in a colony by way of a PR elections boycott, followed by a decolonization process via the United Nations. But for that, Puerto Ricans must learn our history so that we don’t continue making the same mistakes over and over again! That reminds me of what my history teacher used to say: “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to relive it.” Do we dare to remember? And if we can’t, terrorism has worked brilliantly!
Thank you for the important fact of the Ponce history….