“Every man got a right to decide his own destiny
And in this judgement there is no partiality
So arm in arm with arms we’ll fight this little struggle
‘Cause that’s the only way we can over come our little trouble”
– Bob Marley from the song Zimbabwe
In the years that followed World War II colonized nations all over the world began actively seeking independence through the United Nations. The United Nations was forced to respond to these demands and so in 1946 a list of non self-governing nations was made. From time to time that list was revised.
Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the western hemisphere. It was a colony of Spain for almost 400 years and has been a colony of the US since 1898. Throughout that whole time Puerto Ricans have fought for their freedom. In the 1930’s the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, led by Don Pedro Albizu Campos, came to prominence by directly and openly challenging US authority in Puerto Rico. The US responded with increased repression against the Nationalists in the form of arrests, imprisonment and murder.
The situation between the Nationalists and the colonial Puerto Rican government was intense. In 1935 five Nationalists were killed by police at a demonstration at the University Of Puerto Rico in what became known as the Rio Piedras Massacre. In retaliation the Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp assassinated the Chief Of Police, Colonel Elisha Francis Riggs. Rosado and Beuchamp were captured and executed without a trial by the police. Albizu Campos and other Nationalists were imprisoned for inciting violence. In 1937 the Nationalists held a demonstration in Ponce on Palm Sunday demanding Albizu Campos freedom. The demonstration turned into the Ponce massacre when the governor and the police responded by shooting into the crowd wounding 235 people and killing nineteen among them a seven-year old child.
The repression against those seeking independence did not end there. In 1948 it became illegal to display the Puerto Rican flag, speak of liberation, sing patriotic songs and fight for the cause of liberation. In 1950 the US Congress proposed making Puerto Rico a “Free Associated State” or “Commonwealth” of the US. The Nationalists saw this as a move by the US to keep Puerto Rico off the UN’s list of colonized nations and so the Nationalists planned a series of actions and uprisings to openly challenge the semantic game that the US was playing with Puerto Rico.
On October 30th of 1950 a Puerto Rican woman by the name of Blanca Canales led an uprising in the mountain town of Jayuya. Under her leadership the Nationalists took Jayuya and Blanca Canales declared Puerto Rico a free republic. At the same time in the town of Utado Nationalists were fighting the US National Guard and other Nationalists were attacking “La Forteleza” the governors mansion in San Juan and the Federal Court House in Old San Juan.
Blanca Canales and the Nationalists were successful in holding Jayuya for three days until the US military bombed them from the air and sent in ground troops. In Utado nine Nationalists were captured and summarily sent to be executed without a trial. Five of the nine survived in what would become the Massacre of Utado. In San Juan the attack on “La Fortaleza” and on the Federal Court building in Old San Juan failed because the Nationalists were betrayed by one of their own who warned the government of the attacks. The betrayal of the attacks led to the deaths of four, the wounding of two and the arrest of six Nationalists.
The next day on October 31st the police were tipped off to a cache of weapons in a barber shop in Santurce called Salon Boricua owned by Vidal Santiago who was a Nationalist and the personal barber for Albizu Campos. The police shot and bombed the barbershop fearing that there was a group of Nationalists in the shop. However the only person in the shop was Vidal Santiago who only had a pistol and used it to defend himself against the police aggression. After a three-hour firefight Vidal Sanitago was shot five times, once in the head, but he survived and was arrested. There police found no cache of weapons in the barber shop.
On November 1st of 1950, the assault by the Nationalist Party continued as Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola (who was the brother of Balnca Canales) attempted to assassinate the President of the United States, Harry Truman. The assassination attempt took place at the Blair House. The White House was under renovation and Truman was staying in Blair House when Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola attacked the guards in an attempt to get into the house to kill the president. Oscar Collazo was wounded while Griselio Torresola was killed along with another policeman in the gun battle that took place just outside Truman’s bedroom window.
Some three thousand Puerto Ricans were rounded up and incarcerated for their role in the Nationalist uprisings of 1950. Among those who served the greatest amount of time in prison was Blanca Canales who served seventeen years in prison for her role in the Jayuya Uprising. Albizu Campos was arrested and sentenced to 80 years. Oscar Collazo was sentenced to death but Truman commuted his sentence to life in prison and he served 25 years there before being pardoned in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter.
Although the Nationalists uprising of 1950 did not succeed in freeing Puerto Rico they did succeed in catapulting the colonial situation of Puerto Rico onto a world stage. The US could rename its relationship with Puerto Rico as a “Free Associated State” or “Commonwealth” all it wanted but colonialism by any other name is still colonialism. No matter what the US did now, the world could no longer afford to see a Puerto Rico as being a “Free Associated State” as the US wanted it. Puerto Rico was not free to be associated with the US or anyone else… The Nationalists may have failed to free Puerto Rico but they succeeded in keeping the US from hiding it’s colonial possession with semantic Orwellian double speak like “Free Associated State”… The Nationalists succeeded in making it be known all over the world that Puerto Rico wanted to be free and was willing to fight to do so…
To commemorate and honor the great Puerto Rican heroine Blanca Canales, RICANSTRUCTED, the design company dedicated to the supporting independence for Puerto Rico, has issued two Blanca Canales T-shirt designs… The first shirt design is reminiscent of a baseball T-shirt design. The NATIONALISTS are the team that Blanca Canales places on. The number 50 is symbolic of the 1950 Jayuya Uprising that Blanca Canales led.
The second design is of Blanca Canales herself with a Nationalist Cross design element on her face. The back of the shirt also features the RICANSTRUCTED logo.
For more information on the Puerto Rican independence struggle check out September23.org