“And I would like the delegates of Puerto Rico to convey my greetings, and those of all Cuba, to Pedro Albizu Campos. We would like you to convey to Pedro Albizu Campos our deep-felt respect, our recognition of the example he has shown with his valor, and our fraternal feelings as free men toward a man who is free, despite being in the dungeons of the so-called U.S. democracy.”
– Ché Guevara – Latin American Youth Congress, Havana, Cuba, July 28, 1960
“If you strike at, imprison, or kill us, out of our prisons or graves we will still evoke a spirit that will thwart you, and perhaps, raise a force that will destroy you! We defy you! Do your worst!”
– James Connolly
Pedro Albizu Campos was a legendary revolutionary figure who influenced some of the greatest and well know revolutionary figures and movements of the twentieth century like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords and the Weathermen. However very little is know about Albizu. In order to understand the influence Albizu had we need to understand what his philosophy was and how he came into those beliefs.
Albizu was born on September 12th of 1893, on the Caribbean coast of Puerto Rico in the city of Ponce. It was the end of the 18th century and a 400 year chapter in Puerto Rican history was coming to a close. In 1897 Albizu would have been four years old, and Puerto Rico was in the process of negotiating its complete autonomy from 400 years of Spanish colonial rule. A year later in 1898 the Spanish-American War broke out and the US began it’s invasion of Spanish forces in Puerto Rico. The initial US invasion was only a few miles from where Albizu was born in a town called Guanica. The invasion quickly ended Spanish colonial rule on the island nation… and almost quickly as Spanish colonialism came to an end it became the beginning of US colonial rule. This was the historical stage that Albizu was born into and the role he would go on to play would forever change the history of Puerto Rico, the US and the world.
Albizu was a gifted student and while he was in high school he was offered a scholarship to the University Of Vermont. He accepted and studied Engineering with an emphasis in Chemistry. Shortly after that he transferred to Harvard University. In 1914 he volunteered for the Army Reserve and was sent back to Puerto Rico as a second lieutenant to organize troops in Ponce. He was called back to the Army Reserve and assigned a post in the all Black 375th infantry, to serve in WWI. The racism he experienced in the 375th as an Afro-Puerto Rican made an indelible mark on Albizu. It was his experienced with racism in the 375th that led him to an understanding that began to percolate in his mind. Puerto Rico was a colony of the US and Puerto Rico needed to be free from US colonial rule.
In 1919 he returned to Harvard to study Law. He became the president of the Cosmopolitan Club at Harvard. It was through the club that he was introduced to the burgeoning independence movement in India through the guest lectures of Subha Chandras Bose who advocated for India’s independence through any and all means including the use of violence. Subha Chandras Bose was the counter balance to Gandhi’s non-violent approach towards gaining the independence of India from the British.
Albizu also met with the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore who was a follower of Gandhi’s passive resistance who was on a tour giving speeches in support of independence for India. Albizu was chosen to debate Tagore at Harvard on his ideas of nationalism. Tagore believed in nationalism in cultural terms but feared that nationalism in political terms would eventually lead to a corruption in the form of a constant desire for power. Tagore’s views were based on the ideals of romantic idealism and the idea that there was an inherent love that existed within all things that could be used to tame nationalism’s desire for power. Albizu disagreed with this view and felt Tagore ideas on nationalism were much to esoteric for him. Albizu’s ideas on nationalism and the way to achieve it, were much more in line with the Irish Republican struggle.
Albizu was introduced to the struggle for Irish Republicanism through two Catholic priests. Father Rodes introduced him to the Catalan Philosopher Priest Jaime Balmes who believed that where Catholicism brought order to Europe, Protestantism was rebellious and brought revolt to Europe. Another Priest Father Ryan introduced Albizu to scholasticism which is a means of critical thought that placed a strong emphasis on dialectic thinking. Father Ryan brought all these ideas together in a tangible way that could be used as a means of nation building in the example of James Connolly.
Connolly devoted his life to the cause of Irish Independence. He was a devoted labor organizer and an internationalist. He was a working class intellectual man of action who founded the Irish Socialist Party and was an instrumental voice in the Internationalist Workers of the World labour union here in the US. He had a clear sense of class consciousness which came from his poverty-stricken upbringing and his study of Marxist thought. It was Connolly’s class consciousness that forced the Irish Volunteers, who he felt had no analysis of class to join Connolly’s own Irish Civilian Army in taking the fight to the British. That alliance along with the Irish Republican Brotherhood brought about the famous Easter Rising of 1916 that set Ireland on a course for home rule. Connolly was badly injured in the Easter Rising and when the British finally defeated the Irish, Connolly and many of the other Irish Republicans were executed. Eamon de Valera the Irish Republican who would eventually broker a deal for Home Rule in Ireland and fought alongside Connolly was spared and sent to prison.
De Valera escaped prison and came to the US to garner support for the Irish cause. Albizu had founded clubs in Boston in support of Irish independence. When De Valera came to Boston he was greeted by Albizu. In 1921 independence came to Southern Ireland and Albizu was asked by De Valera to consult on the Free Irish State Constitution. Although Albizu knew De Valera, Albizu’s thinking was more in line with James Connolly who saw the Home Rule that De Valera brokered with the splitting of Northern Ireland from the rest of Ireland as unsatisfactory to say the least.
It was Albizu’s reading of Jaime Balmes and his experience with how the Irish used their Catholicism to distinguish themselves in their struggle for freedom that drew Albizu to Catholicism. The US was a Protestant country and by aligning the struggle for Puerto Rico’s independence with Catholicism he was strengthening the distinction between the two cultures. James Connolly stressed the Catholicism of the Irish as a means of creating a clear cultural separation from the Protestant British. Albizu did the same. He stressed the Catholicism of Puerto Rico and the Protestantism of the US as a way of contrasting values. Values that the US was trying to eradicate in Puerto Rico.
In 1921 Albizu returned to Puerto Rico without his law degree due to a racist professor at Harvard who kept him from taking his final exams. In 1922 he married Laura Meneses, a Peruvian woman he’d met at Harvard. He then took and passed his final exams in Puerto Rico, finally earning his law degree from Harvard. At 30 years old Albizu had a Bachelor of Philosophy, a Masters in Industrial Chemistry and Civil Engineering from the University Of Vermont, a Doctorate Of Philosophy and Letters and a Doctorate of Laws from Harvard. He turned down many lucrative job offers to return to Puerto Rico and settled into a poor barrio in his home town Ponce known as La Cantera and began practicing law.
In 1924 he joined the Nationalist Party, a political party that advocated for the independence of Puerto Rico, and was voted vice president of the party. He traveled around Latin America garnering support for Puerto Rican independence. He went to Haiti where his interview with Haitian nationalists Pierre Paulie and Jolibois Fils became a part of Haitian history. He was well-known in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Haiti for speaking out against US imperialism in El Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Nationalist newspaper. Besides Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, Albizu traveled to Cuba, Mexico, Pananma, Peru and Venezuela. Albizu was a powerful orator and had a mind sharpened by his studies in philosophy and law. Albizu was placing the independence of Puerto Rico as continuity of the larger Latin American struggle with imperialism in the same way that James Connolly did placing the Irish independence movement within an internationalist framework.
In 1933 Albizu became heavily involved in labor issues in Puerto Rico. He led an island wide general strike against the Puerto Rico Railway Light And Power Company that paralyzed the island. The general strike launched Albizu onto a national stage in Puerto Rico. In 1934 sugar cane workers called for another general strike and came to Albizu to lead them in the strike. Albizu supported the sugar cane workers but declined a leadership role in the workers unions saying that they should be led by workers. The sugar cane workers strike was a huge success and it galvanized support for Albizu and the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico.
James Connolly who was also a great defender of the working class organized strikes in Ireland and used those strikes to foster Irish Republicanism. The tactic worked for Connolly in Ireland and it worked for Albizu in Puerto Rico. As the labor movements were guided by these men into nationalist movements both men planned insurrections against their oppressors that would eventually take their lives. For Connolly it was the Easter Rising of 1916. For Albizu it was the Nationalist Insurrection of Jayuya in 1950 and the assassination attempt by Nationalists on President Truman.
Albizu and the Nationalists staged an insurrection in October of 1950 in the small mountain town of Jayuya. The rebellion failed but Albizu’s goal was not so much to take over the country in open warfare but to bring the world’s attention to the plight of US imperialism in Puerto Rico. In effect Albizu was trying to bring global attention to the hypocrisy of the US, as it fought wars for freedom it in other nations and at the same time denied the freedom of another nation. In November of 1950 an assassination attempt on President Truman by Oscar Collazo and Grisello Torresola put Albizu back in prison. Albizu had already served 10 years in prison already for seditious conspiracy to overthrow the US government and for the second time in his life he found that the fight for freedom, led him to a prison sentence of 80 years.
Albizu would be tortured in prison with radiation experiments and when his health deteriorated to certain death he was pardoned by Puerto Rican governor Luis Muñoz Marin in Novemeber of 1964. A few moths later in 1965 Albizu died. It was a prolonged agonizing end to a man who would not compromise his ideals in the face of death. Like James Connolly who was so badly wounded in the Easter Rising that he needed to be carried to the firing squad on a stretcher and tied to a chair to be shot because he could not stand, Albizu had given his life over to the struggle for freedom. The philosophy and example that James Connolly and Don Pedro Albizu Campos left behind for the rest of us struggling for freedom can best be summed up by Albizu…
“Courage is the only thing which permits a man to pass firmly and serenely over the shadows of death and when man passes serenely over the shadows of death, he enters into immortality.”
Check out the 6X international award winning film MACHETERO on Vimeo On Demand. The film is a meditation on the violent struggle for Puerto Rican independence but it’s also a film that speaks to larger issues of colonized peoples around the world.