“In this great future, you can’t forget your past.” – Bob Marley
“Puerto Rico has a history that is very heroic and prolific. Naturally, as a colony, there exists a history of double interpretation; the colony, and the history of the anti-colonial struggle. In reality, the colonial history does not apply to us. It is more fitting for the colonizer. Ours, the only one, is the anti-colonial history because it is the history of our native people who survived and are in constant battle to defeat the powerful colonial forces. It is the history of our Puertorriqueñidad.” – Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Ríos
On September 23rd of 1868 a few hundred Puerto Ricans marched into the Puerto Rican mountain town of Lares waving a flag with a white cross in the center dividing four rectangles, two blue rectangles on the top and two red rectangles on the bottom with a star in the left hand top blue rectangle. They marched into Lares with weapons and took over the municipality and declared Puerto Rico free and independent from Spanish colonial rule. That flag and the rebellion that carried it was designed by Ramon Emeterio Betances and sown by Marianna Bracetti and would become know as the flag of Lares and the rebellion that took Lares would become known as El Grito De Lares, The Cry of Lares.
This uprising was 12 years in the planning and was initially planned for September 29th, but had to be pushed up due to a betrayal the rebel forces suffered. However Lares was taken by these Puerto Rican revolutionaries without resistance and before the Spanish even knew there was a revolt. The Puerto Ricans immediately set up a provisional government with a President, Government Minister, Justice Minister, Minister of Treasury and Secretary of State.
Betances who was born in Cabo Rojo to a Dominican father and Puerto Rican mother planned the revolt in exile from the Dominican Republic and was struggling to get arms and ammunition to Puerto Rico in time. On the next day, September 24th the Puerto Rican revolutionaries marched into the town of San Sebastiàn where the Spanish were prepared for them. The Puerto Ricans were defeated in San Sebastiàn. The betrayal which had pushed the attack on Lares up by six days prevented Betances from getting his shipment of arms and ammunition to Puerto Rico from the Dominican Republic in time to support the ongoing revolt.
Although the Puerto Ricans lost the battle they did not lose the war. Puerto Ricans continued to organize and fight for their freedom. In the following year slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico and the Puerto Ricans were eventually able able to negotiate their autonomy from Spain. In November of 1897 Spain granted Puerto Rico it’s autonomy only to have it revoked in July of 1898 when the United States invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish American War. On December 10th of 1898 the Treaty of Paris was signed between the United States and Spain and Puerto Rico was handed over to the United States as war reparations.
The United States is still a colonial power in Puerto Rico and the struggle that began with the father of Puerto Rican independence, Ramon Emeterio Betances, still continues. In the late 1960’s Comandante Filiberto Ojeda Rios took the battle for Puerto Rico’s independence into a new stage. It was Comandante Filiberto who was the father of the underground armed resistance movement in Puerto Rico and in the United States. In 1967 he founded MIRA, Movimento Independetista Revolucionario Armado (Armed Revolutionary Independence Movement). Shortly after that he had a hand in forming the FALN, Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nationalista (Armed Forces for National Liberation) in the United States. He also founded the EPB, Ejercito Popular Boricua (Popular Puerto Rican Army) affectionately known as Los Macheteros. All of these groups used clandestine guerilla warfare tactics against the United States in an effort to free Puerto Rico from colonial rule and all of the groups were considered terrorist organizations by the United States.
All of this activity made FIliberto a target for the FBI. When the FBI raided his home, he was put on trial for shooting and wounding an FBI officer in 1985. An all Puerto Rican jury found him not guilty by reason of self defense. In 1988 he was put on trial again, this time for the 1983 Wells Fargo Armored Car Robbery in Hartford Connecticut that netted $7 million for the Macheteros. On September 23rd of 1990, while out on bail and awaiting trial, Filiberto cut off the electronic shackle that monitored his movements and went into clandestinity. Until September 12th of 2001, Filiberto Ojeda Rios was the FBI’s most wanted man. On September 23rd of 2005 the FBI surrounded Filiberto’s home in Hormigueros a short ride from Lares where thousands of Puerto Ricans were celebrating El Grito De Lares and listening to a speech that FIliberto had recorded for the occasion. As Filiberto’s speech played in Lares the FBI shot and wounded Filiberto Ojeda Rios at his home in Hormigueros. The wound was not fatal but the FBI refused to approach his body for over 24 hours and Filiberto bled to death…
If you didn’t know the history of El Grito de Lares it’s through no fault of your own. This history has been kept from you so that you’re separated from your past. If you’re separated from your past then your future can belong to anyone who lays claim to it. If our colonizers can erase our past then they can re-write our future. Knowledge of the past is a means of securing the future. Knowing the secret rebel history kept hidden from you is a weapon that can be used to reclaim a future that is and has always been rightfully yours…