Pedro Albizu Campos is well known for his love of the Puerto Rican nation, and for the sacrifices he made of life and liberty in the cause of its freedom. His activities as President of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico had a great influence on Puerto Rico’s society and culture, and are an important part of the nation’s history. These activities as Nationalist leader of a movement for independence, however, if not properly studied, can lead to a failure to recognize or even realize the international influences and outlook he had. Such things are important to note, for not only do they help us to understand Pedro Albizu Campos, they also allow us to understand the internationalist character of Puerto Rican nationalism that he helped to develop. His role in the development of Puerto Rican nationalism with a clear internationalist tone and agenda, as we will see, is not only the result of his philosophy as expressed in words, but also of his actions that included extensive traveling to other countries. The main object of this writing is to outline some of the international influences on Pedro Albizu Campos and the international outlook that he then demonstrated in his life. By doing so, it is hoped that his international and especially Latin American importance will be recognized, and that the international character of Puerto Rican nationalism will be further understood.

Birth and Beginnings

In order to best understand any person, it is always worthwhile to take into account their origins. While the origins of Pedro Albizu Campos (born September 12, 1891 in Ponce) do not particularly shed a great light on his international influences, there is at least one fact worthy of mention: his father, Alejandro Albizu y Romero, was of Basque ancestry through parents that moved to Puerto Rico from Venezuela. This is something he would take great pride in, viewing it as a direct link to Spain. Despite that country’s colonial history with Puerto Rico, he held Spain in high regard for being the country that initiated the encounter between European, African, and Native peoples that produced the Puerto Rican nation. This is an important point in any discussion of the philosophy of Pedro Albizu Campos, which like other aspects can be misleading if not studied properly. While he did hold Spain in high regards for its ties to Greco-Roman civilization, it is clear that his main reason for doing so was to bring attention to the existence of a new race, to which the Puerto Rican nation belongs, that resulted from that empire’s colonial project. At the same time, as the leader of a nationalist party struggling for the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States, this influence of Greco-Roman civilization through Spain on Puerto Rico became a point of contrast against the United States, which is a country influenced by Anglo-Saxon civilization through England. All of this considered, it is nevertheless the case that the relationship of Pedro Albizu Campos with his father was never close, and it was not until Albizu Campos was 23 years old (in 1914) when his father legally recognized him as his son, after his own wife had died. And despite being the product of an extra-marital affair, Albizu Campos never spoke negatively of his father and proudly embraced the ancestry he inherited from him.

The relationship of Pedro Albizu Campos with his mother, Juliana Campos, was much closer, though her death occurred just four years (in 1895) after his birth, leaving him a young orphan. Fortunately, it would be his mother’s sister Rosa that would raise him from then on, keeping the history of his mother’s family within reach. It is this history that he felt gives him a strong tie to the land of Puerto Rico, even more so because his mother was the daughter of slaves who labored in Puerto Rico. Herself conceived in Puerto Rico as an inheritor of African, European, and Native ancestry, she represented a direct link to the Americas, a fact Albizu Campos would one time state made him feel “perfectly American”. His knowledge of the many influences on the Puerto Rican nation, and his knowledge of history, led Albizu Campos to develop the following profound belief: “We are a people predestined in history because Puerto Rico is the first nation in the world where the unity of the spirit takes shape together with the biological unity of the body.” While this statement was made in 1933, some thirty or more years from his childhood, the message it contains, essentially pointing out the international nature of the Puerto Rican people, has a basis in his own birth and origins. These origins were both tied to the land, and linked to others areas, like the Basque country of Spain. All of this led to the development within Albizu Campos of an international outlook that saw Puerto Ricans as having a unifying character where multiple civilizations were expressed through a single and newborn nation. Furthermore, influenced by the colonial relationship existing between Puerto Rico and the United States, he recognized a political aspect of the Puerto Rican identity that allowed him to suggest that, in general, “Puerto Ricans are all the friends of the independence of Puerto Rico.”

As we can see, the very birth of Pedro Albizu Campos, considering the origins of his ancestry, influenced the formation of an international outlook, if not through his Basque father, then certainly through his Puerto Rican mother who, in herself, represented a unity of peoples through biology and spirit. He explicitly demonstrated this outlook later as a nationalist leader, referring to his ancestry specifically in speeches. Nevertheless, Albizu Campos has other beginnings, other experiences that shaped his formation. Starting school at age 12, he showed great intelligence and completed grades 1 through 8 in addition to high school in about 10 years. While in high school, La Escuela Superior de Ponce, he would develop his skills as a public speaker, eventually being asked by the school to be its representative in a public speaking contest in Mayagüez, a contest he would win. The exceptional skills and intelligence of Albizu Campos would earn him recognition, as well as a scholarship on behalf of a local Masonic Lodge to study at the University of Vermont. Moving to the United States in 1912 at 21 years old, he continued to excel in his academic studies as a major in Engineering, becoming an outspoken student leader, and engaging in activities such as helping to develop a student forum to discuss the education of women in Latin America, and participating in another public discussion against U.S. intervention in Mexico. His ability to develop and engage in such discussions was undoubtedly aided by the public speaking skills he developed in high school. In any case, these activities were a mere precursor to the more significant activities he would engage in a year later at another college, for quickly at the University of Vermont his academic performance would earn him a recommendation and acceptance to Harvard University. It is important to note, for the purpose of this writing, that the activities of Albizu Campos at the University of Vermont already contained a clearly international focus, particularly with regard to Latin America. His experiences at Harvard, however, would take on an even broader focus, and it would be some of these experiences that would have the most significant influence on the international outlook that he would eventually demonstrate as a nationalist leader.

Pedro Albizu Campos in Harvard

Student Activities At Harvard

When Pedro Albizu Campos moved to Boston and entered Harvard University in 1913 he began studying Chemical Engineering. By the end of his stay there in 1921 he had completed the requirements to become a Chemical Engineer, obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Letters, and satisfied enough course work to eventually earn a Law Degree. His achievements also showed in the field of language—he developed fluency with English, adding this to his native Spanish; he gained proficiency with Portuguese, French, Italian, and German; and he learned Latin and Greek. In order to finance his studies he worked several jobs—as a tutor (in Spanish, French, and Chemistry), as a reporter with the Christian Science Monitor, as a Spanish teacher at a local high school during one winter term, and also as a lawn cutter. As if this wasn’t enough, in 1916 he joined the first Reserve Officers Training Camp (ROTC) set up at Harvard, studying Military Science there. The decision to join the ROTC had a reason, mainly because Albizu Campos held the belief that the military organization of a people is necessary for their defense, and that participation in the recently begun First World War by the Puerto Rican people would allow them to gain the first-hand military experience that would aid in their military organization and defensive capacity. This is true and also important when considering his nationalist philosophy, but in terms of the international outlook Albizu Campos would display in his nationalist activities it is worthwhile looking at what he would study while training as an ROTC officer, particularly the writings of Admiral Alfred Mahan. These writings in particular would have an effect on Albizu Campos for they dealt specifically with a U.S. naval strategy based on maintaining a presence in the Caribbean in order to be able to more fully dominate the hemisphere. The lesson he would draw from such writings on the strategy of U.S. imperial domination would be evident in his later nationalist discourse on Puerto Rico when he stressed the view that the Puerto Rican struggle against colonialism is, because of the nature of the U.S. strategy, directly linked to the struggle of the Caribbean and Latin American nations against imperialism; and that, conversely, the struggle of the Caribbean and Latin American nations against imperialism is directly linked to Puerto Rico’s anti-colonial struggle to achieve national independence.

After completing ROTC training in 1917, Albizu Campos volunteered to serve in WW1 with the infantry on the condition that he is sent overseas with a Puerto Rican troop. Advised to continue his law studies, he was quickly called in July 1918 to mobilize in Puerto Rico what would become a “Home Guard” of some 200 volunteers that conducted exercises on the beaches of Ponce. This is an important experience in the life of Albizu Campos, one that would earn him an honorable discharge with the military rank of First Lieutenant in 1919, but in terms of his international influences and outlook more can be learned by looking at his other activities while enrolled at Harvard. Such activities would include numerous events and student conferences, some of which allowed him to bring attention to the colonial case of Puerto Rico and other issues affecting that nation. In addition, he was able to engage in discussions on topics like the assimilation of immigrants in the U.S., the Monroe Doctrine, the situation of the black race in Latin America, and more. After his military discharge in 1919 Albizu Campos would return to Harvard to complete his studies and would become elected president of the Cosmopolitan Club of Harvard, which was known for hosting events and discussions on many radical subjects. Before he even joined the ROTC he was a frequent attendee at this club’s events, often serving as interpreter, particularly for events regarding Latin America. While his involvement and position in such clubs allowed him the opportunity to become acquainted with a number of international topics and at times with the leaders of them who would visit Harvard, the relationships he would make in general at Harvard would have a significant impact on the development of his international outlook.

It is important to note that Boston had a considerable Irish population, and that the years in which Albizu Campos was there also coincided with the controversial Easter Uprising in 1916 Ireland. Even though such events were known by him and were of great influence, the impact of the Irish struggle for a unified nation independent from British rule became central to his development through personal relationships he would establish with certain members of the Boston Irish community. Two such people he developed a relationship with were Catholic Priests, Father John Ryan and Father Luis Rodes. Both of these people had an enormous influence on the international outlook of Albizu Campos, developing in him two passions that would go on to greatly influence the form and content of his nationalist leadership in Puerto Rico: the commitment to a free and united Irish Republic, and the devotion to Catholicism. These two passions developed in Harvard under the mentorship of Irish Catholic Priests are highly important when considering his nationalist philosophy, for Albizu Campos saw in the Irish struggle against the much larger British empire a great similarity with the Puerto Rican struggle against the much larger U.S. empire, with both having the further commonality that these were struggles between a predominantly Catholic people and a predominantly Protestant people. It is said that Father John Ryan helped him to understand the potential use of devotion to Catholicism as a means of cultural resistance to U.S. colonialism by explaining to him the history of its role in the Irish struggle, while Father Luis Rodes is said to have helped him develop an approach to struggle based on his faith but grounded in science and practicality. Albizu Campos would develop a close relationship with these priests, Father John Ryan being the individual responsible for aiding him in obtaining his communion in the Catholic Church. Through them, Albizu Campos would be introduced to the works of Jaime Balmes, a 19th century Catholic Priest known for writing in defense of the values of Catholicism and Spain in opposition to those of Protestantism and Northern Europe, and who would also be widely quoted by Irish Nationalists committed to the Republican cause in the 1920s.

While it is true that Albizu Campos also involved himself while at Harvard in the nationalist struggles of other people, it should be clear that the Irish struggle would be the one that gained the large part of his attention and participation. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that one of these other nationalist struggles, of India against British rule, gave Albizu Campos a further influence for his Puerto Rican nationalism as well as opportunity to develop his ideas in that respect. When Subha Chandras Bose visited Harvard to give a guest lecture, Albizu Campos was given a first-hand account of India’s independence struggle against Britain from the perspective of an Indian who supported the struggle and accepted the use of violence to achieve that aim. When Indian poet and follower of Gandhi’s passive resistance model Rabindranath Tagore visited Harvard on the other hand, Albizu Campos was given an opportunity to publicly debate his views, which he was at odds with largely because of his influence by the Irish struggle. The influence on him of the Irish Republican struggle, in terms of its militancy, became particularly clear when in later years, as president of Puerto Rico’s Nationalist Party, he organized a Liberating Army known as the Cadets of the Republic whose official uniform (black shirts and white pants) was modeled after the black jackets worn by Irish Republican Army militants. The encounters Albizu Campos had with Indian nationalists would thus be the tip of the iceberg, as he would also meet leaders from the Irish movement against Britain, beyond the local activists from Boston’s Irish community.

The work he engaged in while attending Harvard in solidarity with the Irish independence struggle, including forming a Student Council for the Independence of Ireland at that school, as well as helping to organize similar councils at Boston Technical College and Boston College, put Albizu Campos in a position to welcome leaders from that country’s struggle. One such leader would be Éamon de Valera who, when he met Albizu Campos in 1919, had recently escaped from a jail in England and managed to make his way to the U.S. to conduct a speaking tour. After Éamon de Valera’s speech at Harvard Albizu Campos followed by commenting on the speech he had just delivered, distinguishing himself as the only other speaker at that event to support the unconditional independence of Ireland, and receiving praise as having delivered “the speech of the evening”. The relationship between de Valera and Albizu Campos would thus be founded on good terms, and would not end there, for about two years later a Republic of Ireland would be formed and de Valera as its leader would consult Albizu Campos during the drafting of the Republic’s constitution. To be clear, it ought to be mentioned that Albizu Campos was an unconditional supporter of Ireland’s independence, and that the resulting Republic of Ireland, which did not and still does not include Northern Ireland, was therefore seen by him as a compromise on the part of de Valera. Nevertheless, and as we can see, the influence of the Irish struggle was a significant one on the development of the outlook of Pedro Albizu Campos. In fact, it can be and has been argued that the most significant experiences he had while attending Harvard in terms of his later development as Puerto Rico’s nationalist leader was his conversion to Catholicism and his embracement of Ireland’s independence struggle. Had it not been for these influences on his formation, his nationalist leadership would not have had the character that it eventually did. Thus, by the time Albizu Campos left Harvard in 1921 and moved back to Puerto Rico, his nationalist philosophy as a Puerto Rican, based on a clear view of that nation as different from and in numerous ways antagonistic to the U.S. empire and it’s Protestant Anglo-Saxon culture, and based on a militant attitude as inspired by the example of the Irish Republicans, had more or less been fully developed. In addition, his skills in public speaking and organizing were also more or less fully developed by this time. Albizu Campos would then move back to Puerto Rico with all of these influences and integrate himself into his nation’s politics.

First Lieutenant Pedro Albizu Campos

Political Activities After Returning To Puerto Rico

It is important to note that Pedro Albizu Campos was already known as having pro-independence sentiments when he was in Ponce High School, and that his experiences at the University of Vermont and Harvard further developed his nationalism. Nevertheless, while he was firm in his commitment to a nationalist ideology, Albizu Campos did not immediately become politically active when returned to Puerto Rico in 1921. Upon his return, he first had to resolve the issue of his law degree, which was withheld from him through the denial of his ability to take the necessary examinations in Boston. After writing a number of letters from Puerto Rico to the appropriate persons, he was finally able to take the needed examinations in 1922, going on the pass the Puerto Rico Bar Examination in 1923, and being approved for service in law in February 1924. In any case, when Albizu Campos returned to the island in 1921 he did not immediately see a political party that he could join, as he was looking for one that shared his position of non-cooperation with the colonial regime. When he finally joined the Union Party of Puerto Rico in 1922 it was largely because of the unfolding of the policies enforced by recently appointed Governor Emmet Montgomery Reily, policies that were consistent with Reily’s “Americanism” and that also focused on neutralizing the political power of the Union Party specifically. The political conflict between the colonial government headed by Governor Reilly and the Union Party was seen by Albizu Campos as having the potential to escalate into a more defined struggle around the status issue. Unable to come out of this conflict with greater resolution in favor of Puerto Rico’s independence, the Union Party, which already was split between people supporting independence and people supporting an associated status, eventually removed independence from its program in 1924 and merged with the Republican Party to form the Puerto Rican Alliance. Up until that point Albizu Campos was one of the decreasing few that remained in the party and consistently advocated a more determined stance for independence. In fact, in 1922 a group of independence supporters in the Union Party had left to form the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, which turned out to be the party Albizu Campos would join after he felt the Union Party had definitively aligned itself with colonialism.

To join the Nationalist Party, Albizu Campos visited the office of its chapter in Ponce and spoke to Don Ramón Mayoral Barnés, the President of that local chapter and Director of the Nacionalista de Ponce newspaper. Once a member of the Nationalist Party, Albizu Campos also helped with the newspaper and became an influential writer for it. It can be said that it was while writing for this newspaper that he began to transform his influences and experiences growing up and as a student in the United States into an expressed outlook that would mark the beginning of his role as a nationalist leader in Puerto Rico. While this may be so, it should not be overlooked that around this period Albizu Campos also began the task of engaging with the Ponce community in order to educate them around issues relating to Puerto Rico as well as other Caribbean and Latin American countries. To do this, almost every Sunday over the course of a few years he set up a podium in the public plaza of Ponce and spoke to whoever wanted to listen. His newspaper publications would of course gain broader recognition, likely serving as a factor in his being elected Vice-President of the Nationalist Party in 1925. It was by writing for the Nacionalista de Ponce that Albizu Campos would, beyond simply sustaining the Party’s support for independence, contribute to a new approach to nationalism in Puerto Rico that emphasized a Caribbean, Latin American, and generally international outlook. This is a crucial transition period in the life of Albizu Campos and in the history of Puerto Rican nationalism. Not only is this period the one in which Albizu Campos began to put into practice the outlook that he had developed through his experiences and encounters, it is also the period in which he strengthened the international character of Puerto Rican nationalism and gave it a new direction. Through the newspaper of the Nationalist Party (which is what the Nacionalista de Ponce actually was, though not in name) he was able to share his philosophy of non-cooperation with the colonial regime, even issuing a call to Party members employed in any governmental position to quit and leave their posts within the regime, a call which a number of members did answer. The direction that Albizu Campos gave to the newspaper is essentially the direction he would demonstrate in all of his future nationalist activities, and for the purpose of this writing is of great significance as it clearly portrays the international influences and outlook he had.

When Albizu Campos began to exercise greater influence on the writing and production of the newspaper, its focus became basically two-fold, on the one hand to inform people about the situation of the independence struggle in Puerto Rico, and on the other hand to provide information concerning the situation of the struggles in other countries. The first article he is known to have written for the newspaper, titled “La retirada americana de Santo Domingo”, outlined the theme of U.S. imperialism and its interventions in Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, linking these countries to Puerto Rico by pointing to the shared reality of economic exploitation by the United States. Suck links were also made with Cuba and Nicaragua, the second of which received considerable importance by the newspaper, publishing articles that covered events in that country from the point of view of revolutionary leader Augusto Sandino and those combating the U.S. army occupation. Through such writings, Albizu Campos was able to fully develop the international perspective that the problem of Puerto Rico’s colonial situation was a problem for the Caribbean and Latin America as well, just as the presence of imperialism in other Caribbean and Latin American nations was a concern for Puerto Rico. While Albizu Campos emphasized a Latin American sense of Puerto Rican identity, he was also intent on building relationships with the non-Spanish speaking nations of the region, such as Haiti.

One of the most significant developments Pedro Albizu Campos made to nationalist thought in Puerto Rico after the occupation of the United States, and which was published in the pages of the Nacionalista de Ponce as early as 1927, was an argument he used based on international law. Known as “the Invalidity of the Treaty of Paris”, the argument states that since Spain had recognized Puerto Rico as autonomous months earlier and then never consulted her in the signing of the treaty, the United States had no legal authority to take control over the island when they militarily occupied it in 1898. The Treaty of Paris was null and void as it concerns Puerto Rico, and thus Puerto Rico was to be considered a nation illegally occupied by a colonial power. This understanding presented to the public through the Nationalist Party’s newspaper, set Albizu Campos apart from other nationalists as having the clearest leadership capacity, and he would bring this recognition with him when in June 1927 he would begin a three-year tour of the Caribbean and Latin America on behalf of the Nationalist Party with the aim of gaining international support for their independence struggle. This tour would bring practical results to the nationalist movement by securing the support already being gained by Albizu Campos through the Nacionalista de Ponce paper and his covering of events in other countries, for he would visit many of the contacts has was making. This tour would mark the end of his transition from being a developing participant in Puerto Rico’s political struggle, to being a leader in that struggle. His tour of the Caribbean and Latin America would give him the necessary experience and support to further develop his role as widely recognized leader of the nationalist movement in Puerto Rico.

Interestingly, while the tour of Albizu Campos of the Caribbean and Latin America would gain important long-term international support for the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and that nation’s independence movement, his selection as the person for the tour was partially motivated by his being mulatto and the majority of the Party’s leadership being white professionals that did not wish to see a mulatto rise to the position of Party President, as they believed would be the case if they were not able to prevent him from exercising his political influence for an extended period of time. His itinerary would include the Dominican Republic (June 21-September 10, 1927), Haiti (September 11-13, 1927), Cuba (September 16-December 1927 and February 25-March 1928), Mexico (December 1927-February 1928), Peru (March 1928-December 1929), and Venezuela (December 1929). It is important to note that the tour was important to Albizu Campos for another reason, that being the continuation of the patriotic and revolutionary work of Puerto Ricans like Ramón Emeterio Betances and Eugenio María de Hostos whom traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and Latin America forming links between the struggle of Puerto Rico with the concerns of those broader regions. In the Dominican Republic, where Albizu Campos was able to visit the resting place of the remains of Betances who had spent many years there in exile, arguably the greatest support for Puerto Rico’s struggle was received, with pro-Puerto Rican independence organizations being set up in the capital as well as the cities of Santiago de los Caballeros, Puerto Plata, and La Romana. The setting up of such international organizations in support of Puerto Rico’s independence was the highest goal of his tour, and Albizu Campos was easily able to achieve this in both Cuba and Haiti in addition to the Dominican Republic. His untiring efforts to attend hours-long meetings and conferences, and his ability to speak clearly and broadly, all aided in his ease at receiving support in these countries, particularly in Haiti where he would emphasize the need for the Spanish-speaking peoples of the Caribbean and Latin America to be in solidarity with the Haitian people unconditionally, the need for a union of the Dominican and Haitian peoples, and the need for the formation of a united front against North American invasion and intervention. Albizu Campos was able to accomplish this in Haiti although he had not planned to spend much time there and in fact only spent about two days.

In Mexico, due to the socio-economic and religious crises going on at the time, Albizu Campos was unable to conduct any considerable political activities. While he recognized the potential of Mexico for providing solidarity to the Puerto Rican independence movement, they were simply going through too many internal struggles there to be in a position to provide support to anyone beyond themselves. Thus, his stay there secured no contacts, and Albizu Campos would mainly wait there until he could return a second time to Cuba to attend the World Conference of the Latin Press. Also at attendance during this conference would be representatives from various European, Central, and South American countries. As a writer for a Puerto Rican nationalist newspaper, Albizu Campos was in a great position not only to participate in the conference, but also to help further internationalize the Puerto Rican struggle. In one small example, by the time of the World Conference of the Latin Press he had already influenced, through letters sent to Puerto Rico, the name of the paper Nacionalista de Ponce to be changed to Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, signifying the intent for the paper to fully take on its nationalist character in name as well as content. The conference was a mixed success, for while it did result in the adoption of a resolution protesting the interventionist policies of the U.S. in Latin America, and another calling for the Latin American and world press to maintain a campaign specifically against the interventions of the U.S. in Haiti and Nicaragua, it also resulted in a few countries removing themselves from the conference out of an allegiance to the United States, which had itself sent observers to the conference. From Cuba, Albizu Campos went on to Peru, mainly to spend time with his wife and three children, one of them born recently in his absence. He did get to speak with activists in Peru, becoming aware of the possibility for a popular uprising against the government, but he was also looking to visit Argentina from there because of what he saw as their large potential for providing solidarity to the struggle of Puerto Rico. However, unable to secure further monies to undertake such a trip, he began organizing his return back to Puerto Rico.

Before Albizu Campos returned to Puerto Rico, he was able to spend some time in Venezuela meeting local activists and visiting the mausoleum of Simón Bolívar. His tour of the Caribbean and Latin America at an end, he arrived in Puerto Rico on January 4, 1930. The tour would not only provide immediate impact, with the notoriety of Albizu Campos being felt among the youth, intellectual, and professional sectors, it would also provide a more long-term impact, with many of the contacts he made later coming to his defense after being arrested in 1936 on charges of attempting to overthrow the government of the United States in Puerto Rico. But first upon his return, he had to focus on reorganizing the Nacionalista de Puerto Rico newspaper that had ceased publication in the years of his absence, as well as to give renewed strength to the Nationalist Party that had been in decline due to internal disputes, attending meetings, conferences, and making public statements. All of this led to Albizu Campos being elected President of the Nationalist Party on the following May 11. This is the clear point at which his international influences and outlook would become the primary influencing factor of the development of the Nationalist Party in particular and Puerto Rican nationalism in general. From this point on, he would become the de facto leader of Puerto Rico’s nationalist movement, restoring its international character and elevating it to a level yet unseen after the invasion of the United States and arguably before it.

Pedro Albizu Campos in December 1947

Leader of the Nationalist Party

Pedro Albizu Campos would go on to strengthen Puerto Rican nationalism by holding in high respect the example of it’s patriots, such as Ramón Emeterio Betances and all of those who fought during the September 23, 1868 Grito de Lares uprising against Spanish colonialism and for national independence. With El Grito de Lares being militarily defeated by the Spanish, the independence movement came under attack and became further disrupted by the 1898 U.S. invasion, leaving a need for leadership holding a philosophy able to oppose the new colonial rulers. As Albizu Campos grew up, attended public school, began and completed his university studies in the U.S., fulfilled a short stint with the ROTC, and worked in the political arena of Puerto Rico as a newspaper writer and traveler, he was developing in himself the content and character of the leadership that would satisfy this need. Through his influences and outlook he ensured two things, 1) that Puerto Rico’s national struggle would have historical continuity through the honoring of the patriots of El Grito de Lares as well as others like Eugenio María de Hostos and José de Diego, and 2) that Puerto Rico’s national struggle would have a clearly international character through the philosophical and personal connections he made with other nations particularly in the Caribbean and Latin America. The nationalism of Albizu Campos was not one that focused solely on national interests, but one that insisted on the international context such interests are connected to. Albizu Campos said, “I am not one of those that say: ‘I am not a nationalist because I am an internationalist, because I love humanity.’ And that man who says that he loves humanity is killing his Puerto Rican brother. Charity begins at home. The one who loves his own people, loves his neighbor. The one who does not love his own people, does not love his neighbor. He is a hypocrite.”

Believing strongly that, “Nationalism is profession of world brotherhood and affirmation of one’s own dignity”, Albizu Campos influenced the course of Puerto Rican nationalism and turned the Nationalist Party into the vanguard of the independence struggle, placing it in direct confrontation with the colonial government through such strategies as non-cooperation and revolutionary organization. The strategy of non-cooperation with the colonial government did not become fully accepted by the majority in the Nationalist Party until after the unsuccessful 1932 colonial elections, in which members of the Party participated and placed Albizu Campos as candidate for senator, against his opposition to the elections. The strategy of revolutionary organization was initiated almost immediately after Albizu Campos became the Party’s President when in 1931 he formed the Patriotic Association of Puerto Rican Youth, a paramilitary force that soon became the Corps of Cadets of the Republic and finally became, in 1935, the Liberation Army. His stated intent for that formation was to “increase discipline, improve the physical condition of all Party members, and increase their devotion to the homeland.” The women were organized into the Corps of Nurses, which in 1935 became the Daughters of Liberty. In 1932 Albizu Campos helped form the National Federation of Puerto Rican Students, an organization that became one of the leading opponents to the imposition of English as the official language of school instruction. By 1934 he had established a network of nationalist leadership with over 44 local chapters throughout the municipalities of Puerto Rico, each having the independent responsibility to recruit, educate, and mobilize people in their respective towns. The sugar-cane workers at this time were struggling against the American monopolization of their industry, and when they selected Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party to lead their island-wide strike it added further anxiety to the colonial and U.S. government as they feared their arguably most profitable industry would fall into the hands of anti-imperialist forces. A year later, on October 24, 1935, after the sugar industry strikes had subsided, the colonial police set up a group of nationalists outside of the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras and shot four of them dead while severely wounding another. Four days later, in island newspapers, the Chief of Police Francis Riggs openly declared a state of war between the police and the Nationalist Party. This is the level at which the colonial government decided they would address the threat to their control over Puerto Rico presented by the Nationalist Party under the leadership of Pedro Albizu Campos, who it was already discovered by the Party was the target of an assassination plot.

Knowing that Colonel Riggs was responsible for the killings in Río Piedras, in addition to organizing the group that would go on to assassinate Nicaraguan revolutionary Augusto Sandino in 1934 and who was followed closely and written about by Albizu Campos and others in Puerto Rico, members of the Nationalist Party Elías Beauchamp and Hiram Rosado would take justice into their own hands on February 23, 1936 when they shot and killed Riggs. Immediately taken to police headquarters and killed, this event pushed the colonial government to order the arrests of Albizu Campos and several other Nationalist Party leaders, which occurred in March. While other events would take place in Puerto Rico, most notably the March 21, 1937 massacre in Ponce where some 20 people were killed and around 200 injured by police during a peaceful protest against the incarceration of the Party leaders, for the purpose of this writing it is important to note that the incarceration of Albizu Campos and the other leaders was denounced internationally, including by those contacts made by Albizu Campos during his travels between 1927 and 1930. The international support for the Puerto Rican prisoners came very quickly, one of the notable acts of support coming in the form of a letter written to U.S. President Roosevelt asking for the liberation of the prisoners, the letter being signed by intellectuals from France, Belgium, Colombia, Italy, Egypt, Switzerland, Catalonia, Palestine, Brazil, Spain, Uruguay, Australia, Bolivia, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic. International congresses would take place in Chile, New York, and Mexico where the liberation of the prisoners was called for, and a Mexican Committee For The Liberation of Pedro Albizu Campos would be formed with the participation of a former friend of Albizu Campos from his days in Harvard. Nevertheless, due to the threat he and the others posed, the Nationalist prisoners were charged and sent to Atlanta Penitentiary, where Albizu Campos would remain until he was transferred due to health reasons (the conditions of his imprisonment deteriorated his health, even leading to strokes) to New York’s Columbus Hospital, in the city where he was forced to serve his term until he was free to return to Puerto Rico in 1947.

While in Columbus Hospital many people visited the nationalist leader in exile, including outspoken supporter of Puerto Rico’s independence and East Harlem Congressman Vito Marcantonio, and numerous members of the New York Chapter of the Nationalist Party that had begun a period of reorganization influenced by the presence of the nationalist leaders in New York City. Vito Marcantonio, an Italian-American, was also a lawyer who would become part of the legal team of Albizu Campos. An American woman named Ruth Reynolds, a pacifist active in support of the Free India movement and community activist that at one point worked in a predominantly Puerto Rican community, would also meet Albizu Campos while he was in Columbus Hospital, coincidentally on the same day that a survivor of the Ponce Massacre, Carmen Fernández, was there. Already aware of the plight of Puerto Ricans in New York, after getting the opportunity to view the bullet wound scars on Carmen and to better understand the context of the massacre and her country’s own role in it, Ruth Reynolds would the following year help to establish the American League for the Independence of Puerto Rico, a group that a number of North American liberal intellectuals would join. She would become a lifelong friend of Albizu Campos and would eventually be arrested in 1950 in the aftermath of a nationalist insurrection inspired by Albizu Campos over the three years after his 1947 return to Puerto Rico. Before his return to Puerto Rico, in the years after his 1936 arrest and during his eleven-year exile in Atlanta and New York, the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico had lost a significant amount of support and had weakened organizationally. In fact, between the duration of the Second World War from 1939 to 1945 some 80 Nationalists were jailed for resisting the U.S. military draft with some of them remaining in jail when Albizu Campos returned to the island. This, added to the existing environment of repression, influenced many people to either not join the Party or to withdraw their support of the Party. At the same time a pattern of migration to the States by Puerto Ricans had exploded due in part to the development of jet airlines combined with government programs providing incentives to look for work Stateside.

Once back in Puerto Rico in 1947, Albizu Campos began reorganizing and rallying support for the Nationalist Party, making speeches throughout the island, visiting the island of Vieques that was recently militarily taken through the forced relocation of countless families, conducting interviews with the media, and initiating other activities in support of Puerto Rico’s independence, all despite being under close surveillance by FBI and other government agents around the clock. One of his scheduled speeches, which did not take place because it was not allowed, led to a number of student protests in the University of Puerto Rico in 1948 where the police clubbed several of them unconscious and jailed five of their leaders, including a young Juan Mari Brás. Having been introduced by the students, Albizu Campos was supposed to deliver a speech on “The Status of Puerto Rico Before the United Nations”. The United Nations Organization, which today continues to affirm the right of the Puerto Rican people to struggle for and achieve national independence, was chartered three years before in 1945 and was being closely followed by a delegation from the Nationalist Party even before it’s charter, with Thelma Mielke serving as its representative as a non-governmental organization in the UN from its charter until after the nationalist insurrection of 1950. Having such an international approach to the struggle for national independence was important for Albizu Campos, before his 1936 arrest and after it, and each time his activities and those of the Nationalist Party were met with repression from the colonial forces, this time most significantly coming from the passing of a law in late 1948 that became known as the “Gag Law”. This law, which outlawed any expression of anti-colonial or pro-independence sentiment, was put in place to prevent any opposition movement from developing that could effectively resist both the colonial regime and the Commonwealth Constitution that was being drafted at the time. One of the people giving input into the constitution was Luis Muñoz Marín who would in 1949 become the first Governor the U.S. government allowed to be elected, a position Albizu Campos declined when offered by U.S. representatives while in Atlanta Penitentiary in exchange for his ceasing his militant form of nationalism.

With representation in the United Nations, League of Nations, Organization of American States, and other organizations, Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party consistently raised the issue of colonialism in Puerto Rico before international bodies. This took place at the same time he also began organizing an armed insurrection in resistance to the Gag Law and the proposed Commonwealth government. Through the many speeches he gave during this period, and which were later used as evidence to charge him under the Gag Law, he gained support for the Party and inspired within supporters a revolutionary spirit honoring the patriots of El Grito de Lares. Understanding the nature of the repression against the independence movement and the level of human rights abuses, Albizu Campos stated publicly that all of this must be defied “only as the men of Lares defied despotism, with the revolution.” After the insurrection had been planned for some time, a series of arrests on the early morning of October 27, 1950, and knowledge of the certainty of his own arrest, forced Albizu Campos to order the revolution to begin suddenly on October 30 at midday. The insurrection, which included an armed attack on the temporary residence of President Harry Truman in Washington, D.C. on November 1, lost the participation of hundreds of nationalists who either hesitated or did not receive needed supplies fast enough to act and was militarily defeated by forces including National Guard planes that bombed parts of Jayuya and Utuado.

While Albizu Campos organized and ordered a national insurrection against the colonial government and imperialist forces of the U.S., it is important to note that his plan was to initiate the revolution in a number of towns and then later join forces in Utuado where he intended a revolutionary war to be fought until various international bodies intervened in support of Puerto Rico’s process of national liberation. As was stated before in this writing, Albizu Campos ensured that Puerto Rican nationalism would both honor the legacy of its revolutionary heroes and events, and develop an international character. One statement he made shows the importance he placed on the international aspect of the national liberation struggle: “the independence of a nationality does not depend on its exclusive relationships with the power that oppresses it. It is the result of international balance. When that balance favors the oppressor, colonialism continues; when it is against the empire, this obliges them to their refocusing for their own defense and the withdrawal of their forces from the colony, leaving the colony in freedom of action to organize the State sovereign and independent.” Unfortunately the insurrection was defeated, as was expected by a number of nationalists aware of the failure of logistics due to the insurrection being ordered on such short notice. This would be the beginning of the decline of the leadership of Albizu Campos, for when he was finally arrested after the insurrection he became the unwilling subject of radiation experiments that severely damaged his physical health. Being released in 1953 due to his health by Governor Muñoz Marín, he was sent to prison again in 1954 after the March 1st armed attack in Washington D.C.’s House of Representatives by nationalists led by Lolita Lebrón. His health declining until he was released from prison a third time in 1964, again due to his health, he would finally pass on as a martyr of the independence movement on April 21, 1965. More than 100,000 people made their way to the funeral services of Albizu Campos, including hundreds of well-known people from the Nationalist Party, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cuba, Mexico, and South America. The Parliament of Venezuela would even honor him by having five minutes of silence during a session. In addition, hundreds of letters would be sent from all over the world expressing their condolences for the passing, as many would say, of the last Liberator of the Americas.

Pedro Albizu Campos in prison between 1950-1953

The Internationalism of Albizu Campos and Puerto Rican Nationalism

The main intent of this writing was two-fold: to outline the international influences and outlook of Pedro Albizu Campos, leader of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico; and to highlight the international character of Puerto Rican nationalism, which was significantly influenced by Albizu Campos after the U.S. took colonial control of Puerto Rico. It was Albizu Campos who revived the memory of El Grito de Lares, Puerto Rico’s first multi-class and multi-racial act in support of the establishment of a free Republic of Puerto Rico, recovering the first flag of Puerto Rico sewn by Mariana Bracetti, raising the revolutionary poetry of Lola Rodríguez de Tió to the level of national anthem, and using the inspiration of that armed struggle to instill the same spirit of revolution in opposition to U.S. colonial authority. Already demonstrating a pro-independence sentiment in high school, Albizu Campos further developed his politics and sense of international struggle while studying in the U.S., a period of time in which he was also able to receive military training and to study military strategy from an international perspective that underlined the need for Caribbean and Latin American resistance to North American imperialism. The international outlook he developed based on the influences he was exposed to through these years, as well as his skills in writing and speaking, made it easy for him to engage in politics by writing for the Nationalist Party’s newspaper and by giving public speeches in the plaza of Ponce. All of this developed his notoriety to the point where he began to grow in influence and was elected the Party’s Vice-President.

Soon after becoming Vice-President, Albizu Campos was selected to travel throughout the Caribbean and Latin America to raise international awareness of Puerto Rico’s anti-colonial struggle and to secure support for the Party. This tour brought continuity to the struggle by making Albizu Campos a follower of the paths of people like Ramón Emeterio Betances, whose work led him to New York City, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and France; Eugenio María de Hostos, whose work also led him to Peru, Chile, and Argentina; and José de Diego, who traveled extensively in the Caribbean as well as Spain. This tour also strengthened the independence movement in general and its international character in particular, especially after Albizu Campos was elected President of the Nationalist Party and became the accepted leader of the nationalist movement for independence. The international outlook demonstrated through his practice brought him and other Party leaders significant support when they were arrested following the initial period of government repression of nationalists. Continuing this practice while in prison, Albizu Campos influenced the close observance by the Nationalist Party of the United Nations and other international bodies all the way until the atmosphere of repression and political manipulation on behalf of the colonial government forced him to order the nationalist insurrection of 1950. The impact felt throughout the world after his death is a testament to his leadership and character. Most remarkably, he is known as the most important nationalist figure from Puerto Rico in the 20th century, influencing Puerto Rican culture to this day by the consistent struggle the Nationalist Party waged under his leadership to defend the imposition of U.S. culture in place of the native Puerto Rican culture. It was Albizu Campos who established Betances as the “father of the nation” and adopted the Puerto Rican flag as a symbol and tool of cultural resistance after the U.S. invasion.

It should also be noted that the national symbols of Puerto Rico, both the flag used to declare the Republic in 1868 and the one used to similarly declare a Republic in 1950, are both based on the designs of other flags of the Caribbean, the first on the design of the Dominican Republic and the second on the design of Cuba. Thus, the internationalism of Puerto Rican nationalism has been defined not only by the activities of its leaders, but also by its very national symbols. At the same time, the support the Puerto Rican movement for national independence has received through the years defines it as an internationalist struggle. Today a number of countries not only continue to support Puerto Rico’s right to independence, but also support its environmental struggles, its demand for the release of its three political prisoners (Oscar López Rivera and the González Claudio brothers Avelino and Norberto), and other issues. The United Nations continues to serve as an international platform to raise the issue of colonialism, and the committee itself continues to affirm Puerto Rico’s Latin American character and right to independence, as well as the necessity of releasing its political prisoners. One of the most recent and remarkable acts of protest done on an international scale was the journey of Puerto Rican activist Tito Kayak in a canoe from Venezuela to Puerto Rico in protest of the incarceration of Oscar López Rivera, who has been in prison since 1981. Puerto Rico continues to receive considerable international support with respect to the many issues related to its national liberation struggle.

The entire issue of colonialism in Puerto Rico is itself an international issue, essentially constituting a violation of human rights on a national level. Pedro Albizu Campos played an important role in highlighting this fact, outlining the U.S. imperial strategy of using Puerto Rico as a base of operations for maintaining economic control of the Caribbean and for making similar interventions in Central and South America, as well as emphasizing the clash between Protestant North American culture and Catholic Latin American culture that U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico represented. When Albizu Campos spoke of the Puerto Rican nation, it was always embedded within these larger contexts. Widely referred to as “the teacher”, Albizu Campos made a profound impact on Puerto Rican nationalism by reviving and developing it in the aftermath of the 1898 U.S. invasion at Guánica Bay. Even today he can teach us many things, the purpose of this writing being to highlight his international influences and outlook, which help us learn not only about him but also about the international character of the Puerto Rican movement for national independence. In these times where colonialism in Puerto Rico continues to exist, along with the associated environment of repression, it is worth looking at the legacy of Albizu Campos. In fact, in order to honor the natural tendency of the Puerto Rican people to struggle for national liberation, it is necessary to look at the legacy of Albizu Campos and those who came before or after him. While national independence can be achieved once that status is recognized by the United States and internationally, national liberation is a longer process that will require the Puerto Rican people to understand its experiences under colonialism, both in terms of the conditions lived under and the forms of resistance developed to improve them. Once this history is looked into, lessons can be learned that can influence not only the development of a clearer understanding of the goals of the liberation movement, but also the form and tactics of it. In conclusion, the international influences and outlook of Pedro Albizu Campos teach us a lot about him and Puerto Rican nationalism. It is a lesson of dignity, and of solidarity—the lesson of the Puerto Rican people to the world.

1st Flag of Puerto Rico

2nd Flag of Puerto Rico

Flag of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party

References on the topic:

  • La Insurreccion Nacionalista en Puerto Rico 1950, by Miñi Seijo Bruno (Editorial Edil, 1989)
  • La Nación Puertorriqueña: Ensayos En Torno A Pedro Albizu Campos, edited by Juan Manuel Carrión, Teresa C. Gracia Ruiz, and Carlos Rodríguez Fraticelli (Universidad de Puerto Rico, 1993)
    • La forja de un líder: Pedro Albizu Campos 1924-1930, by Amílcar Tirado (pgs 65-82)
    • El nacionalismo y la descolonización internacional hemisférica en la posguerra, by Carmen Gautier Mayoral (pgs 97-120)
  • “Our Race Today [Is] The Only Hope For The World”: An African Spaniard As Chieftain of the Struggle Against “Sugar Slavery” In Puerto Rico, 1926-1934, by Kelvin Santiago-Valles (Available here: http://redalyc.uaemex.mx/pdf/392/39211831004.pdf)
  • Pedro Albizu Campos: Las Llamas De La Aurora- Acercamiento A Su Biografia, by Marisa Rosado (Ediciones Puerto, 2006)

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