****This essay was written with three focuses: the Italian East Harlem Congressmen Vito Marcantonio and his work, the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico as headed by Pedro Albizu Campos and their work, and the relationship between Vito Marcantonio and the NPPR. The main focus being on Vito Marcantonio, the essay makes a conclusion as to whether he was mostly an advocate for reform, or an advocate for revolution in Puerto Rico.****
And The Vanguard
Of The Puerto Rican
Vito Marcantonio’s East Harlem
Vito Marcantonio was an Italian politician who was born, raised, and a permanent resident within East Harlem, New York. A trained lawyer at New York University, he created the Fiorella LaGuardia Political Association, a political machine for electing progressives that he inherited in 1933, at the age of thirty-one, when it advanced Fiorella LaGuardia from his East Harlem congressional seat to the Mayoral seat in City Hall. This political machine formed the basis for his success at getting elected to Congress within a congressional district whose almost complete support was earned. This support was earned not only by his progressive, people-centered politics, but his well-known and appreciated efforts in providing practical services to thousands of his constituents a year, mostly with the help of volunteers. The East Harlem community was so grateful of and united around Marcantonio that when his 14-year stay in the House of Representatives came to an end in 1950, the feeling of having lost their main voice for working-class unity erupted racial tensions within the community. Racial tensions flared so much, the Italians believing the Puerto Ricans were responsible for his defeat, an Irish cop admitted Italians were “jumping every Spic they can find.”
The Puerto Rican Constituency
The East Harlem congressional district, during the time of Marcantonio’s congressional seating, was undergoing the change from being a dominantly Italian community to a dominantly Puerto Rican community. This fact is the reason why Marcantonio had to increasingly rely on the vote of Puerto Ricans to ensure his seat in Congress, and perhaps also why Italians would later blame them for his 1950 defeat. While the Vito Marcantonio Political Association (the political machine renamed after Fiorella LaGuardia’s 1947 death) certainly provided more practical services to the East Harlem Puerto Rican community than any other political organization, Marcantonio was of particular regard to Puerto Ricans on the island of Puerto Rico, the island of Manhattan, or anywhere else in the United States, since he was a believer of Puerto Rican independence in the House of Representatives. The strong leftist current present in Puerto Rican politics during the 30’s and 40’s, and the close ties of East Harlem Puerto Ricans to the island, sealed their support for Marcantonio. He therefore served as the speaker in Congress for both the East Harlem congressional district and it’s Puerto Rican constituency, and the island of Puerto Rico, whose Resident Commissioner in Congress is unable to vote on matters on the floor.
Marcantonio and the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico
Of all the organizations in the struggle for Puerto Rican self-determination and independence at the time, the Nationalist Party has been known as the vanguard of this struggle. In this essay I will compare and contrast Vito Marcantonio’s views and actions in regards to the Puerto Rican independence movement with those of the Nationalist Party. The Nationalist Party’s main principles, developed by Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos after his 1930 election as the party’s thirty-nine-year-old President, are the refusal to recognize the authority of the United States over Puerto Rico or it’s people, non-cooperation with it’s government, and the use of violence in the fight for freedom (the revolutionary law needed when tyranny is order, as we will see). These guiding principles were developed by Don Pedro, a law student like Marcantonio, but from Harvard, using the morally and legally grounded argument that the immoral use of military force to govern the will of the people was the means to enforcing an illegal claim to authority rights in Puerto Rico, since the claim was based on the 1898 Treaty of Paris, with which Spain illegally ceded Puerto Rico to the United States, having just months prior determined through an Autonomous Charter that such decisions could not be made by Spain. While Marcantonio has been called a persistent advocate for Puerto Rican independence, to use a description by author Gerald Meyer, I want to come to some conclusion as to whether he mostly converges with, or diverges from the movement for independence, as particularly expressed by the Nationalist Party and it’s President Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos. This leads me to further address a specific question: Was Vito Marcantonio mostly a champion of Puerto Rican independence, or reform?
Marcantonio was known and loved for his championship in Congress of Puerto Rican independence. However, in documenting his position on Puerto Rican independence it should be noted that in 1935, the year of his first congressional election, he actually supported a proposal by Santiago Iglesias Pantín, the island’s then Resident Commissioner, for the island’s statehood. This is a remarkable fact, stated in Gerald Meyers’ 1983 Ph.D. dissertation and later missing from his 1989 book. Marcantonio adopted this position, viewing it as a “positive step”, because of his conclusion that the granting of statehood would then make any “commercial discrimination” against Puerto Rico unconstitutional. It was not until May 6, 1936, in response to a bill introduced several days before by Senator Millard Tydings, that Marcantonio formally identified himself with Puerto Rican independence. Beyond calling the bill the “Tydings bill for fictitious independence”, his speech briefly outlined the “disastrous state” of Puerto Rico’s economy, going further to mention the 1927 statement of Franklin D. Roosevelt on the island’s high percentage of tuberculosis, hookworm, malaria, “and other diseases directly caused by the hunger of the people.” It was then that he declared, “Responsible… for this misery, hunger, and disease is the maintenance of Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States”, saying such treatment allowed for a deep economic penetration of “American interests” while Puerto Ricans could not “develop their own country.” Thus it was in his 1936 response to Senator Tydings that Marcantonio initiated his long-held view that “the only real solution for Puerto Rico and it’s problems is to grant to the people of Puerto Rico… the full sovereignty of a free and independent nation.”
The Puerto Rican Nationalist Party’s future President, Don Pedro, in 1923, initially supported a constitutional convention, to be followed by a petition for statehood he believed would be refused by Congress because of ethnic, cultural, and linguistic differences, leaving sovereignty as the ultimate result. Similar to Marcantonio’s later use of the statehood option simply as a guarantee against discrimination in spite of the Constitution, Don Pedro, while not exactly proposing or even supporting statehood, used the statehood option simply as a means to gain independence. This view was held while he was a member of the island’s Union Party, a party initially supporting independence that he joined upon his 1921 return from earning multiple degrees at the University of Vermont and at Harvard. Don Pedro did not join the Nationalist Party until 1924, shortly after the Union Party formed an alliance with the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, whose program for statehood since it’s founding in 1899 likely helped to end the persistence of any program for independence by Unionists after the alliance. Thus Don Pedro’s decision to join the Nationalist Party, which was founded in 1922, was a response to the alliance of the island’s Union and Republic Party’s. The final major development of the Nationalist Party’s political line came in the form of a resolution passed during a meeting by its membership on December 17, 1932. This resolution was a response to the electoral defeat of Don Pedro in that year and called for a boycott of all elections, adopted a constitution for the Republic of Puerto Rico, and started the recruiting phase of women for the Nurses of the Republic, and men for the Cadets of the Republic, who were to form an army of liberation. This was the beginning of the Nationalist Party as a revolutionary organization.
Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos
Marcantonio’s Position On Independence
Very illustrative of his actions taken on behalf of the welfare of the Puerto Rican people and the island’s independence is a speech Marcantonio made on May 11, 1939, in which he briefly stated his interests and concerns. He made clear that although he represented the largest Puerto Rican constituency, he was also interested in the island as a progressive defender of people he felt were victims of exploitation. While demanding full sovereignty for the island, he also said, “Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and until its status is changed it is our duty to give as much attention, as much care, and as much sympathetic treatment to Puerto Rico and its problems as we do to the problems of any of the people in the United States….” Interestingly, this lays the foundation for the initiation of reformative actions aimed at applying a sympathetic treatment to a problem he attributes to “a most devastating imperialism.” Therefore, at a general level, a basis for a tendency towards reform on his behalf, as opposed to the revolution proposed by the Nationalist Party, is very apparent in his congressional statements. Indeed, as we will see, many of his actions resulted in mere adjustments of aspects within the colonial context of the island. This idea of a tendency towards reform in the face of the American government’s unwillingness to grant the “genuine independence” commonly referred to by Marcantonio is further supported when it is observed that Marcantonio apparently knew his independence projects would not be accepted by Congress, as in Federico Ribes Tovar’s 1972 book of Puerto Rican history. Thus the colonial context provided for Marcantonio political opportunities limited to reform, the colonial powers, the United States, showing little to no willingness to adopt or accept much in the way of radical, revolutionary changes, such as the immediate granting of independence.
Marcantonio’s Opposition To Island Tyranny
Marcantonio’s attainment of reform in Puerto Rico is evident in his actions to remove Blanton C. Winship as Governor of Puerto Rico in 1939. These actions on behalf of Marcantonio were revealed on May 11, 1939 in a speech he made on the floor in the House of Representatives. During this speech he stated that the Department of the Interior, at the President’s request, was actively investigating a number of charges he had made against Governor Winship. These charges, presented to the President by Marcantonio during two visits and a subsequent April 27, 1939 letter, included the denial of civil rights, corruption and racketeering, the exploitation of workers, and outright “tyranny” against the people of Puerto Rico. He further presented an outline of Governor Winship’s administration as “Five Years of Tyranny in Puerto Rico.” In a letter to Juan Antonio Corretjer, Secretary General of the Nationalist Party and close companion of Don Pedro, Vito Marcantonio was happy to state that his “fight for the removal of Winship has culminated by his removal the other day by the President, when he announced that Admiral Leahy will succeed Governor Winship.” This change, the removal and replacement of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Marcantonio claimed, was an “advantage” for believers of freedom for the island. He further added that his belief in independence prevented any interest in such a successor to the position of island Governor. Marcantonio’s actions resulted in the replacement of a removed governor.
Nationalist Party Opposition To Island Tyranny
On October 24, 1935, the Nationalist Party organized a meeting at the University of Río Piedras. This meeting resulted in a clash with the police, wounding many, as well as killing one policeman and four Nationalists, including the party’s Labor Secretary, Ramón S. Pagán. Pagán, able to attend certain secret meetings, had learned of a plot to kill the party’s President, Don Pedro, and other Nationalist leaders. In fact, he was advised by Don Pedro to avoid the risk of appearing at such public meetings as the one in Río Piedras. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of this deadly clash, a Nationalist Party assembly in Caguas during the month of December declared that if the Americans do not immediately evacuate the island there would be a “resort to armed force”, which manifested in the February 1936 assassination of Chief of Police Col. Francis E. Riggs by Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp. This action taken by Rosado and Beauchamp, who were immediately arrested and killed at Police Headquarters, was seen by Nationalists as an act of “revolutionary justice”, Don Pedro having declared Col. Riggs responsible, along with Governor Winship, numerous “misbegotten Puerto Ricans”, and “the entire Police Force”, for what he determined to be planned killings at Río Piedras. It was in this context that Don Pedro denied the portrayal of Puerto Ricans as cowards, asserting values of courage and heroism, stating that “[t]here is only one gateway to immortality: the gateway of valour, which leads to sacrifice for a sacred cause.” As he pronounced these requisites of the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico, valor and sacrifice, he made clear his statement, “[w]hen tyranny is law, revolution is order.” Both the Nationalist Party and Marcantonio viewed certain island officials as tyrants, but they did not employ the same countermeasures. Marcantonio utilized his influence within Washington, D.C., while the Nationalist Party rose in armed rebellion, forcing the replacement of an assassinated, murderous Chief of Police.
The Role Of Communism
While known as a radical politician, Vito Marcantonio was further known as a spokesman for the general position of the Communist Party. Remarkably, it has been written that of all the people elected to Congress, Marcantonio was the only one to acknowledge “sympathy for the Communist Party USA” in public. In fact, while many sources tend to downplay this, the Communist Party and Marcantonio were effectively indispensable to each other. While the considerable resources provided by the Communist Party supported Marcantonio’s stay in Congress, his presence in Congress gave the Party an important position within the American political system, adding to its influence. In addition, Marcantonio often used a Leninist foreign policy framework that addressed the economic and political intervention into the affairs of other countries, as was seen above when he declared that the holding of Puerto Rico as a colony allowed for the economic penetration of American interests. Overall, he was a friend of the Communist Party in Congress, with very few conflicts emerging over political issues during his career. However, it should be noted that Marcantonio declined their recruitment attempt in 1938 over his disagreement with a number of theoretical and practical issues, as well as his desire to be free from organizational discipline.
The relationship of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and the Communist Party was not as consistently friendly as was Marcantonio’s. In fact, at one point Juan Antonio Corretjer, Secretary General of the Nationalist Party, was expelled from the Communist Party simply because he shared the ideas of Don Pedro Albizu Campos. As Nationalist Party leader, Don Pedro was only thought to be in association with the Communist Party, due to the fact that the Nationalist Party’s strategy of insurgency tended to disrupt the development of the colonial government’s political economy. This association was made despite the fact that Don Pedro’s political career clearly did not show any direct links with the Communist Party. Further, it was not until he was given a two to six year prison sentence in 1936 for conspiracy to overthrow the United States, to incite rebellion against the United States, and to recruit soldiers to fight against the United States, that the Communist Party changed their line to give more active support to Don Pedro and the Nationalist Party. The fact that they began actively supporting the defense of Don Pedro during Marcantonio’s first congressional term is notable. Even more remarkable, in light of his friendly relationship with the Communist Party, is the fact that Marcantonio, after his arrival on the island of Puerto Rico on August 1, 1936 (his first and only trip outside of the continental U.S.), was one of the lawyers who provided legal aid to the convicted Nationalists. In Don Pedro’s case, he unsuccessfully called for a new trial on the grounds that the original verdict was achieved unfairly with three biased jurors, which is contrary to the law, and without sustaining certain objections made. All of this said, it can be deduced that while Marcantonio had a more consistently friendly relationship with the Communist Party, both he and the Nationalist Party remained focused on defending the Puerto Rican cause for independence and it’s prisoners, with the role of Communism being an ever-present undercurrent. Another undercurrent of the Nationalist Party and Vito Marcantonio, Catholicism, can be talked about by moving on to the next salient event in Puerto Rican history resulting from the imprisonment of Don Pedro and the other Nationalists.
The Role Of Catholicism
While the Nationalist prisoners were in La Princesa Prison in San Juan, free Nationalist Party members applied for and were granted a parade permit for Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937. A predominantly Roman-Catholic island, Puerto Rico thus had a radical party organizing on national holy days. This was no doubt due to Don Pedro’s leadership of the Party. It was during his stay at Harvard that two big influences fully developed in him, Catholicism, causing him to convert to it, and Irish nationalism, which also had Catholic features. Don Pedro’s religious convictions have been described as a source of his strength in the struggle for Puerto Rican independence. His view of Roman Catholicism as a Spanish tradition, and his stressing of Catholicism as part of the national personality of Puerto Rico thus create “an act of conservation of Puerto Rican values in the face of the American policy of forcing the island nation into a mold alien to its cultural heritage.” Nevertheless, the result of the March 21st parade was contrary to the holy connotations of its placement on Palm Sunday. Nineteen people died and more than 150 were wounded when Police opened fire on the crowd of gathered, unarmed Nationalists shortly after informing them that the Mayor of Ponce had withdrawn the parade permit earlier that afternoon. Hearings and investigations conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), led by Arthur Garfield Hays, concluded that the “facts show that the affair of March 21st in Ponce was a MASSACRE”, that “Civil Liberties have been repeatedly denied” by Governor Blanton Winship, and that the Massacre “was due to the denial by the police of the civil rights of citizens to parade and assemble”, the denial being “ordered by the Governor of Puerto Rico.” Vito Marcantonio was very aware of this ACLU report, mentioning its conclusions, just stated, on the floor of Congress, such as in an August 14, 1939 speech.
Italy is also a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, making Marcantonio’s relationship to the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico and its leader Don Pedro all the more significant. Unlike Don Pedro, Vito Marcantonio was likely a self-described Catholic since his youth. However, his Catholicism was not as pronounced as he did not attend mass, and did not otherwise practice the religion. Nevertheless, he did make contributions to local East Harlem churches, march in annual street processions, speak frequently at communion breakfasts, and participate in other events sponsored by church-related organizations in East Harlem. He drew no criticism from local Italian clergy, represented the common second-generation male Catholic, and is even called the “godfather for all of Italian Harlem” by Gerald Meyer in his 1989 book. Thus the role of Catholicism for the Nationalist Party and Vito Marcantonio differs, serving as a tool of resistance for the former, and a cultural practice for the latter.
Vito Marcantonio introduced an unsuccessful congressional bill granting Puerto Rico independence and self-determination on 5 separate occasions, the first being in 1936 in response to the Tydings bill. In a 1943 letter, Marcantonio summarized what he expressed in these bills, saying it recognizes that the people, “occupying the same geographic area for centuries, experiencing the identical economic and social conditions, and united by several centuries of history and tradition, have developed into a [N]ation of people…” He further stated in this letter that the independence of Puerto Rico would see the addition of “a people whose tradition of struggle against tyrants and for freedom and democracy is not surpassed by any other people in the world” into the United Nations, a venue the Nationalist Party appealed to and held permanent observer status in. While the Nationalist Party focused on the preservation of Puerto Rican culture in the face of American colonialism, under Don Pedro’s leadership the Party’s guiding principle was still founded on the legal argument of the illegal ceding of Puerto Rico to the United States by Spain with the Treaty of Paris. Although Marcantonio and the Nationalist Party did not particularly conflict on this aspect of his congressional independence bills, in at least one aspect, I will show, they do.
Marcantonio’s approach to the U.S. military occupation of the island was very much in contrast to the Nationalist Party’s position. Whereas the Nationalist Party advocated immediate withdrawal, Marcantonio wrote in Section 6 of his 1945 independence bill that the U.S., after a passing of his bill, would not be deprived “from establishing and maintaining military and naval or air bases until the termination of the present war with Germany and Japan.” He also stipulated that further “arrangements for necessary naval, military, and air bases shall be made by treaty agreements.” In his already mentioned 1943 letter he stated that the loss of military base control was the primary objection of U.S. military authorities, who feared a wartime threat they believed could then be posed to the security of the Western Hemisphere because of the “vital military position of Puerto Rico to us”, as Marcantonio himself once declared. This noticeable difference of opinion could very well have been one of Marcantonio’s divergent views that Don Pedro was alleged to have deemed harmful to the Nationalist cause as it constitutes a stark contrast. This stark contrast is made even more apparent when it is kept in mind that the Nationalist Party was actively engaged in armed struggle, which was made clear by their recruitment of members for the Cadets of the Republic, mentioned before as the army of Puerto Rican liberation.
I would further argue that Marcantonio’s favoring of continued U.S. military control in Puerto Rico, a compromise in the control of island defense forces, makes his independence bills more apparent as reformative measures when contrasted with the Nationalist Party’s position. To make this clearer, one might look at a 1939 correspondence between Marcantonio and one Victor Rodriguez. Writing to Marcantonio on May 17, Victor brought up the point that “Cuba is a republic and the U.S.A. has Guantanamo”, and speculated, “they could do the same with Puerto Rico.” Marcantonio replied the next day that “independence can be accomplished even though fortifications are there”, adding such matters “can always be adjusted by means of treaties.” This political position, however, does not address a case in which the U.S. does not accept such a treaty. Thus Marcantonio’s independence bills, in consideration of its military implications and his political response, do not provide the complete self-determination and independence as demanded by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.
Marcantonio’s Exemplary Achievements
Of Marcantonio’s political achievements in regards to the sociopolitical and economic relations at work within the colonial context that is Puerto Rico, I will briefly analyze three particularly remarkable achievements, two of which, I argue, exemplify his divergence with the Nationalist Party line and tendency towards the attainment of Puerto Rican reform. The earliest of these, in 1939, saw the extension of the Social Security Act, which added benefits for survivors and dependants of annuity policyholders, to the Puerto Rican people. While this achievement ensured more money for death-stricken families, and surely constitutes a success for an American politician, it is clearly contrary to Don Pedro’s principles that were shaped by independence advocate José de Diego’s statement, “The check is the fiercest enemy that the ideal of independence for Puerto Rico has”, and by his well-documented practice of refusing to “work for an imperialistic nation”, whether it was a job in Harvard’s Latin American Division Protestant organization, the State Department, or the municipal court in Yauco. Thus, not only is this achievement by Marcantonio a reformative measure, but one which is apparently at odds with principles held by the Nationalist Party’s leadership.
In the same year, on July 10, 1939, Marcantonio introduced a bill in the House of Representatives. This bill, the consequences of which continue to today, declared “any person born in Puerto Rico on or after April 11, 1899” “a citizen of the United States, irrespective of the citizenship of the parents.” The last stipulation is the key distinguishing part of this bill that Marcantonio admitted would simply “clarify the [previous Jones Act of 1917] law”, which did not extend American citizenship to Puerto Ricans whose male parents were not already American citizens. To the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization Marcantonio began explaining, “if a citizen of Santo Domingo is lawfully admitted into Puerto Rico and marries there in Puerto Rico the child of that marriage is not an American citizen”, further explaining that if “that same Santo Domingo citizen was lawfully admitted to New York City and married in New York City and a child were born as the result of that marriage that child would be an American citizen”, then finally declaring this to be “highly discriminatory as against native-born Puerto Ricans.” While preventing the discrimination of native-born Puerto Ricans, this citizenship bill, meant to clarify the 1917 Jones Act, is contrary to the Nationalist Party’s desire for self-determination and an independent Puerto Rican nation as it more fully integrates the people of Puerto Rico into the American political system.
In 1946, Marcantonio successfully reestablished Spanish as the official language of instruction in Puerto Rican schools. Though we have just seen that two of his outstanding achievements as a congressional politician were more contrary to Nationalist Party principles than not, this achievement is actually one that fits well with Nationalist Party goals. In a May 22 speech in the House he stated, “Since 1898 to date, Puerto Rico has unfortunately been taken as a field of experimentation in the language realm”, resulting in Puerto Rican children “being tortured by the prevailing system” and its policies that are “contrary to established pedagogical principles.” Even though he makes clear “that the problem here involved is a pedagogical one, and not a political one”, he also brings up the theme of cultural traditions by stating that Puerto Ricans “possess a rich literature of their own”, Spanish being “their intellectual vehicle of expression.” This reestablishment of Spanish as the official language of instruction in Puerto Rican schools is very much in accord with Don Pedro and the Nationalist Party’s position on conserving Puerto Rican values and traditions, as was mentioned earlier in the discussion on Catholicism. Thus, while being a reform and an acknowledged resolution of a pedagogical problem, this political achievement is a prime example of an action taken by Marcantonio that advanced an explicit aim of the Nationalist Party.
An Exemplary Nationalist Party Event
The biggest contrast to Marcantonio’s congressional actions on behalf of Puerto Rico is the Nationalist Party’s armed revolutionary actions, exemplified by the Nationalist Rebellion of 1950. It is useful to recall that the Nationalist Party declared they would resort to “armed force” shortly after the incident at the University of Río Piedras in 1935, the alleged planned murders that were apparently known beforehand. With this in mind, it should be of little surprise that when a similar plot to kill Party leadership was denounced in early 1950, Nationalists prepared themselves for an armed response. On October 30, 1950, outbreaks of armed insurrection took place in various parts of Puerto Rico. In Jayuya, where the rebellion was strongest, Nationalists took over a police station and post office and defended the town street by street for several hours until the Air Force was called and government control was regained. In San Juan, five male militants unsuccessfully attacked the official residence of the Governor, La Fortaleza, with Chech submachineguns and Molotov cocktails, resulting in their death, many wounded, and also a dead policeman. Staying true to the Nationalist Party principle and reality of armed struggle, Don Pedro defended his house against police forces from October 30th until his November 2nd surrender, after tear gas was used and, more importantly, he was told that “our revolt has not won support.” Meanwhile, on November 1st, Nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola boarded a train from New York to Washington D.C. where they nearly assassinated President Truman at his temporary Blair House residence. After a gunfight, Collazo was wounded then arrested, and Torresola was killed, but not without first killing one guard and wounding a second. Though Don Pedro was arraigned on December 27, 1950 to a trial that would sentence him to 53 years in prison (see endnote), with the charges of attempting to overthrow the Government by force, possessing explosives, and illegal possession of arms, immediately after the Nationalist Rebellion the Secret Service began actively pursuing evidence to prove their theory that he had personally ordered the Truman assassination. Certainly Vito Marcantonio successfully worked from Congress for the end of discrimination and the welfare of Puerto Ricans, however, as we can see, his position left him in no place to play a front-line, or vanguard role in the independence movement, such as was exemplified by the revolutionary actions of the Nationalist Party. The exemplary event that was the Nationalist Rebellion of 1950 shows this well.
Oscar Collazo with his wife Rosa
Vito Marcantonio was an exceptional congressman, never straying far from his home and headquarters of East Harlem. The changing demographics of his congressional district, bearing the brunt of the Puerto Rican migration, influenced Marcantonio to increasingly take up work on behalf of this growing Puerto Rican constituency. However, Marcantonio made clear in Congress that he was very aware of verifiable American exploitation, denial of rights, and outright tyranny towards his constituents. He further advocated and introduced bills for Puerto Rico’s independence in the House of Representatives since 1936. Showing his protracted independence advocacy, a year after his 1950 electoral defeat, he commented on the constitutional government proposed by then Governor Luis Muñoz Marín that established the Commonwealth or Free Associated State that exists to today, calling it “a contract of enslavement which [Muñoz Marín] calls the constitution.” His advocacy of Puerto Rican independence is clear, but what I have tried to detail is whether Marcantonio mostly championed Puerto Rican independence, or reform. Using a comparative analysis to detail the convergence and divergence of Marcantonio’s thought and actions with those of the vanguard of the Puerto Rican independence movement at the time, the Nationalist Party, my information leads me to conclude that Marcantonio mostly championed reformative measures. While this is not particularly remarkable, since Marcantonio’s support of the Puerto Rican independence movement was limited to the legislation he could affect in Congress, it becomes so when it is explained how his political achievements and actions were, at times, actually in opposition to Nationalist Party principles, as I have discussed.
Marcantonio’s removal of Governor Blanton Winship is an example where his actions resulted in a non-substantive change in the colonial condition of Puerto Rico. This is contrasted with the revolutionary justice delivered by the Nationalist Party with Col. Riggs’ killing. Communism was a common undercurrent for both Marcantonio and the Nationalist Party. However, the Communist Party had an arguably much more friendly relationship with the former. Don Pedro and the Nationalist Party stressed Catholicism more, but it was certainly a shared cultural tradition that influenced Marcantonio’s relationship with his community. The idea of preserving cultural traditions was present with both Marcantonio and the Nationalist Party and is particularly shown in the formers’ reestablishing of Spanish as the official language of instruction in Puerto Rico, an achievement finely in tune with Nationalist Party aims. Marcantonio’s congressional bills for independence, with respect to it’s framing of the right to independence, is not particularly at odds with the Nationalist Party. Where his independence bills contrast with the Nationalist Party is where it implies “sympathetic treatment” to Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans so long as its non-self-governing condition exists. An example of this “sympathetic treatment” was his extension of the Social Security Act to the island, which has already been shown to be in opposition to prevailing Nationalist principles. His guarantee of American citizenship, and his stance on the question of military occupation, which leaves open a possibility for a prolonged maintenance of U.S. military, naval, and air bases on the island, I would argue, stand as perhaps his most oppositional achievement and position when considering the Nationalist Party interpretation of the Puerto Rican independence struggle, which advocated the immediate withdrawal of the illegal American empire, even if by means of an armed revolution by the Puerto Rican people.
In conclusion, this paper has been an attempt to examine the views and actions of Vito Marcantonio in comparison to the vanguard of the Puerto Rican independence movement of his time. The result of this attempt is my concluding that Marcantonio’s views and actions mainly brought about reforms within the colonial context of Puerto Rico. Furthermore, he used his political position as a Member of Congress to support and bring attention to the independence movement, but was limited to the achievement and proposal of a number of reforms. Some of these reforms were non-substantive, others were in harmony with the Nationalist Party, and still others, I have argued, were in opposition to Nationalist Party goals and perspectives. Taking these conclusions further, I would also reason that the ultimate cause for Marcantonio being mostly a champion of Puerto Rican reform, rather than independence, is his situation within the Government that both he and the Nationalist Party felt would not willingly grant independence.