30 December 2016

Puerto Rico Series

This is a series about another country getting into financial difficulties. I previously chronicled Zimbabwe as it went through a massive inflationary period that lasted years into the realm of ridiculousness and is still suffering the aftermath. It eventually pushed Zimbabwe into China’s camp. Greece is still dealing with the impact of austerity measures to pay debt [Greek Series]. And now, Puerto Rico appears on the horizon as the next candidate for debt default, a territory of the United States. Puerto Rico is referred to as the “Greece of the Caribbean”, somewhat ironic. What if austerity measures in Puerto Rico appear punitive, as they do in Greece, and everywhere else. How will the Puerto Ricans respond? Puerto Ricans have clashed with the United States before, an assassination attempt of President Truman and fired shots in the House of Representatives, wounding five lawmakers.

In this series, I’ll excerpts from a few books [War Against All Puerto Ricans being a primary source] and laying some groundwork of historical reference. The Puerto Rican debt crisis may turn into a headline dominating issue. Its implications could resonate far and wide through Latin America. There are significant Puerto Rican communities in the United States, especially in NYC, Bay Area, and Hawaii. Puerto Ricans span all ethnicities, all colors. This should prove to be an interesting series.

22 December 2016

Gag Law 1948

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

On March 9, 1948, J. Edgar Hoover placed the Nationalist Party on the FBI list of organizations working to subvert the US government. The passage of Public Law 53 (the Gag Law) was nearly a word-for-word translation of Section 2 of the Anti-Communist US Smith Act, and it authorized police and FBI to stop anyone on the street and to invade any Puerto Rican home. If the police found a Puerto Rican flag, the residents could all be arrested and jailed.

21 December 2016

Albizu Returns to Puerto Rico – 1947

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

On December 11, 1947, he boarded the SS Kathryn and returned to Puerto Rico. From the moment Albizu set foot in San Juan, Hoover became obsessed with following and recording his every movement. Thousands of Puerto Ricans and dozens of FBI agents met Albizu at the dock. They packed into San Juan cathedral and followed him in a heaving mass to Sixto Excobar Stadium, where he would address a standing-room only crowd of 14,000. Albizu began his speech: “My name is Pedro Albizu Campos. You are my people. And this is our island.” A roar filled the stadium, For over an hour, he thundered about independence. Every newspaper on the island reported Albizu’s dramatic return.

Juan Emilio Viguie filmed Albizu’s return on the SS Kathryn, the tumultuous crowds, the march down Calle San Augustin, the flags, the motorcades, the speech to 14,000 supporters at Sixto Escobar Stadium. He made a short newsreel of it, Recibermiento a Don Pedro (Reception of Don Pedro). 

20 December 2016

Albizu Imprisonment – 1937 to1943

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

Albizu was flown to the US penitentiary in Atlanta on June 7, 1937.

He worked in the prison library. One day in the library he encountered an unusual book, published by General Smedley Butler in 1935 – War is a Racket. Butler had been a marine for thirty-three years and was the most decorated marine in US history. He had received sixteen medals, five for heroism, and was one of only nineteen men to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor twice. He retired as major general and, for a brief period, was the highest-ranking commander in the US Marine Corps. Butler’s father had been a US congressman for thirty-one years and had chaired the House of Naval Affairs Committee.
 “I helped make Mexico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys. I helped in the raping of a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interest in 1916. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

War is a Racket confirmed everything Albizu had seen in Puerto Rico. On June 3, 1943, Albizu was released on probation in New York City. He had been in prison for over seven years. 

19 December 2016

Ponce Massacre - Photographed and Filmed

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

After it was all over, Puerto Rico’s chief of police, Colonel Orbeta, arrived on the scene. Orbeta called over the El Mundo photographer and several of his men, and the choreographed a series of “live action” photos to show that the police were somehow “returning fire” from the Nationalists who were, at this point, already lying dead in the street. The photos were cynical and obviously staged. One of them appeared on the front page of El Mundo on March 23, 1937, showing Colonel Orbeta and two of his men scanning the rooftops for Nationalist snipers.

A newsreel director named Juan Emilio Viguie had heard about a Palm Sunday parade in support of Ablizu Campos. Juan found a perfect camera angle from an abandoned warehouse window that overlooked the parade ground and filmed the entire slaughter. Over the next twenty-five years, Viguie would show his thirteen-minute movie clip to private, very carefully selected audiences. It became the Zapruder film of Puerto Rican history. Those thirteen minutes made clear that, to those from the north, Puerto Ricans were not equals, or citizens, or even fully human. They were animals. And so they could be shot on Palm Sunday like rabid dogs in the street.

Of the fourteen articles that the discussed the massacre in the New York Times in 1937, eleven used the work “riot” to describe the incident. The largest and most authoritative US press organizations merely regurgitated an established narrative that Puerto Ricans had rioted on Palm Sunday and somehow shot, killed, maimed, and wounded themselves. No police officer was fired, demoted, suspended, convicted, jailed, or otherwise punished.

I visited the Ponce Massacre Museum Dec 2016. Fantastic little museum, wandered through the well-thought-out exhibits. At the end of the tour, the museum curator gave a great synopsis of the events of that tragically fateful day. He mentioned that Viguie’s film still hasn’t been released to the public. The film that shows up in searches is an old movie remake. I wish I had gotten the curator’s name; he was passionate about this bit of history, and he sees this next year as a pivotal year. I told him we’d be looking for him on the news, and he said you never know.

16 December 2016

The Ponce Massacre – Palm Sunday March 21,1937

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

In support of jailed Albizu, the Nationalists had obtained parade permits. The street was full with nearly three hundred men, women, and children in their Sunday best, the men in straw hats and white linen suits, the ladies in flowery print dresses, and children playing all around. It looked like a festive afternoon in the park. The crowd cheered when eighty Cadets of the Republic, twelve Nurses, and a five-piece marching band arrived in support of the Republic of Puerto Rico.

Suddenly, the mayor of Ponce and the police captain jumped into the street and told everyone to go home; the parade was over. The permit had been revoked on the governor’s orders. The governor had also instructed to increase the police presence and prevent the demonstration by whatever means necessary.

Everyone started to march – permit or no permit. Then a shot rang out. Ivan Rodriguez Figueras crumpled like a rag doll, blood spurting from his throat with each dying heartbeat. Panicked screams and curses erupted as people ran in all directions, but they couldn’t escape. Two hundred men with rifles and Tommy guns were stationed all around them. They blocked every route and created a killing zone. They started firing.

A boy was shot on a bicycle. A father tried to shield his dying son and was shot in the back. In a contagion of panic and savagery, the police kept firing. They shot into several corpses again and again. They fired over the corpses. Bullets flew everywhere. The police climbed onto cars and running boards and chased people down the side streets, shooting and clubbing anyone they could find. They shot men, women, and children in the back as they tried to escape.

By the time they finished, nineteen men, one woman, and seven-year-old girl lay dead; over two hundred more were gravely wounded – moaning, crawling, bleeding, and begging for mercy in the street.

Ponce Massacre - Pedro Bull

14 December 2016

Female Sterilization 1937

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpt

In 1927, the US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Virginia could sterilize those it thought unfit, particularly when the mother was “feeble-minded” and “promiscuous.”

Ten years later, US Public Law 136 legalized all sterilization in Puerto Rico, even for “non-medical” reasons. Every year, more than 1000 women walked into the Hospital Municipal de Barceloneta. Each woman would talk to a doctor, fill out a few forms, and be assigned a bed. Two days later she’d walk out with her tiny newborn. She didn’t know, however, that her tubes had been cut and that she would never have another baby. For decades, the doctors in Barceloneta sterilized Puerto Rican women without their knowledge or consent.

Over 20,000 women were sterilized in this one town. This scenario was repeated throughout Puerto Rico until – at its high point – one-third of the women on the island had been sterilized and Puerto Rico had the highest incidence of female sterilization in the world.

12 December 2016

Police Chief Riggs Assassinated 1935

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

Police Chief Riggs, stated in several major newspapers that he was ready to wage “war to the death against all Puerto Ricans.” As he returned home, two young men approached him, shot and killed him.

After the assassination of Police Chief Riggs, General Winship unleashed a reign of terror across the island. He hired more Insular Police and instructed them to raid Nationalist homes and offices and to arrest Nationalist throughout the island. Albizu received death threats, he posted a round-the-clock guard and repelled four assaults by police and FBI agents.

Officers with blackjacks, tear gas, rifles, and Thompson submachine guns barricaded entire sections of San Juan. He prohibited all public demonstrations, including speeches at funerals. At his discretion and without notice, Winship would declare martial law in random areas; the police would lay siege to those areas, conduct warrantless searches, break into people’s homes, and prevent other residents form entering or leaving the zone. He established the complete militarization of Puerto Rico with a police state that could control the population.

Albizu and six Nationalists were convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the US government. The jury delivered its verdict: ten years’ imprisonment for Albizu. Albizu was jailed in La Princesa prison in San Juan.

10 December 2016

Cancer Transplanting 1931 - Dr. Cornelius Rhoads

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

Dr. Cornelius Rhoads, Harvard Medical School, joined the newly formed Rockefeller Anemia Commission to set up a research laboratory in San Juan Presbyterian Hospital. Shortly after his arrival in San Juan, on the night of November 10, 1931, Rhoads got drunk at a party. He emerged to find his car stripped and the tires flat. When he returned to his lab that night, in a foul mood and still drunk, he scrawled a note to a friend named Fred Stewart, who was a medical researcher in Boston:

I can get a damn fine job here and I am tempted to take it. It would be ideal except for the Puerto Ricans – they are beyond a doubt the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men to inhabit this sphere. It makes you sick to inhabit the same island with them. They are even lower than the Italians. What the island needs is not public health work, but a tidal wave or something to totally exterminate the entire population. It might not be livable. I have done my best to further the process of their extermination by killing off eight and transplanting cancer into several more… All physicians take delight in the abuse and torture of the unfortunate subjects.

The letter was discovered and created an uproar. La Democracia and El Mundo published a photograph of Rhoads’s letter. Copies were sent to the governor of Puerto Rico, the League of Nations, the Pan-American Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, newspapers, foreign embassies, and the Vatican. They were offered as evidence of systemic and lethal US racism toward Puerto Ricans.

Rhoads was never indicted and suffered no professional consequences for his actions. During WWII, he was commissioned as a colonel and assigned as chief of medicine in the Chemical Weapons Division of the US Army. It positioned him as a talented biological warrior and created a niche for him in US medical and military circles. In 1949, Rhoads was featured on the cover of the June 27 issue of Time magazine. Puerto Ricans, to their astonishment, realized that exterminating eight Puerto Ricans and transplanting cancer into several more had been an excellent career mover for Rhoads. 

08 December 2016

The Rio Piedras Massacre 1935

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

On October 24, 1935, University of Puerto Rico students held a meeting to discuss their relationship with Pedro Albizu Campos and the Nationalist Party. To insure a “peaceful” gathering, General Winship’s police surrounded the campus in Rio Piedras and stationed themselves on every street corner with carbines, tear gas, and machine guns.

At 10:30 AM, before the meeting started, several police cars intercepted a sedan with four Nationalists inside. Several more police cars pulled up, a squad of officers surrounded the car, and all of them started shooting.

The entire island was outraged. Speaking to 8,000 mourners, Albizu Campos accused General Winship and his police chief, Colonel Riggs, of deliberate murder. 

07 December 2016

Governor Winship Strike Breaker - January 1934

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

On January 12, 1934, President Roosevelt appointed General Blanton Winship, a retired army general, as governor of Puerto Rico. General Winship was not sent to Puerto Rico to negotiate. He was sent to crush labor strikes, subdue Nationalists, and kill them if necessary. It didn’t take long before he did just that.

From the moment he arrived, General Winship proceeded to militarize the entire island. He urged the building of a naval air base and created new, vigorous police-training camps. He added hundreds of men to the insular police force, equipping every unit with machine guns, tear gas, and riot gear, and painted their cars a suggestive new color: blood red. The new police uniforms resembled those of WWII military officers. The FBI initiated round-the-clock surveillance of the Nationalist leadership. An additional 115 Insular Police were armed with carbines, submachine guns, and grenades. Nationalists were imprisoned for “incitement to riot” against the United States.

06 December 2016

Albizu Meets Chief of Police Riggs – January 1934

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

A few days after the speech, Colonel Riggs, the police chief of Puerto Rico, invited Albizu Campos to lunch at the El Escambron Beach Club. Albizu had already heard about Riggs, the heir to the Riggs National Bank fortune, a Yale-educated gentleman. Throughout Central America the Riggs National Bank was suspected of laundering money for right-wing dictators, bribing entire legislatures, destabilizing populist regimes, and financing military coups disguised as “revolutions” on behalf of the United Fruit Company. Riggs had just come from Nicaragua, where he’d been advising a budding dictator named Anastasio Somoza, who, one month later, on February 21, 1934, would assassinate Augusto Sandino.

Riggs tripled the size of the Insular Police force and armed its officers with grenade launchers, machine guns, carbines, and 12-guage shotguns. In addition, he recruited over a hundred FBI agents to follow Albizu all over the island and infiltrate the Nationalist Party.

On January 18, 1934, one week after his speech, Albizu met with Riggs. Riggs offered to donate $150,000 to the Nationalist Party, to ensure that Albizu won the Senate seat that year or in 1936, and to make Albizu governor of Puerto Rico within ten years. In exchange, Albizu would back down and lets Riggs take care of the strike. Albizu told him Puerto Rico was not for sale, at least not by him.

In January 1934, the Nationalist Party led an agricultural strike that paralyzed the island’s sugar economy for a full month. Alarmed US corporations and sugar syndicates cabled President Roosevelt that “a state of actual anarchy exists. Towns in state of siege, police impotent, business paralyzed.”

Note: Google Police Chief Riggs and it hits memorials of fallen law enforcement. The man was a brutal tyrant, not to be memorialized.

04 December 2016

Pedro Albizu Campos – Nationalist Party President - Speech January 1934

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

In 1930, Albizu became president of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico. The Nationalists were dedicated to one overwhelming cause: achieving independence for Puerto Rico as quickly and unconditionally as possible. This included the reclamation of all Puerto Rican lands, the nationalization of all banks, the reinstatement of Spanish as the primary language of public school instruction, and the elimination of tariff payments to the United States.

This platform of unconditional independence became more compelling as the Great Depression swept through Puerto Rico, and hunger gripped the island. As the great Depression deepened, the US banks that controlled Puerto Rico’s sugar plantations cut wages all over the island. Starvation was rampant, and during the last six months of 1933, eighty-five strikes and protests erupted in the tobacco, needlework, and transportation industries. The bitterest conflict, however, was in the cane fields.

On January 11, 1934, Albizu, as head of the Nationalists Party, addressed a crowd of 6,000 people. Albizu spoke to the people for two hours about their work, their land, and their island. He recited “Puerto Rico, Puerto Pobre,” a poem by Pablo Neruda. El Emparcial ran his entire speech on its front page. When he finished, the crowd of 6,000 applauded for over five minutes and asked him to lead the workers through the bitter sugar cane strike. In a twentieth-century version of David versus Goliath, Albizu Campos and the Nationalists were waging a revolution against the most powerful nation in history.

Note: Google his speech, not easy to find, but worth reading once found.

03 December 2016

Pedro Albizu Campos – Rise of a Nationalist

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

Ponce’s La Cantera was one of the island’s poorest districts. Albizu rented a wooden house on a dirt road and from a hill behind his house, he could see the Central Constancia sugar cane plantation. The vista showed an infinity of cane: thousands of rows, multiplied in successive mirrors, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Albizu was practicing povety law, and his clients were simple people – mostly sugar can workers and jibaros – who paid with chickens, vegetables, and sometimes a simple thank-you. Albizu had no savings or property, but he was building something more important:” a reputation as a man of principle, a man who could be trusted. This reputation grew when he started writing for El Nacionalista de Ponce and advocating for independence around the island.

From 1927 to 1930, he traveled to Cuba, Panama, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, campaigning and networking for his revolution. When he spoke about US banks owning Puerto Ricans’ land, the US Navy controlling their borders, the US Congress writing their laws, and US companies paying them starvation wages in the sugar fields, everyone knew what he was talking about.

02 December 2016

Pedro Albizu Campos – Harvard Law 1921

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

Albizu was born out of wedlock to a local mestizo named Julian Campos, who died when he was four. His father was a wealthy merchant who refused to acknowledge his dark-skinned son, so Albizu ran barefoot through the Barrio Tenerias of Ponce. His maternal Aunt, Rosa Campos, adopted him.

In 1914, Pedro Albizu Campos became the first Puerto Rican to be admitted to Harvard College. In addition to his Harvard studies, Albizu taught Spanish classes at Walpole High School and tutored other Harvard students in chemistry, French, and Spanish. He wrote articles for the Christian Science Monitor and was voted president of the Cosmopolitan Club, which sponsored visits from foreign scholars and dignitaries. An exceptional student, he graduated with honors in 1916 and was admitted to Harvard Law School.

When the United States entered WWI, Albizu volunteered and served as a first lieutenant in the US Army. He helped to organize and train the Third Battalion Infantry of Puerto Rico and was the only “colored” officer at Camp las Casas, the army training base on the island. Both in the army and during a military tour through the American South, Albizu encountered widespread racism.

By the time he returned to law school in 1919, Albizu had made a decision, he would never be one of ”them.” The United States would never take him, his people, or his homeland seriously. Albizu devoted himself to the cause of Puerto Rican independence.

In 1921, Albizu graduated from law school as class valedictorian and received multiple job offers. Albizu refused them all and returned to his hometown of Ponce to pursue his growing obsession: the independence of Puerto Rico.

01 December 2016

Sugar Conquest

Open Veins of Latin America by Eduardo Galeano, 1971

Undoubtedly gold and silver were the main motivating force in the Conquest, but Columbus on his second voyage brought the first sugarcane roots from the Canary Islands and planted them in what is now the Dominican Republic. For almost three centuries after the discovery of America no agricultural product had more importance for European commerce than American sugar. Cane fields were planted in the warm, damp littoral of Northeast Brazil; then in the Caribbean islands – Barbados, Jamaica, Haiti, Santo Domingo, Guadeloupe, Cuba, and Puerto Rico – and in Veracruz and the Peruvian coast, which proved to be ideal terrain for the “white gold.” Legions of slaves came from Africa to provide King Sugar with the prodigal, wageless labor he required: human fuel for the burning. The land was devastated by this selfish plant which invaded the New World, felling forests, squandering natural fertility, and destroying accumulated soil humus.

The demand for sugar produced the plantation, an enterprise motivated by its proprietor’s desire for profit and placed at the service of the international market Europe was organizing. Internally, however, the plantation was feudal in many important aspects, and its labor force consisted mainly of slaves.

It was the fate of the “sugar islands” – Barbados, the Leewards, Trinidad-Tobago, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and Santo Domingo – to be incorporated one by one into the world market and condemned to sugar until our day. Grown on a grand scale, sugar spreads its blight on a grand scale and today unemployment and poverty are these islands’ permanent guests.

Nationalist Party Founded 1912

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

Founded in 1912, the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico quickly developed a clear and elegantly simple political platform: the complete and unconditional independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. Their objective was not outright military victory; rather, the aimed to focus international attention on the colonial status of Puerto Rico.

The Cadet Corps was the official youth branch of the Nationalist Party. By 1936, over 10,000 cadets were marching and training in twenty-one towns. All of them reported to Pedro Albizu Campos, the president of the Nationalist Party. The Cadets of the Republic also had a female component, the Nurse Corps of the Liberating Army, also known as the Daughters of Freedom.

Nearly every cadet and nurse, except for the officers, was between fourteen and twenty-five years old. The cadets posed no danger to the US regime. But they did represent a symbolic threat – and so, until the mid-twentieth century, many were shot and killed in police stations and at Palm Sunday parades, in town squares and dark alleys, in broad daylight and at dawn.

30 November 2016

First Civilian Governor 1900 – King of Sugar

War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis, 2015, Excerpts

Charles Herbert Allen was the first civilian governor of Puerto Rico [1900-1901]. Though he never served in the armed forces, he loved to dress in military regalia and have people address him as “colonel.” He arrived like a Roman conqueror with a naval cannon salute, infantry band, and hundreds of armed men. During his one year as governor, he developed a passion for business. He wrote:

Puerto Rico is a beautiful island with its natural resources undeveloped, and its population unfit to assume the management of their own affairs.
The yield of sugar per acre is greater than in any other country in the world.

On September 15, 1901, Allen resigned as governor. He then headed straight to Wall Street, where he joined the House of Morgan as vice president. He built the largest sugar syndicate in the world, and his hundreds of political appointees in Puerto Rico provided him with land grants, tax subsidies, water rights, railroad easements, foreclosure sales, and favorable tariffs. He used his governorship to acquire an international sugar empire and a controlling interest in the entire Puerto Rican economy.

By 1907 his syndicate, the American Sugar Refining Company, owned or controlled 98 percent of the sugar-processing capacity in the United States and was known as the Sugar Trust. Today his company is known as Domino Sugar.

Starting in 1926. The United Puerto Rico Sugar Company bought every tobacco plantation and built the second-largest sugar mill on the island, with a 205-foot chimney and boilers that processed 9 million pounds of cane per day. The National City Bank bought another 54,000 acres of farmland, plus warehouses, port facilities, and 133 miles of railroad. The American Colonial Bank, the House of Morgan, and Bankers Trust controlled another 100,000 acres. All of them turned Puerto Rico into a one-crop economy.

By 1931, all the island’s sugar farms belonged to forty-one syndicates. The banks owned 60 percent of the sugar plantations, 80 percent of the tobacco farms, and 100 percent of the coastal railroads, shipping facilities, and maritime vessels. Yale Historian Bailey W. Diffie noted in 1931, “land is passing into the hands of a few large corporations. The sugar industry, tobacco manufacturing, fruit growing, banks, railroads, public utilities, steamship lines, and many lesser businesses are completely dominated by outside capital. The men who own the sugar companies control both the Bureau of Insular Affairs and the Legislature of Puerto Rico.”