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The Puerto Rican Independence movement (Movimiento de la Independencia Puertorriqueña) refers to initiatives throughtout the history of Puerto Rico aimed at obtaining independence for the Island. The movement is not localized to one same group of individuals or even one same organization throughout the years, but represents instead the events and activities of tens of groups and organizations, and thousands of individuals, that share the common goal of advocating, supporting, or seeking political independence for Puerto Rico.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, the independence movement in Puerto Rico has used both peaceful, political means as well as violent, revolutionary approaches in search of its objectives. Organized political movements have existed since the mid-19th century and have advocated independence of the Island, first from Spainmarker (in the 19th century) and then from the United Statesmarker (from 1898 to the present day). Today, a spectrum of autonomous, nationalist, and independence sentiments and political parties exist in the Island.

Independence from Spain

Revolts by the Tainos

Cacique Agüeybaná lead the first revolt against the Spanish invaders
Modern Puerto Rican independence movements can be traced back to the 16th century with the Taíno rebellion of 1511 led by Agüeybaná II.

In this revolt, Agüeybaná II, the most powerful cacique in the island at the time, together with Urayoán, cacique of Añascomarker, organized a revolt against the Spaniards in the southern and western parts of the island in 1511. He was joined by Guarionex, cacique of Utuadomarker, who attacked the village of Sotomayor (present day Aguadamarker) and killed eighty of its Spanish inhabitants. Juan Ponce de León then led the Spaniards in a series of offensives that culminated in the Battle of Yagüecas. Agüeybaná II's people, who were only armed with spears, bows, and arrows, were no match for the better armed Spanish forces, and Agüeybaná II was shot and killed in the battle. The revolt ultimately failed and many Taínos either committed suicide or left the island.

Revolts by criollos

Several revolts against the Spanish rulers by the native born, or "criollos", occurred in the 1800s. These include the conspiracy at San Germanmarker in 1809 to the uprisings of Cialesmarker, San German and Sabana Grandemarker in 1898.

The Spanish occupation forces were the object of more than thirty conspiracies. Some, like the Lares uprising, the riots and sedition of 1897 and the Secret Societies at the end of the nineteenth century, became popular rebellions. The most popular revolts, however, were the one in Lares in 1868, and the one in Yaucomarker in 1897.

In 1868, the Grito de Lares took place, in which revolutionaries took over the town of Lares and declared the Republic of Puerto Rico. Ramón Emeterio Betances was the leader of this revolt. Earlier, Segundo Ruiz Belvis and Betances had founded the "Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico" (Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico) from their exile in the Dominican Republic. Betances authored several "Proclamas" or statements attacking the exploitation of the Puerto Ricans by the Spanish colonial system and called for immediate insurrection. These statements soon circulated throughout the island as local dissident groups began to organize.

Most dissidents were "criollos" (born on the island). The critical state of the economy, along with the increasing repression imposed by the Spanish, served as catalysts for the rebellion. The stronghold of the movement were towns located on the mountains of the west of the island. The rebels looted local stores and offices owned by "peninsulares" (Spanish-born men) and took over the city hall. Spanish merchants and local government authorities, considered by the rebels to be enemies of the fatherland, were taken as prisoners. The revolutionaries then entered the town's church and placed their revolutionary flag on the High Altar to signify that the revolution had begun.. The Republic of Puerto Rico was proclaimed, and Francisco Ramírez Medina was proclaimed interim presidency. The revolutionaries offered immediate freedom to any slave who would join them.

Upon moving on to the next town, San Sebastián del Pepino, the Grito de Lares revolutionaries encountered heavy resistance from the Spanish militia and retreated to Lares. Upon an order from governor Julián Pavía, the Spanish militia soon rounded up the rebels and quickly brought the insurrection to an end. Some 475 rebels were imprisoned, and a military court imposed the death penalty, for treason and sedition, on all the prisoners. However, in Madrid, Eugenio María de Hostos and other prominent Puerto Ricans were successful in interceding and a general amnesty was dictated with all the prisoners being released. Betances, Rojas, Lacroix, Aurelio Méndez, and other, however, were sent into exile lending a permanent end to their revolt.

In 1896, a group of residents of Yauco who believed in full independence of Puerto Rico joined forces and made plans to overthrow the Spanish government in the Island. The group was led by Antonio Mattei Lluberas, a wealthy coffee plantation owner, and Mateo Mercado. Later that year, the local Civil Guard discovered their plans and proceeded to arrest all those involved, however they were soon released and returned to their respective homes.

In 1897, Mattei Lluberas traveled to New York City and visited the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee, which consisted, among others, of the exiled group from the 1868 Grito de Lares revolt. There they made plans for a major coup in Puerto Rico. Lluberas returned to Puerto Rico with a Puerto Rican flag to be used for such coup. However, the Mayor of Yauco Francisco Lluch Barreras heard the rumors of the planned uprising, and soon notified the governor of the island. When Fidel Velez, one of the separatist leaders, found out that the Spanish authorities knew about their plans, he called together for a meeting with Mattei Lluberas and the other leaders, and fearing that they all would soon be arrested, Velez demanded that the insurrection start immediately.

On March 24, 1897, Fidel Velez and his men marched towards Yauco planning to attack the barracks of the Spanish Civil Guard there with the aim of gaining control of the arms and ammunition which were stored there, but the plan failed because when they arrived they were ambushed by the Spanish forces who had set up positions and were waiting for them. A firefight ensued upon the arrival of the group and the rebels quickly retreated. On March 26, another group headed by Jose Nicolas Quiñones Torres and Ramon Torres also attempted to fight the Spaniards in a barrio called "Quebradas" of Yauco, however said revolt also failed. Over 150 rebels were arrested, accused of various crimes against the state and sent to prison in the City of Ponce. Velez fled to St. Thomas where he lived in exile, while Mattei Lluberas went into exile in New York City and joined a group known as the "Puerto Rican Commission".

These attacks came to be known as the "Intentona de Yauco" (Attempted Coup of Yauco). The revolt, which was the second and last major attempt against the Spaniards in the island, was the first time the flag of Puerto Rico was used in Puerto Rican soil.

Independence from the United States

Events under U.S. colonial rule

Puerto Rico was invaded during the Spanish-American War in 1898, Manuel Zeno Gandia traveled to Washington, D.C.marker where, together with Eugenio María de Hostos, he proposed the idea of independence for Puerto Rico. The men were disappointed when their ideas were rejected by the government of the United States and the island was converted into a territory. Zeno Gandia returned to the island where he continued to be politically active.

A number of leaders, including a well-known intellectual and legislator called José de Diego, sought disconnection from the United States via political accommodation. On June 5, 1900, President William McKinley named De Diego, together with Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, José Celso Barbosa, Manuel Camuñas, and Andrés Crosas to an Executive Cabinet under U.S. appointed Governor Charles H. Allen. The Executive Cabinet also included six American members. De Diego resigned from the position in order to pursue the island's right to govern itself. In 1904, he co-founded the "Unionist Party" along with Luis Muñoz Rivera, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón and Antonio R. Barceló. De Diego was then elected to the House of Delegates, the only locally elected body of government allowed by the U.S., which De Diego presided from 1904 to 1917. The House of Delegates was subject to the U.S. President's veto power and unsuccessfully voted for the island's right to independence and self-government and petitioned against imposition of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans. De Diego became known as the "Father of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement".

The newly-created Puerto Rico Union Party, advocated allowing voters to choose among non-colonial options, including annexation, an independent protectorate, and full autonomy. Another new party yet, the Puerto Rico Independence Party emerged, founded by Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón in 1912, which promoted Puerto Rico's independence. That same year, Zeno Gandía, Matienzo Cintrón, and Luis Llorens Torres wrote a manifesto which stated that it was time for Puerto Rico to have its independence. The Independence Party, was the first party in the history of the island to openly support independence from the United States as part of its platform.

In 1919, Puerto Rico had two major organizations that supported independence: the Nationalist Youth and the Independence Association. Also in 1919, José Coll y Cuchí, a member of the Union Party of Puerto Rico, left the party and formed the Nationalist Association of Puerto Rico. In 1922, these three political organizations joined forces and formed the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party with Coll y Cuchi as party president. The party's main goal was to achieve independence from the United States. In 1924 Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos joined the party and was named vice-president.

On May 11, 1930, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos was elected president of the Nationalist Party. Under Albizu Campos' leadership, the party became the largest independence movement in Puerto Rican in the 1930s. However, after disappointing electoral outcomes and strong repression by the territorial police, by mid 1930s Albizu opted against electoral participation and advocated violent revolution as the means to achieve independence.

Nationalist Party partisans were involved in a variety of dramatic and violent confrontations during the 1930 and 1940s:

  • On April 6, 1932, Nationalist partisans marched into the Capitol buildingmarker in San Juanmarker to protest the legislative proposal to establish the present Puerto Rican flag, the official flag of the insular government. Nationalists preferred the emblem used during the Grito de Lares.

  • On February 23, 1936, the insular police chief, E. Francis Riggs, was murdered by two Nationalists as he left church in San Juanmarker. The men were caught, arrested, transported to police headquarters, and executed without trial. No one in the authorities was ever indicted for their deaths.

  • On March 21, 1937, a peaceful march in Poncemarker by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party organized to commemorate the ending of slavery in Puerto Rico resulted in the deaths of 17 unarmed citizens and 2 policemen at the hands of the territorial police, an event known as the Ponce Massacremarker.

  • On July 25, 1938, shots were fired during a military parade and speech by the US colonial governor on the Island Blanton Winship, slaying Police Colonel Luis Irizarry. Soon afterward, two Nationalist partisans attempted to assassinate Robert Cooper, judge of the Federal Court in Puerto Rico.

  • On June 11, 1948, the United States-appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero, signed into law a bill that made it illegal to talk of independence or to fight for the liberation of the island, and significantly curtailed other Puerto Rican independence activities.

Events under Commonwealth status

The new Commonwealth status forced a new set of initiatives from the Puerto Rican independence movement. On October 30, 1950, with the new autonomist Commonwealth status about to go into effect, multiple Nationalist uprisings occurred. There were about a dozen skirmishes throughout the Puerto Rico, including Peñuelasmarker, the Jayuya Uprising, the Utuado Uprising, the attack in San Juan, and other shootouts in Mayagüezmarker, Naranjitomarker, and Arecibo. During the 1950 Jayuya Uprising, Blanca Canales declared Puerto Rico a free republic.

In 1952, Puerto Rico was allowed to have a constitution under the U.S. Territorial Clause. However, it was subject to U.S. laws and to approval by the U.S. Executive and Legislative branches of government, branches which Puerto Ricans did not participate in electing or creating. The government suppressed the Nationalist leaders and their activities and the influence of the Nationalist Party waned .

By the 1960s, a new phase of Puerto Rican resistance began. After the decimation of the Nationalist Party, several organizations began to use "clandestine armed struggle" against the U.S. government. Underground "peoples armies" such as El Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario en Armas (MIRA), Los Comandos Armado de Liberacion (CAL), Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), la Organización de Voluntarios por la Revolución Puertorriqueña (OVRP), El Ejercito Popular Boricua (EPB), and others began engaging in subversive activities against the U.S. government and military to bring attention to the colonial condition of Puerto Rico.

Current approaches

A majority of independentistas today seek to achieve independence through either the electoral or the diplomatic process. In 1946, Gilberto Concepción de Gracia founded the Puerto Rican Independence Party, the most influential organization participating in the electoral process. The party has successfully elected some legislative candidates, but has yet to win more than a few percentage points of the vote in gubernatorial elections (2.04% in 2008) or the legislative elections (4.5-5% of the island-wide legislative vote in 2008).

See also


  1. Land Tenure Development In Puerto Rico
  2. Puerto Rico's First People
  3. Schwab, Gail M. The French Revolution of 1789 and Its Impact. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995. ISBN 0313293392. P.268.
  4. Ayala, César J. Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898. UNC Press, 2007. ISBN 0807831131. P.343
  5. The Women from Puerto Rico. Mariana Bracetti. Retrieved on September 26, 2007.
  6. Puerto Rico Encyclopedia
  7. "Historia militar de Puerto Rico"; by Hector Andres Negroni (Author); Pages: 305-06; Publisher: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario (1992); Language: Spanish; ISBN 8478441387; ISBN 978-8478441389
  8. Noticias de la XVII Brigada Juan Rius Rivera en Cuba
  9. "Historia militar de Puerto Rico"; by Hector Andres Negroni (Author); Pages: 307; Publisher: Sociedad Estatal Quinto Centenario (1992); Language: Spanish; ISBN 8478441387; ISBN 978-8478441389
  10. Projecto Salon Hogar
  11. Sabia Usted? , Sabana Grande, Retrieved Feb. 25, 2009
  12. The Flag, Flags of the World, Retrieved Feb. 25, 2009
  13. Chronology of Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War
  14. José de Diego - Library of Congress
  15. Articulos (Spanish)
  16. Luis Llorens Torres
  17. Puerto Rican History
  18. El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza; by Pedro Aponte Vázquez; Page 7; Publisher: Publicaciones RENÉ; ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
  19. NY Latino Journal
  20. See Insular Cases
  21. FBI Files on Puerto Ricans. Retrieved on 2008-12-04
  22. Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario en Armas (MIRA) - Case # SJ-100-12315. Retrieved on 2008-12-04
  23. Terrorist Organization Profile: Armed Commandos of Liberation. Retrieved on 2008-12-04
  24. Bosque Pérez, Ramón. Puerto Rico Under Colonial Rule: Political Persecution and the Quest for Human Rights. SUNY Press, 2006. ISBN 0791464172. P.8.
  25. 2008 Election Results (Spanish)

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