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New York meeting

Puerto Rican revolutionary remembers Ponce Massacre

By Carlos Rovira

New York

On March 20 at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center on New York's Lower East Side, Puerto Ricans commemorated the 62nd anniversary of the Ponce Massacre. The ProLibertad-Amnesty Campaign to Free Puerto Rican Political Prisoners and POWs sponsored the event.

The featured speaker was the legendary Doña Isabel Rosado, one of many exemplary and revolutionary women in the Puerto Rican people's history.

Born in 1908, Rosado has witnessed some of the most repressive episodes Puerto Rico experienced under U.S. colonialism.

During the 1937 Ponce Massacre, Rosado saw many of her compatriots murdered and wounded. The experience of this bloody attack made her a staunch fighter, loyal to the cause of national liberation.

On Oct. 30, 1950, beginning in the city of Jayuya, a nationalist revolt against U.S. rule spread throughout the island.

It was in Jayuya where another female legend, Blanca Canales, led the biggest gun battle and burned the colonial police headquarters to the ground.

Meanwhile, in San Juan, the colonial police and National Guard attacked the Nationalist Party office. Don Pedro Albizu Campos, Doña Isabel Rosado and others barricaded themselves in a violent siege that lasted 24 hours.

Isabel Rosado was one of Albizu Campos's bodyguards. Armed when necessary, she vowed to protect with her own life the integrity of the Puerto Rican struggle and the life of the revolutionary leader.

The Ponce Massacre

In the city of Ponce, independence supporters had scheduled a peaceful protest for March 21, 1937, to demand Puerto Rico's independence and Don Pedro Albizu Campos's release from prison.

Although permits were unnecessary, the organizers requested permission to have the event out of respect for the sympathetic mayor. They got permission.

U.S. Army Gen. Blanton Winship was colonial governor at the time. He had been appointed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Outright military rule was the form of colonial government. Winship tried everything possible to stop the nationalist protest, including force.

In this period of intense repression, the U.S. government, through Winship, sought to stamp out all nationalist sentiment--especially the quest for independence and self-determination.

On that Palm Sunday morning, hundreds of people--women, children and men--had gathered at the town plaza in defiance of the wishes of the colonial government. Women dressed in all white assembled as Nurses of the Republic. The youth organization of the Nationalist Party, the Cadets of the Republic, dressed in black shirts and white pants. Church congregations and others also formed their contingents.

A Nationalist color guard in military formation unveiled the outlawed Puerto Rican flag. With clenched fists in the air, the crowd began singing "La Borinqueña"--the revolutionary national anthem of the colonized people.

At this point, the police had completely sealed off the area where the nationalist protest was gathering. With grenades, tear-gas bombs, carbine rifles and machine guns, under the directions of the central colonial government, the police prepared to attack.

Once the crowd began to march, and with full knowledge that the mostly young participants were unarmed, the police opened fire.

The barrage lasted about 5 minutes. When the shooting ended, 19 people had been killed and 120 lay wounded.

"It was love for the freedom of our homeland--Puerto Rico," Doña Isabel Rosado said, "that gave strength to the martyrs of Ponce. Nothing in this world is more powerful than this emotion--not even the guns of the colonial assassins."

And it is precisely this emotion that worries U.S. colonialism even to this day--an emotion that will prove fatal to imperialism when the Ponce massacre is avenged, when the Puerto Rican people finally win their historical struggle against tyranny by expelling all foreign oppressors from their country.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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