Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican People 1935-1950
[Congressman Marcantonio was a consistent champion of the rights of Puerto Ricans in the United States, and the leading spokesman in Congress for Puerto Rican independence. He never ceased to demand full sovereignty for Puerto Rico. At the same time he continually fought to improve the economic and political status of the island as long as it remained a territory of the United States.
In a speech he made on the floor of the House during his second term in Congress, May 11, 1939, he briefly explained his concern for Puerto Rico and its people.]
My interest in Puerto Rico is due not only to the fact that I represent the largest Puerto Rican constituency, of which I am proud, but also to my desire as a progressive to defend the most exploited victims of a most devastating imperialism. I have no personal or political axe to grind, nor have I any relatives to protect on the pay roll of the government of Puerto Rico. I have no right, nor any interest, in the politics of the island. That is the business of no one but the people of Puerto Rico. I have a right, however, to defend the people of Puerto Rico against exploitation, tyranny and betrayal. I have a right as a Member of Congress to fight for their economic and social welfare, and to fight for their liberties. 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 ...
May 6, 1936
[On May 6, 1936, Congressman Marcantonio introduced his first bill for the independence of Puerto Rico. He presented it in the course of a debate on a Senate bill which he characterized as "the Tydings Bill for fictitious independence." He said:]
Mr. Speaker, today I have introduced a bill providing for the sovereignty of Puerto Rico.
Several days ago a bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Tydings, offering apparent independence to the people of Puerto Rico. Instead of offering genuine independence to the people of Puerto Rico, his bill offers them an American-controlled plebiscite and a commonwealth which will be under the thumb of the American Government. The independence subsequently offered by the Tydings bill would be considerably curtailed by the menacing presence of an American naval reservation, the scene of the Atlantic fleet maneuvers, on their supposedly sovereign territory. At the same time the Tydings bill, with its tariff provisions, threatens to ruin the only present source of Puerto Rican income, which is the sale of their cash crops in the American market. His bill does not provide for the development of substitutes for the dominating, and American-dominated, sugar industry.
Such a bill is not desired by the Puerto Rican people, as their concerted protest shows. They would welcome real and absolute independence; and the American people, who once themselves formed a colony of the British Empire, have no desire [to be], or interest in being, lords and masters of a smaller and weaker nation. Only these gentlemen who stand for reaction in America, the American Tories, the banks and sugar corporations, who have kept the Puerto Rican people in hunger and misery, are interested in Puerto Rico as a colony, not only for their profits but also as a fortified war base. If we really want to be the initiators of a Pan American peace conference, let us be honest and clear in our dealings with the peoples of a sister republic. That means that one of the bases of peace is the freedom of nations.
It is in viewing this question fairly and from the point of view of the interests of the American people, as well as the desires of the people of Puerto Rico, that I have presented my bill.
The dignity of the American people as a freedom-loving Nation demands that Puerto Rico be judged under the principle of self-determination of nations. This means that the United States remove completely and forever all interventions, all fingers, from the affairs of the Puerto Rican people. This means that it grant complete sovereignty to the Puerto Rican people, so that as a nation among other nations of the world Puerto Rico may work out its own destiny in such manner as it sees fit. Such complete independence will do much for real harmony in the Americas.
Genuine independence and the declaration of the responsibility of the United States for the present disastrous state of the economy of Puerto Rico, and the abysmal poverty of its people, is the purpose of my bill.
Puerto Rico, taken as the booty of war from Spain in 1898, has been successively ruined. Four large American sugar corporations own over half the good sugar land and produce over half the total crop. Sugar now composes about 75 percent of the exports of the island, whereas tobacco and coffee have been relegated to the background. The once landowning farmers, dispossessed by the huge sugar plantations, today work the unfertile mountain soil or are landless. Only 7 percent of the native dwellers in the rural regions are landowners in Puerto Rico, an agrarian country. Over the heads of these small farmers hangs a total mortgage debt of about $25,000,000. For years they have been unable to pay taxes.
The landless peasants have been converted into a great army of colonial slaves in the sugar plantations, or are unemployed. The reports of the Puerto Rican Department of Labor for 1935 show an average wage for male workers in the sugar fields of $3.34 per week, and for female workers of $1.96 per week. This same wage scale runs through the other island industries, and in tobacco and coffee they are much worse.
The lack of industry, and the conversion of the island into a huge sugar-producing factory, has meant a great toll in unemployment. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration in Puerto Rico for February, 1936, reports a total of 408,000 fathers of families in need and soliciting work or relief a figure which includes 84.4 percent of the population.
Even in 1927 Governor Roosevelt pointed out the high percentage of tuberculosis, hookworm, malaria, and other diseases directly caused by the hunger of the people.
Responsible ... for this misery, hunger, and disease is the maintenance of Puerto Rico as a colony of the United States, thus giving ample room for American interests to penetrate as deep economically as they wished, while the Puerto Rican people could not develop their own country. But the Puerto Rican people have manifested their refusal to take this situation lying down. The great pressure for independence in the island is undoubtedly a determining factor in the sudden appearance of the Tydings bill with its apparent independence.
I propose that the United States take its hands off and let the Puerto Rican people do as they wish with their own country. The ... hunger and misery, the economic catastrophe, can certainly be laid at the door of the policy of the United States in Puerto Rico, whether it is the do-nothing policy of Hoover or the do-very-little policy of Roosevelt.
Those people who favor the continuation of this "shame of the Americas," which is Puerto Rico as a colony, are trying to make it appear as though independence means more hunger for the people. The tories know that such a statement is a solemn lie. It is, to say the least, unfortunate, that the Tydings bill with its provisions for a tariff on Puerto Rican products has added fuel to their flames.
My bill proposes that there be no tariff on Puerto Rican products shipped to the United States until the people of Puerto Rico do so desire. This is done so that Puerto Rico may have the necessary chance to build up her own industry, and develop trade with whom she sees fit for her best advantage. Neither shall there be any restrictions on Puerto Rican immigration. These principles are to be ratified in a treaty between the two nations made 90 days after the new government of Puerto Rico expresses its desire to begin discussion. In the interim between the proclamation of independence and the signing of this treaty, the present status quo in regard to trade relations is to be maintained. In this way there would be avoided, as far as possible, an undue cracking of the whip over the new nation.
Furthermore, in the 38 years that Puerto Rico has been a possession of the United States, American citizens have extracted from the economy of the island over $400,000,000, which never returned to Puerto Rico for the well-being of its people or the development of its resources. This simple fact, verified by the Brookings Institute in 1929, is a major reason for the present difficulties of the people of Puerto Rico. That huge sum of money, and the promise of more, is why the American reactionaries try to make a genuine independence appear as a mistake and harmful to the people of Puerto Rico. But the hunger is the result of imperialist domination, and that is the real enemy of the Puerto Rican people.
I believe that it is only consistent with the dignity of the American people that a substantial indemnity be paid to the long-suffering people of Puerto Rico, to make up in part for the years of hardship that they have undergone, and to enable them to better find their feet and take boldly, the path of freedom they ardently desire.
These are the principles of my bill [as opposed] to the Tydings bill for fictitious independence. I propose genuine and immediate independence. I also believe, in presenting this bill, that the Puerto Rican people should hold no illusions. Only their own united strength, the formation of an anti-imperialist front of the whole people against the foreign dominators and their own national traitors, is the best guarantee of achieving independence. Waiting for the Tydings bill or my bill, or any other bill to grant them independence on a silver platter, would be a great mistake. Behind them will stand the overwhelming majority of the great American people, who hate oppression and love freedom.
It is up to the people of Puerto Rico to take the initiative; and the more they develop that and make it known to the entire world, the better are the chances of the passage of my bill and the achieving of independence.
[From 1936 on Congressman Marcantonio introduced 5 bills for the independence of Puerto Rico; the last, during his final term in Congress, on March 16, 1950.1
March 22, 1939
[During the depression years Congressman Marcantonio fought for relief funds for the people of Puerto Rico as well as for the unemployed all over the United States. On March 22, 1939, when a Congressional committee refused to recommend an additional emergency relief appropriation of $3,000,000 for Puerto Rico, Mr. Marcantonio argued:]
Mr. Chairman, just a few moments ago the Committee by an overwhelming vote went on record for a worthwhile cause, the preservation of elm trees. The proposition before us presents a cause which I believe is much more worth while, and that is the cause of the suffering human beings on the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has a population of 1,700,000, and 250,000 of these people are unemployed, involving 1,125,000 persons.
The report filed by the committee in refusing to recommend the $3,000,000 appropriation admits the existence of a most deplorable economic situation in Puerto Rico; it admits a tremendous amount of human suffering; it admits a large percentage of unemployment in Puerto Rico; but the report, in justifying the committee for not making the appropriation of $3,000,00, and for recommending not a single penny, states that no appropriation should be made because:
"Obviously there is urgent need for something to be done to meet this aggravated condition. But the answer is not to provide work relief for a relatively small part of the number of employable persons who are without work, but to restudy with a view to lifting or narrowing the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act as it relates to Puerto Rico. The grant of the additional appropriation now requested would be but a poor palliative. A cure is what is needed, and it is more to accentuate that fact and to stimulate action in that direction that the additional appropriation is not recommended (committee report, pp. 7 and 8)..."
I do not desire at this time to interject the issue of whether or not the Fair Labor Standards Act should be amended so as not to apply to Puerto Rico, because I do not want to bring into a discussion of relief any question that might jeopardize the granting of funds which is so imperative for a bare existence of the people of Puerto Rico.
However, I am firmly opposed to the lifting, or the narrowing of the application, of the wage and hour laws as it relates to Puerto Rico. That law is necessary to the well-being of the people, the working people on the island of Puerto Rico. In fact, it is the only real legislation that can bring about an economic readjustment of the diabetic economy of wholesale exploitation of labor of Puerto Rico.
Furthermore, the sad plight of Puerto Rico today cannot be attributed to the application of the Fair Labor Standards Act, because it has not been enforced up to this minute in Puerto Rico.
It seems to me that it is grossly unfair to force a change in the Fair Labor Standards Act as it applies to Puerto Rico by holding up relief funds for Puerto Rico ... Congress should not be put in the position of saying, "Repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act as it applies to Puerto Rico or we will give Puerto Rico no relief funds." ...
It is also my considered judgment that the committee's position, to the effect that funds are not recommended because a cure is what is needed, and that the cure can be brought about by withholding these funds, is untenable and grossly inhuman. Certainly we cannot by means of an appropriation bill, and a debate which will undoubtedly last no more than 15 minutes, solve Puerto Rico's economic ills or adequately discuss the causes. Certainly we cannot solve Puerto Rico's unemployment problem through the medium of this appropriation bill ...
Certainly we cannot solve Puerto Rico's unemployment problem by the refusal of relief funds. An emergency exists and the only orthodox and humane manner of dealing with the emergency is to grant relief. The committee is in the same position as though it were coming before this House with a relief bill for our 11,000,000 unemployed and said, "Let us first solve the unemployment problem, and until then let us appropriate no money for relief." That is the situation we have here, and that is the position the committee is now taking. They say that granting this money now would only be a "palliative," and that Congress should wait until this problem is solved, and then we can deal with the whole matter. I say, before this problem can be ultimately solved 250,000 people, with 1,125,000 people involved, are directly affected by unemployment on an island of 1,700,000 people. They are actually on the verge of starvation. We face a condition and not a theory. This is a matter of emergency relief, and relief funds should be granted until an ultimate solution is found for the problems of Puerto Rico.
I submit that in withholding relief funds we are taking it out of innocent people, people who have nothing to do with the conditions under which they are suffering; people who find themselves in their present economic plight because of exploitation and tyranny. I submit, Mr. Chairman, and gentlemen of this Committee that this is a matter of relief, to relieve suffering. It is not a matter of politics. There are no politics in this at all. It is a matter of aiding 1,125,000 people, a great and good people. (Applause.)
(Here the gavel fell.)
May 11, 1939
[Congressman Marcantonio repeatedly urged enforcement of the 25 cent-an-hour minimum wage law in Puerto Rico. On May 11, 1939, in discussing an amendment which proposed the establishment of committees to give "flexibility" to the minimum wage law in Puerto Rico, he said in part:]
The sole purpose of this amendment is to do away with the 25 cents-per-hour minimum wage in Puerto Rico. If it had been so written in the bill, and the purpose so stated, in my opinion it would have been much more proper, because it would then have directly and frankly stated its purpose rather... [than] accomplishing it in an indirect manner. Just why are these committees proposed? The two main industries that are seeking relief from this 25-cent-minimum are sugar and the needle-trade industry.
Under the leadership of the Governor of Puerto Rico the various sugar corporations and the chiseling industry -- the needlework industry -- that has run away from the States and has gone down to Puerto Rico because of the slave wages that are being paid down there, announced from the outset that they were not going to respect the law, that they were going to ignore it, and the Governor on many, many occasions, not only in speeches but in conferences, advised them not to worry about the law; that the day was not far off when this law would be changed. The Governor, those wage chiselers, and the sugar corporations, joined forces in a successful campaign to nullify a law enacted by Congress. Now, we are asked to put the stamp of approval on this ruthless and arrogant nullification. Almost 70 percent of the sugar land in Puerto Rico is owned by four large American sugar corporations. It has been established by a memorandum which I have before me, prepared by Robert W. Claiborne, who was the Territorial representative of the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor in Puerto Rico, that the sugar industry can pay 25 cents per hour minimum, and that the only reason why it does not pay 25 cents per hour minimum is because the sugar industry has been assured that there would be changes in this law. The sugar industry has been making huge profits in Puerto Rico and still is. Everybody knows that it can pay 25 cents per hour to its workers and should. Mr. Claiborne is in a better position than anyone else to know. He says they can and should. The workers in Puerto Rico know, and demand it. Every scientific survey of the sugar industry in Puerto Rico establishes this. Only certain politicians and lobbyists for the sugar industry will not admit it. I have inquired why this particular provision setting up these committees, giving this flexibility, has been inserted [in the bill], and I have been told that I should have no fear about the sugar industry; that the wages in sugar would absolutely be 25 cents minimum, and that no administrator would ever set up anything less than 25 cents an hour. But the fact is that they are paying less than 25 cents an hour.
If no committee will recommend and no Administrator will fix payment of less than 25 cents an hour, why create committees with this flexibility that may open the door to a recommendation of less than 25 cents an hour? ... Why should this committee be brought into existence to supersede Congress in establishing a minimum? If it is intended by all parties that sugar must pay 25 cents an hour minimum, why have these committees? The answer to that is that they want to give flexibility to the needle trade. They say that the needle trade is very hard hit by this 25 cent minimum provision. First of all, the needletrade industry in Puerto Rico is the most disgraceful situation ever permitted under the American flag. You have down there 15,000 workers who work in factories, needletrade factories, and the factory workers receive all the way from 12 1/2 cents an hour down to as low as 2 cents an hour. In one case -- and I quote from Claiborne's memorandum to me -- a 13 year old child was receiving 25 cents a week.
So much for the factory workers. Let me explain the system they have for home workers; that is, those who work at home. These chiselers from New York, my own home town, the worst type of labor exploiters, who ran away because in New York they had to pay decent wages, because we forced them to clean up their sweatshops and establish decent working conditions, brought their work to Puerto Rico. Then they gave the work to a contractor. Then the contractor gave it to a subcontractor, and the subcontractor gave it to another sub-subcontractor, and it goes all the way down the line through many subcontractors, each of them receiving a profit from the toil of poor women and children. The poor woman at home receives the following pay: She gets as low as 3 to 5 cents a dozen for hand-rolled handkerchiefs of the best type. They retail for $3 a dozen in Macy's in New York. This means they are paid from 8 to 15 cents a day, and no more. It means a total income of about $30 a year.
Now they say to you, "Well, if we enforce the minimum of 25 cents an hour, we are going to ruin this industry."...
That industry has no right to live. It has no right to exist. If it cannot pay better than $30 a year to women and children in Puerto Rico, then we should not permit that industry to live, and most certainly we should not permit that industry to be given any flexibilities under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This industry is dying, anyway. The people who are so horribly exploited by it can be given a new lease on life. First, by our help through the Puerto Rico Reconstruction Administration; second, by an enforcement of the 500-acre law which will make land available to them for farming; and, third, by enforcement of a decent living wage in those industries that can pay it, such as sugar, as well as in 30 percent of the needle trade; that it, work done in factories.
June 19, 1939
(Congressman Marcantonio inserted into the Congressional Record on June 19, 1939, a study of one way in which Puerto Rican children were being unjustly treated in New York City. The study dealt with the unfairly low I.Q. ratings given to Puerto Rican children on the basis of 1.Q. tests, which made very inadequate allowance for their linguistic and other special difficulties as newcomers to New York. Introducing the finding he said:]
Mr. Speaker, a most slanderous attack has recently been made on Puerto Rican children living in New York City. It has been made under the guise of a psychological report. It proves that there is such a thing as racketeering even in the field of psychology. This report is evidence of it. I have had this report investigated, and I hereby submit the findings which constitute the exposé of another fraud at the expense of a racial minority in our country.
August 14, 1939
(In this speech Congressman Marcantonio outlined his charges against Governor Winship's administration, which he described as "Five Years of Tyranny in Puerto Rico." He had presented these charges to President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Ickes several months earlier. As Mr. Marcantonio announced on the floor of the House on August 5, 1939, "Blanton Winship was dismissed by the President of the United States."
The speech Mr. Marcantonio then made has become a classic document in Puerto Rican history. It consists of an introduction and three numbered sections. Substantial excerpts from the introduction and the first section, "Civil Rights and Murder," are given below. The last two sections, which are omitted here for lack of space, are entitled "Misrule Is the Twin Brother of Tyranny" and "Suppression and Distortion of the News of Conditions in Puerto Rico."
The entire speech is contained in the Congressional Record of August 14, 1939. Ex-Governor Blanton Winship, of Puerto Rico, was summarily removed by the President of the United States on May 12, 1939.]
I had filed charges against Mr. Winship with the President during two visits that I had with him, and subsequently, on April 27, 1939, I wrote a letter to the President filing additional charges in support of my request for the removal of Mr. Winship. During my visits at the Executive Office of the President of the United States I informed him of many acts of misfeasance as well as nonfeasance, among which were the tyrannical acts of the Governor in depriving the people of Puerto Rico of their civil rights, the corruption and rackets that existed, and were made possibly only by the indulgence of the Governor, and the extraordinary waste of the people's money .... My written, as well as oral, charges were transmitted by the President to Secretary Ickes, of the Department of the Interior...
The Secretary of the Interior, by code, wired Mr. Blanton Winship to return to the United States. In response to this wire, Mr. Winship came here and visited the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior demanded that Mr. Winship resign. Mr. Winship flatly refused to resign, and stated that inasmuch as he was a Presidential appointee, he would not resign until he had had an opportunity to appeal to the President. After various unsuccessful efforts, Mr. Winship finally saw the President, and pleaded that he be permitted to remain Governor of Puerto Rico on the ground that his resigning while he was under fire might be misinterpreted. What the President told Mr. Winship I do not know. I do know, however, that he made a very unfavorable impression on the President. When Mr. Winship left the White House with the bravado which is characteristic of a swivel-chair general, he invited friends of his and newspapermen to visit him in Puerto Rico in September of 1939, thereby giving the impression that he would remain as Governor.
On May 11, 1939, I took the floor in the House of Representatives, objecting to exempting Puerto Rico from the provisions of the wage and hour amendment, and in that speech I made an attack on Mr. Winship, and revealed that I had made charges against him, and stated specifically that the charges were being investigated by the Department of the Interior at the request of the President of the United States. The following day the President made the announcement that Admiral William D. Leahy would succeed Mr. Winship as Governor of Puerto Rico. Up to and including the time that this terse announcement was made, Mr. Winship had not resigned. Even a school child knows that the announcement of one's successor before one has resigned is tantamount to dismissal. Blanton Winship was dismissed by the President of the United States ....
He devoted all of his time since he was kicked out as Governor to two tasks: First, to that of self-glorification; and second, to further damage the best interests of the people of Puerto Rico.
In the second category, his activities were in keeping with his 5 years of terror in Puerto Rico. He acted the part of a shiny lobbyist, and fought by means fair and foul to have the wage-and-hour law amended so that the sugar companies could continue to pay 121/2 cents an hour instead of 25 cents an hour, and thereby gain $5,000,000 a year; so that the exploiters of labor in Puerto Rico could continue to pay the intolerable wages they have been paying, a wage system which was made possible under his regime; so that the system of abysmal wage slavery could be perpetuated in Puerto Rico. Up to the very closing days of Congress this kicked=out Governor fought to have Puerto Rican workers removed from the protection of the wage-and-hour law. He made a frantic appeal to the Speaker, Hon. William Bankhead, to suspend the rules and recognize someone who would offer the amendment which would have removed Puerto Rico from the provisions of the wage-and-hour law. This was done after he, together with his stooge and personal lobbyist, James J. Lanzetta, had made all efforts and failed to have the Barden and other amendments considered by the House, which not only would have affected the workers of Puerto Rico but would have also exempted 2,000,000 workers in the United States from the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The welfare of 2,000,000 workers in the United States meant nothing to Blanton Winship or his appointee.
The sacrificing of 2,000,000 workers in the States and the sacrificing of labor's welfare in the States, as well as in Puerto Rico, meant nothing to these gentlemen who were hell-bent on doing the bidding of the financial and industrial corporations of Wall Street that have kept the workers of Puerto Rico in the tentacles of imperialism and wage peonage. I take this occasion to praise the patriotism and statesmanship of our Speaker, Hon. William Bankhead, who treated the dismissed and disgraced ex-Governor of Puerto Rico with a flat and patriotic "no." This "no" was given after I had spoken to the Speaker, who had promised me that there would be no suspension of the rules, or the considering of any legislation that would exempt Puerto Rico from the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, at this session of Congress.
In the face of these activities, treacherous and detrimental to the people of Puerto Rico, I felt that I should no longer remain silent. I felt that I should not permit this ex-Governor or his stooges to any longer use the prestige of his office which he so disgraced, to the benefit of the exploiters of the Puerto Rican people. I would be derelict if I did not tear off the cloak of virtue in which this destroyer of liberty, protector of grafters, and exploiter of the people of Puerto Rico had enshrouded himself. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, here is his record:
1. CIVIL RIGHTS AND MURDER
In his 5 years as Governor of Puerto Rico, Mr. Blanton Winship destroyed the last vestige of civil rights in Puerto Rico. Patriots were framed in the very executive mansion and railroaded to prison. Men, women, and children were massacred in the streets of the island simply because they dared to express their opinion or attempted to meet in free assemblage.
Citizens were terrorized. The courts became devoid of any prestige because of the evil influence exerted upon them by politicians who acted with the connivance and consent of Mr. Winship. American workers were persecuted and shot down whenever they sought to exercise their right to strike, or to organize and protest against the abominable wages that were paid to them by Mr. Winship's pals. The insular police was militarized and transformed from an honest police organization to an organization of provocateurs and murderers, such as existed in the darkest days of czaristic Russia ... Nero played the fiddle while Christians were massacred in the days of ancient Rome. Winship drank cocktails and danced in the Governor's palace while the police ruthlessly killed and persecuted Puerto Rican citizens. The following are just a few cases illustrative of Winship's Neroism. Neither time nor space permits me to give a full history, or the list of victims, of which the American people know very little or nothing at all.
On Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937, in Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, the police forces fired with machine guns, rifles, and pistols into a crowd of marching Nationalists. Seventeen were killed, more than 200 wounded. The Nationalists were going to hold a meeting and a parade in Ponce on March 21. The mayor, Tomes, issued a permit. One hour before the time set for the parade, and when the demonstrators were ready to march, the mayor canceled the permit on frivolous grounds. As Winship pointed out in a statement issued after the massacre, the parade was called off by the mayor at the request of Governor Blanton Winship and Police Chief Colonel Orbeta.
Governor Winship went out of San Juan. Colonel Orbeta went to Ponce and concentrated there a heavy police force, among which he included all the machine gunners. For many days the government had been planning action in Ponce.
Chief of Police Guillermo Soldevilla, with 14 policemen, placed himself in front of the paraders; Chief Perez Segarra and Sgt. Rafael Molina, commanding 9 men, armed with Thompson machine guns and tear gas bombs, stood in the back; Chief of Police Antonio Bernardi, heading 11 policemen, armed with machine guns, stood in the east; and another police group of 12 men, armed with rifles, placed itself in the west.
The demonstrators, at the order of their leader, and while La Borinquena, the national song, was being played, began to march. Immediately they were fired upon for 15 minutes by the police from the four flanks. The victims fell down without an opportunity to defend themselves. Even after the street was covered with dead bodies policemen continued firing. More than 200 were wounded; several were killed. Men, women, and children, Nationalists and non-Nationalists, demonstrators, and people passing by, as well as the people who ran away, were shot. They were chased by the police and shot or clubbed at the entrance of the houses. Others were taken from their hiding places and killed. Leopold Tomes, a member of the legislature, told the reporters how a Nationalist was murdered in cold blood by a policeman, after the shooting, in his own arms.
A 7 year old girl, Georgina Maldonado, while running to a nearby church, was shot through the back. A woman, Maria Hernandez, was also killed. Carmen Fernandez, aged 33, was severely wounded. After she fell down a policeman struck her with his rifle, saying, "Take this; be a Nationalist." Marie Hernandez was a member of the Republican Party, and while running away was clubbed twice on her head by a policeman. Dr. Jose N. Gandara, one of the physicians who assisted the wounded, testified that wounded people running away were shot, and that many were again wounded through the back. Don Luis Sanchez Frasquieri, former president of the Rotary Club in Ponce, said that he had witnessed the most horrible slaughter made by police on defenseless youth. No arms were found in the hands of the civilians wounded, nor on the dead ones. About 150 of the demonstrators were arrested immediately afterward, several of them being women. All the Nationalist leaders were also arrested. They were released on bail. More than 15,000, as was reported by El Mundo, a Puerto Rican newspaper, attended the funerals at Ponce, and more than 5,000 at Mayaguez.
The above is not a description of the Ponce events by a Puerto Rican Nationalist. It is ... from a speech of Representative John T. Bernard, of Minnesota, in Congress and appeared in the Congressional Record of April 14, 1937. Does not this bring to mind the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the shooting of Russian peasants by the Czar in 1905? Remembering the events of Easter Week in Dublin, 1916, do not you agree with Jay Franklin, Washington commentator for the Stern papers, that Puerto Rico is the Ireland of the Caribbean?
April 16 is a legal holiday in Puerto Rico. It is the anniversary of the birthday of José de Diego, former speaker of the House of Delegates, noted orator, poet, jurist, and outstanding advocate of independence. Every year the Nationalist Party celebrates a mass, a demonstration, and a meeting in his honor. Wreaths of flowers are deposited on his tomb. Another demonstration and a meeting are held to honor Manuel Rafael Suarez Diaz, a martyr of the cause of independence. Flowers are deposited on his tomb also.
In 1937, a few weeks after the Palm Sunday massacre, the city manager of San Juan, under Winship's pressure, denied permits for these meetings and demonstrations. As was even reported in the New York newspapers, although the ecclesiastical authorities gave authorization to hold the mass on the 16th, the Cathedral was closed, and policemen posted at its doors. The cemeteries were closed and the Puerto Rican people forbidden to go in groups larger than two to deposit flowers on the graves of the patriots. General Winship again mobilized the Regular Army and National Guard, subject to call.
Arthur Garfield Hays, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, went to Puerto Rico and investigated the Palm Sunday massacre, and his conclusion as reported in the report of the American Civil Liberties Union was as follows:
"The facts show that the affair of March 21 in Ponce was a massacre."
Governor Winship tried to cover up this massacre by filing a mendacious report ... However, the photographs that were brought to Secretary Ickes by a committee consisting, among others, of former Congressman Bernard, of Minnesota, and myself, photographs of children shot in the back and of police wantonly firing on unarmed people from four sides, could not be ignored. What did the tyrant do? Instead of ceasing the terror, he continued it; and immediately had arrested the friends of people who had been killed, on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. Two trials were held. The first trial resulted in a mistrial, and in the second trial the defendants were acquitted.
In the meantime the reign of terror continued. While the victims of the Ponce massacre were being tried for murder, the police forces were given a free hand to continue the orgy of murder.
[Here, as well as in the next omission indicated below, (on page 390) Congressman Marcantonio described in detail a number of killings by the police.]
An indignant public opinion forced the Government to convene the grand jury, which ... bitterly assailed the practices of the police and tried to determine the responsibility, if any, of the Governor ... They left the door open for further inquiries. Governor Winship got the law [providing for investigation and indictment of public officers, including the Governor, by a grand jury] repealed soon afterward. So that at the time of the Ponce massacre, denounced in this House by Congressman John T. Bernard on April 14, 1937, in the brilliant and moving speech which appears in the Congressional Record of that date, page 4499, and to which I referred above, the district judges of Ponce denied a petition made by prominent citizens of that community, who represented every sector of public life, when they asked for the convening of a grand jury to investigate the case. As the law now stands, the citizens are helpless when the aggression originates with the top public officials, because the prosecutors are appointed by and are to a great extent responsible to the Governor ....
A frame-up "a la Medici" was something at which Mr. Winship would not stop. Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, a Harvard graduate and leader of the Nationalists, together with several of his followers, were indicted under a post Civil War statute of a conspiracy to insurrect against the Government of the United States. They were framed at the Governor's palace. Mr. Rockwell Kent, famous American artist, describes what took place at a cocktail party in the Governor's palace immediately after the first trial, and I quote from his letter to Senator Henry F. Ashurst, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, dated May 21, 1939:
I was present in San Juan during the progress of the first trial of Albizu Campos for treason, and I was a guest of Governor Winship's at a cocktail party on the terrace of his residence a few hours after the conclusion of that first trial through a disagreement of the jury. The party was a large one and the guests were mainly Americans tourists and residents of San Juan and upper ciass Puerto Ricans. There was naturally a great deal of talk about the trial, and much of this talk centered about Judge Cooper, who had presided. The comments were heatedly pro government; and in my hearing condolences upon the miscarriage of justice were repeatedly voiced to the judge. These were received without rebuke. At that party a Puerto Rican friend of mine introduced me to a Mr. Cecil Snyder as the prosecuting attorney in the Campos case. We three withdrew for conversation to a corner of the terrace. My friend complimented Mr. Snyder upon his brilliant summing up and deplored the jury's failure to bring in a conviction. Mr. Snyder assured him that he had already received a dispatch from Washington telling him to go ahead with a new trial and that the Department of Justice would back him until he did get a conviction.
Mr. Snyder drew a paper from his pocket and handed it to my friend, saying "This is to be my next jury. What do you think of them?" I recall that my friend was familiar with the name and position of all but one of those listed, and that he assured Mr. Snyder that they could be counted upon for a conviction. This appeared to agree with Mr. Snyder's own knowledge. The jury of the second trial of Albizu Campos contained several men whose connections were identical with those in the list submitted to my friend by Mr. Snyder. How the prosecuting attorney could determine in advance who would compose his next jury, I don't know. I do state as fact that Mr. Snyder said, "This is to be my next jury." I have subsequently given this information all possible publicity. The defense counsel at the Ponce trials asked me to come to Ponce to testify to what I knew about Federal prejudice. I was accompanied on the plane by the Federal marshal of San Juan. He spent literally hours of the trip attempting to persuade me not to go to Ponce, not even to leave the plane at San Juan. He urged me to put myself under his protection, to stay with him at the Condado Hotel, to meet his friends, who, he said, were the people I ought to know in Puerto Rico, and to avoid association with friends of the defendants. He warned me that my life would be in danger from the moment I set foot in Puerto Rico. From the moment of my arrival in Puerto Rico I was viciously attacked in the government-controlled evening paper. Before my appearance on the witness stand, it was published that Cecil Snyder and the prosecuting attorney of Ponce, after a session together of some hours the night before, had agreed that I should not be permitted to testify. It was rumored in Puerto Rico that if I did testify, I would be immediately arrested.
A suggestion as to the origin of these rumors is contained in a statement attributed to Cecil Snyder and published in a recent issue of Ken. I was not permitted to testify, although the entire matter of my testimony was put into the record by the defense counsel. You will recall that the Ponce trials resulted in the acquittal of all the defendants. As a result of these experiences my own feeling is, naturally enough, one of serious distrust of Federal Law enforcement in Puerto Rico.
The trial took place, and by a prejudiced jury, by jurors who had expressed publicly bias and hatred for the defendants, Campos and his colleagues were railroaded to jail. Mr. Speaker, these innocent men languish in Atlanta Penitentiary today because they were convicted by a fixed jury, a jury representing the economic interests of Wall Street in Puerto Rico. They did the bidding of Blanton Winship. An idea of what took place in the jury room is contained in the following letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Elmer Ellsworth, one of the jurors who convicted Campos:
[The letter, written in support of a petition for clemency, concludes]
I cannot refrain from saying that my associates on the jury seemed to be motivated by strong, if not violent, prejudice against the Nationalists and were prepared to convict them, regardless of the evidence. Ten of the jurors were American residents in Puerto Rico and the two Puerto Ricans were closely associated with American business interests. It was evident from the composition of the jury that the Nationalists did not and could not get a fair trial.
Very sincerely yours,
This frame-up is one of the blackest pages in the history of American jurisprudence. The continuance of this incarceration is repugnant to our democratic form of government; it is repugnant to our Bill of Rights and out of harmony with our good-neighbor policy. There is no place in America for political prisoners. As long as Puerto Rico remains part of the United States, Puerto Rico must have the same freedom, the same civil liberties, and the same justice which our forefathers laid down for us. Only a complete and immediate unconditional pardon will, in a very small measure, right this historical wrong.
When we ask ourselves, "Can it happen here?" the Puerto Rican people can answer, "It has happened in Puerto Rico."
May 22, 1940
[Appealing against a 50% cut in a relief appropriation for Puerto Rico, Congressman Marcantonio, on May 22, 1940, stressed one major cause of Puerto Rican unemployment, saying:]
If you want to get an idea of how we have expropriated Puerto Rico, go to a store on one of the hillsides of Puerto Rico in one of the small towns, and what do you find there? The only thing you find that is native is a bunch of bananas. All else on the shelves are products which come from New York and the various other cities of the United States. Our tariff forces them to buy from us at fancy prices. Puerto Rico is the No. 1 purchaser from the United States today. It did go down to the No. 2 position, and it has come back to No. 1.
Whenever Puerto Ricans make an attempt at establishing an industry it is destroyed by dumping from the States. Our ruthless imperialism has strangled the economic life of that country, and yet we here refuse to adequately provide for the victims of a system imposed by us, which causes slow starvation to hundreds of thousands of people in Puerto Rico. We have no right to call ourselves an enlightened people until we at least give adequate relief to the people of Puerto Rico. History will condemn us for this cruel and inhuman treatment of a good people .... (Applause.)
July 17, 1942
[When in 1942 a bill was introduced giving the people of Puerto Rico the right to elect their own Governor, Congressman Marcantonio said that this would be "only an improvement within the structure of colonialism." In a speech to the House on July 17, 1942 he made another plea for the full independence of Puerto Rico.]
The proposed plan ... to grant the people of Puerto Rico the right to elect their own Governor, must be accepted in its true character. It is an improvement within the colonial structure. But it must be accepted only as an improvement within the structure of colonialism. It is not an improvement of the colonial status.
The plan can be accepted by the people of Puerto Rico and Latin America, and by the people of the United States, as a decoration on the facade of the building of colonialism, whose beams are rotten and whose foundations are crumbling.
Further, such a move will in no way solve the question which is agitating the mind of every Puerto Rican and of the 100,000,000 people of the 20 Latin American republics -- the problem of the political status of Puerto Rico. To these people it will represent merely an artifice and a subterfuge at a time when honest dealing with our friends and neighbors is essential to winning the war against the Axis.
What the people of Puerto Rico want, and have a right to demand, what the people of all Latin America look to from the United States, is the immediate unconditional freedom of Puerto Rico.
During the first World War, President Woodrow Wilson brought about the granting of United States citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico. This concession raised high the national hopes and aspirations of the Puerto Rican people. But nothing came of it, and it was soon evident that this was also merely an improvement within the colonial structure. It was not an improvement over colonialism. Time and events, have demonstrated that this proved to be no solution to the problem of the political status of Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico today is the key to Western Hemisphere solidarity. So long as the question of its political status remains unsolved, so long as we adhere to outworn policies of colonialism, so long as we seek by artifice and subterfuge to hide the real answer which is the complete freedom of Puerto Rico, just so long will this problem remain a deterrent to Western Hemisphere unity against the Axis Powers and to pan-Americanism.
What is Puerto Rico? It is an island nation in the Caribbean, with a population of close to 2,000,000 Latin Americans. It is a colonial possession of the United States. It is one of the nations of Latin America, and the last one to retain its complete colonial status. And it is the United States, not Spain or any other non-American power, which has insisted upon continuing the status of Puerto Rico as a subject nation.
In the Bolivarean era, Puerto Rico and Cuba were closely linked in the fight for independence from Spain. Following the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States permitted Cuba to become free. But it took possession of Puerto Rico ... The economy of the island was shattered by American capital. It was reduced to a monoculture, a sugar colony of the United States. With deliberation, it was made dependent upon the United States to the extent that even vegetable gardens, competing with expensive long-hauled American produce, were looked upon askance ... Its main industry is sugar, and 70 percent of the arable land is owned by four large Wall Street corporations. Even articles of food grown on the island must be shipped to the United States, processed, profits and expenses of the shipping monopoly added, before they can be consumed by the people who grew them -- and who labor for $1 a day or less.
The people of Puerto Rico have attempted to remedy this situation by enforcement of the 500-acre law [that no one owner may possess more than 500 acres of land], which is being sabotaged by reactionary interests both in the States and on the island.
For no other crime than advocating the independence of the island, many Puerto Ricans have been sent to the penitentiaries of the United States. The leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Don Pedro Albizu Campos, is still in Atlanta, serving a 10-year sentence on such a charge. The island has had many Governors, most of them known for their ruthlessness. Nineteen hundred and thirty-five through 1939, when the island was ruled by Governor Blanton Winship, is known there as the period of tyranny. The Courts of Puerto Rico have been ruled by lynch judges imported from the States, administering kangaroo lynch justice. The chief Federal judge, Cooper, has become known to the Latin-American people as Bloody Judge Jeffries of the Western Hemisphere.
Little is known of these facts by the people of the United States. If they were known the American people, who do not love imperialism, would long ago have demanded that the feudal subjugation of Puerto Rico, in their name, be ended once and for all.
To the people of Latin America, whom it is so necessary that we draw into bonds of brotherhood with us in our fight against the Axis, these facts are only too well known. So long as Puerto Rico is not free, they wonder: "If the United States wants Puerto Rico for a colony, what are its true intentions toward the other 100,000,000 Latin American peoples and their republics? Can we trust the United States in partnership?"
It is clear, therefore, that to us in the United States, to our Government, and to the United Nations, the question of Puerto Rican freedom becomes a key question and one which cannot be answered by mere embellishments such as those now proposed in Washington ...
November 12, 1942
[World War II brought special hardship to the island of Puerto Rico, largely because United States shipping laws prevented its getting normal food imports from the U.S.A. These laws granted a monopoly to United States ships in the island trade. On November 12, 1942, Congressman Marcantonio proposed the amendment of these laws, as well as other measures to relieve hunger in Puerto Rico.]
... Puerto Rico finds itself today in a plight which in some respects is worse than the plight of some of the conquered nations. The war has brought about an economic situation in Puerto Rico which is the most pitiable that we have witnessed in its entire history. Prior to the war Puerto Rico was receiving monthly over 100,000 tons of shipments. Today, after frantic appeals to our Shipping Board, less than 30,000 tons of foodstuffs are reaching Puerto Rico each month.
... On the docks in New Orleans there are tons and tons of rice. I have before me a report of October 24, by Mr. Paul Edwards, administrator of W.P.A. in Puerto Rico, in which it is stated that in Puerto Rico there is practically no rice. The normal consumption of rice in Puerto Rico is about 18,000,000 pounds per month. Prices have gone sky high.
So you have today in Puerto Rico a most serious food shortage and, literally speaking, thousands and thousands of families in Puerto Rico are facing starvation. Even such articles as soap and matches are practically non-existent in Puerto Rico today. Besides the food shortage you have such prices as place whatever food supply there is on, or may reach, the island of Puerto Rico beyond ... the purchasing power of the people of Puerto Rico .
... The primary immediate problem is that of getting food supplies down there, the problem of shipping. We all know there is a shortage of ships; every available ship is needed for war purposes; but I believe that in an emergency where people face starvation exceptions should be made. For instance, if the people on the Rock of Gibraltar were faced with a similar situation, I am certain that Parliament or the British Prime Minister would not hesitate a moment to take over ships and rush foodstuffs to Gibraltar to prevent what exists in Puerto Rico -- food shortage, starvation, and widespread unemployment. This most deplorable and tragic situation in Puerto Rico requires a positive order directing the allocation of ships sufficient to rush needed foodstuffs, seeds, fertilizers, and medicines so urgently required down there.
Secondly, we have got to control prices in Puerto Rico. As I understand it, O.P.A., in fixing a spread and in taking into consideration the cost of transportation and the price which has to be paid for the foodstuffs purchased in the States for Puerto Rico, cannot bring prices within the reach of the average consumer in Puerto Rico. We must resort to subsidies. The Department of the Interior has a fund of $15,000,000 for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Alaska, but the fund is being used scarcely at all for this purpose. The very first thing that is required is to direct the Agricultural Marketing Administration and the Department of the Interior to use the funds they have for the purpose of subsidizing, so as to bring the prices down to a level within reach of the people of Puerto Rico.
Thus, we must first get the food there; second, we must get the prices down by subsidy and 0. P. A. regulation; and third, these people must have money with which to buy -- and they have none.
Now, if I may come back to the question of ships.
Puerto Rico comes under our coastwise shipping laws. Cuba has ships, according to the information I have; Santa Domingo has 5 ships and is building more. I believe ships can be made available from some of the South American countries. Under our coastwise shipping laws they cannot sail down our coast and bring foodstuffs to Puerto Rico and cargo back from Puerto Rico. So that what is necessary, for the period of the emergency at least, is this: The coastwise shipping laws must be suspended so as to permit the carrying of foodstuffs down to Puerto Rico. The present system of permits, providing for the picking up in Puerto Rico of suitable cargoes, is cumbersome and does not meet the time element of the crisis. Only a blanket lifting of the coastwise shipping laws, so that ships of other nations may drop and pick up any cargo in [and for] Puerto Rico, to and from the United States, will be of some help.
Mr. Robsion [Kentucky]: Do they have products down there ready for shipment?
Mr. Marcantonio: Yes.
Mr. Robsion: I wish the gentleman would tell us something about that.
Mr. Marcantonio: The warehouses of Puerto Rico have tons and tons of sugar on hand, and there is plenty of rum. In fact, Puerto Rico's main tax revenue is from rum. If they could get the ships down there to bring food supplies to the island, these ships could bring back rum and they could bring back sugar.
Mr. Robsion: What about cotton?
Mr. Marcantonio: There is no cotton to speak of down in Puerto Rico.
Mr. Robsion: How about fruits?
Mr. Marcantonio: Yes. They have pineapples and other fruits rotting in the field because they cannot be shipped. Incidentally, the development of a pineapple cannery in Puerto Rico would help cut down United States appropriations for Puerto Rico. Development of fisheries would be a substantial factor. There is also some coffee down in Puerto Rico which, incidentally, is the best coffee in the world. Tobacco was at one time very important in the list of Puerto Rico's exports.
Mr. Robsion: If they could get their coffee, sugar, and fruits away from there to other countries, then they will have some money and we would not have to subsidize them?
Mr. Marcantonio: That is true only to a limited extent. Puerto Rico must have ships, price subsidies, and funds for a large work-relief program, for the development of native industries and for a land program of subsistence crops.
Mr. Robsion: I mean, if they had ships.
Mr. Marcantonio: Because of the gravity of the situation as it has developed, even if they had the ships we have got to subsidize these prices to bring them down. We have got to implement the funds of the Department of the Interior and other Government agencies to bring prices down within the reach of the purchasing power of the people of Puerto Rico. The island itself is doing its utmost. The other day the Legislature of Puerto Rico adjourned after having appropriated $10,000,000 to deal with their unemployed, to give them some purchasing power. It passed one of the steepest revenue bills in the history of the island. It adopted a Victory tax and it also provided that 70 percent of the revenue which is to be collected from taxation on rum, is to go toward assisting the unemployed in Puerto Rico. But we know, the President knows, and every person who is familiar with the problem of Puerto Rico knows... that as of September they had 240,000 unemployed, and it is estimated as of last week that the figure has reached 325,000. You must come to the conclusion that they certainly do need funds, which must come from us.
Puerto Rico's plight is not the fault of the Puerto Rican people. We are responsible for it, and we must accept our responsibility as a true democratic people. I do not like the use of the term "work relief," but I do not see what else you can give them at this time but work relief as an emergency measure by direct appropriation by the Congress of the United States. If Congress fails to do so, or until Congress acts, then I think, as a necessary war measure because of the vital military position of Puerto Rico to us, the President should exercise his power under the lend-lease war powers to use lend-lease funds to alleviate the suffering which now exists on the Gibraltar of the Caribbean. It is my most considered judgment that a minimum of $50,000,000 is needed for immediate food relief, price subsidies, and for a land program for subsistence crops.
Mr. Fulmer: Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. Marcantonio: I yield to the gentleman from South Carolina.
Mr. Fulmer: The gentleman has been giving a really interesting picture of the situation in Puerto Rico. As I understand it, they have tons and tons of products that could be sent into this country if they had the ships to move those products?
Mr. Marcantonio: Yes.
Mr. Fulmer: In the meantime, instead of doing something about that, I understand that we are shipping into Puerto Rico some of the same products that they have down there for exportation, to take care of our Army and our armed forces. Therefore, if some plan could be worked out to bring into this country their major product, sugar, which we are rationing in this country, and let the products of that country be furnished to our servicemen instead of shipping our own products down there, it would tend to relieve the situation?
Mr. Marcantonio: I think it would help relieve the situation to some degree, but it would not solve the problem. Further, we have never permitted Puerto Rico to develop its own refineries and other essential industries.
Mr. Fulmer: A contributing cause to the unemployment problem down there is the fact that they are unable to get rid of what they have already produced and cannot go ahead and produce more?
Mr. Marcantonio: Yes; only one contributing cause. There are other causes; the most decisive is colonialism; but I do not want to enter into any controversy at this time when I am pleading for relief from starvation. I simply point out that the war has brought sharply to the attention of the world, particularly to the Puerto Rican and his 100,000,000 Latin-American brothers, the dismal failure of the policy of colonialism in Puerto Rico.
Mr. Fulmer: The shipping in and out of that country under some program and putting the people to work down there, or else giving them work somewhere else where they are needed, are two important things?
Mr. Marcantonio: I think the gentleman has offered some very valuable suggestions. Our War and Navy Departments have not availed themselves of the opportunity to make direct purchases in Puerto Rico. May I say that I tried to get the War Department to purchase Puerto Rico coffee for the armed forces.
There is no question in my mind but what the armed forces could use some of the products that Puerto Rico now has on hand or else are rotting in the fields or kept in the warehouses. Some time ago, I placed in the RECORD copies of correspondence between me and Government departments in which I implored them to make direct purchases in Puerto Rico.
What are we going to do about it? What are our Latin-American brothers and cousins going to think of us? Are we going to permit Puerto Rico to be really the Gibraltar of the Caribbean, or permit Puerto Rico to continue to be an Ireland for us, or shall it become a Singapore and a Burma? That is the real question. I submit that in the interest of winning the war either Congress or the President or both must act boldly and must act immediately.
November 12, 1942
[Congressman Marcantonio had often urged that the Puerto Rican people's desire for the use of Spanish in their schools be granted. In the following letter he discussed the reasons for such a change. Spanish was subsequently reestablished as the first language in the schools of Puerto Rico.]
Mr. Speaker, under leave to extend my remarks, I include here a letter I personally gave to the President this morning at an interview during which I also pleaded for the independence of Puerto Rico:
May 22, 1946
Hon Harry S. Truman
President of the United States,
The White House, Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. President: I hereby respectfully urge the approval of Senate Bill 51 passed by the Legislature of Puerto Rico at its last session, over the veto of the Governor of the Island, providing for the use of the Spanish language as the means of instruction in the public schools of Puerto Rico.
Spanish is the vernacular language of the 2,100,000 inhabitants of Puerto Rico. They possess a rich literature of their own, and Spanish is their intellectual vehicle of expression. They have made substantial contributions to the literature of Spain and Spanish-America. In Puerto Rico, Spanish is the language of the home, the courts, the legislature, the churches, the government offices, and everyday life. Nevertheless, and contrary to established pedagogical principles, teaching is conducted in English in the public schools of the island.
By so doing, the fundamental educational principle that instruction should be transmitted in the vernacular language of the students has been violated.
The language question has been a burning issue in Puerto Rico ever since the occupation of the island by the United States forces in 1898. At the time of the invasion, our soldiers found in Puerto Rico a Spanish-speaking community of nearly 1,000,000 people, endowed with a common Spanish heritage and homogeneous in character as far as language, customs, and traditions are concerned, more so than a large number of the old Spanish provinces. Spanish was, of course, at that time the means of instruction in all levels of education. Foreign languages were taught as special subjects at the Provincial Institute and in some of the then existing private secondary schools.
Let me say right now that the situation was quite different from the one prevailing in the Philippine Islands. These had 87 dialects, none of which was spoken by even one-tenth of the population. On the other hand, as I have heretofore said, Puerto Ricans had a common language, spoken by 100 percent of the population, perfectly suitable as a means of social intercourse, not only among the inhabitants of the island but between these and the inhabitants of Spain and all the Latin-American Republics, with the exception of Brazil and Haiti. Puerto Rico had its own literature and also the rich heritage of the literature of all Spanish-speaking countries.
Since 1898 to date, Puerto Rico has unfortunately been taken as a field of experimentation in the language realm.
The result has been confusion, misuse of the monies appropriated for education, suffering on the part of the student, excessive time given to language study, and inability to master either Spanish or the English language.
But these policies of confusion have not been pursued without the utmost protest on the part of the Puerto Rican people. Every civic association, including the powerful and influential Puerto Rico Teachers' Association, have repudiated the prevailing language educational policies and have advocated the teaching in Spanish in all levels of education.
May I add that the problem here involved is a pedagogical, and not a political one, and that it should be solved according to the historic experience of all peoples throughout the world, that is, by the use of the vernacular. There are very few exceptions the world over to the established practice of teaching in the vernacular. The only exceptions known to me are to be found in Egypt and in the African French Colonies. In Egypt, an effort is being made to popularize the classical Arabic language, and it is used in place of the vernacular. France insists on the use of the French language in her colonial schools, yet this policy is now being changed.
The use of a foreign language as the means of instruction is justified only in cases like that of the Philippines, or when the vernacular cannot be used as an effective means of social communication.
Law 51 passed by the Legislature of Puerto Rico over the veto of the Governor, and which provides for the use of Spanish as the means of instruction in the public schools of the island, is now before you for consideration.
In the name of the children of Puerto Rico who are being tortured by the prevailing system; in the name of the people of Puerto Rico, who have spoken through their elected representatives and their civic and professional organizations, and in the name of an enlightened educational policy at a time when we are trying to fight cultural chauvinism and to correct past errors, I respectfully urge you, Mr. President, to sign the above-mentioned bill of the Puerto Rican Legislature.
June 16, 1947
[On June 16, 1947, when a bill was again introduced (see page 394) permitting the people of Puerto Rico to elect their Governor, Congressman Marcantonio, while not objecting to this legislation, analyzed its "diversionary nature" and reiterated his demand for full Puerto Rican sovereignty.]
Mr. Speaker, I did not object to the present consideration of this bill, because it is of small value to the people of Puerto Rico and utterly meaningless. I do, however, want to expose its empty and illusory character. It will be utilized by imperialist elements in the United States, and by opportunists in Puerto Rico, as a means by which to evade and postpone the determination of the basic issue the status of Puerto Rico. This bill is not a reform in any real sense. The mere election of a Governor of Puerto Rico does not grant to the people of Puerto Rico any sovereignty. It merely adds an embellishing facade on an ugly and rotten colonial structure.
This Puerto Rican question, the question of the political status of that island, has been talked about in this Congress for many years. Last year the President of the United States made a recommendation to Congress requesting that Congress act on the proposal of submitting to the people of Puerto Rico four propositions: The question of independence, the question of present status, the question of statehood, and the question of commonwealth. The President also stated that before submitting any of these questions to the people of Puerto Rico for a choice, Congress should first state in advance which status Congress would be willing to give. He advised us that it would be unfair to present to the people of Puerto Rico certain propositions, and then have Congress refuse to grant them that which they had chosen. I took the position then, and reiterate it now, that the only just and realistic referendum that can be submitted is one granting the choice between independence and colonial status.
The President's recommendation was presented to Congress; a bill was introduced in both Houses; hearings were held; but nothing has happened. Now we have this bill. Let no one be deceived. It is offered for the sole purpose of bypassing the issue raised in the President's recommendations. It is offered to avoid granting self-determination to the people of Puerto Rico.
This bill leaves Puerto Rico just where it has been: Subject to the shipping monopolies, subject to the tariff, subject to colonial exploitation, subject to the colonial regime that has been taking the lifeblood out of the people of Puerto Rico.
The people of Puerto Rico want an opportunity to determine for themselves their status in this world. It seems to me that at a time when we speak so much of self-determination and freedom for peoples throughout the world, that we are holding ourselves up for severe condemnation before the people of the world when we refuse to grant to the people of Puerto Rico the right to choose for themselves their own form of government.
The people of Puerto Rico have been deprived of their freedom. Today they are clamoring for it and all we do is to give them this bill, this exhibition of hypocrisy which, again I say, will be used for one purpose and one purpose alone: that is, to evade our responsibility at this time to grant to the people of Puerto Rico the right to self-determination.
I have not objected to the consideration of the bill ... [although] I recognize it as an empty gesture. It is not even a realistic reform within the colonial system, but I do not want to deprive the people of Puerto Rico of even this gesture after we have deprived them of so much and so often. Mr. Speaker, we must not permit this bill to be used as a device by which we can escape our responsibility of granting freedom to a people who have a desire for freedom as strong as ours, a tradition for freedom as great as ours, a culture as old as ours, a right to be free which this bill, this gesture, must not negate. We must act on the question of Puerto Rico's status now. The people of Puerto Rico, I sincerely believe, want independence -- a free Puerto Rico. I am confident that the American people agree with them. Let Congress therefore not evade or postpone. Congress must keep faith with both the people of Puerto Rico and of the United States by granting to Puerto Rico its freedom now.
December 18, 1947
[In the fall of 1947 several newspapers and magazines published articles "about the alleged problem of Puerto Rican migration." The following radio speech, which Congressman Marcantonio gave over WJZ, was one of many talks he made in reply to such articles. He introduced it into the Congressional Record of December 18, 1947.]
The newspapers and magazines of Nationwide circulation have printed a great deal about the alleged problem of Puerto Rican migration. Instead of giving you the facts you have been given a distorted picture. The truth has been concealed and a certain section of the responsible press has joined with the irresponsible press in a campaign of vilification.
The stories on Puerto Rican migration is some more evidence that the press of our nation is as free as its few owners permit it to be. Our much vaunted freedom of the press is in reality freedom for those who own the press to do and say what they please, and to refuse to permit the same space to those whom they unjustly attack. The recent attacks on the Puerto Rican people once again proves that there is no freedom of the press for the people. Freedom of the press exists only for the owners, and hence freedom so restricted becomes a ruthless tyranny. Now I know that people of Puerto Rican origin have attempted to tell their side. Have you seen their side printed anywhere? I haven't -- and 1 have followed the subject very closely. Consequently, being unable to have the truth presented to the American people through the press, I have had to resort to these few minutes on the radio to tell you what the press has not told you.
The press has not told you that Puerto Ricans are American citizens by an Act of Congress adopted in 1917; and that they have a perfect right to come to New York City to live, to work and to be treated with absolute equality. They have as much right to come to New York as a citizen of New Jersey has the right to come to New York.
The press has not told you that the island of Puerto Rico, consisting of 3500 square miles, is a colony, and that the two million people who live on that island have been treated as colonials since the United States took possession of Puerto Rico in 1898.
The press has not told you that Puerto Rico in 1898 had an agriculture of its own that afforded its people a fairly decent standard of living. Today 70 percent of the good land in Puerto Rico is owned by 4 large sugar corporations whose headquarters are in the City of New York. In 1898 there were over 60,000 land owners in Puerto Rico. Today there are not quite 5,000 land owners in Puerto Rico. The owners of the 70 percent of the good land are absentee corporations, who have been taking out of Puerto Rico millions and millions of dollars annually in profit. Worse than that, they have turned Puerto Rico into a one crop, cash crop, diabetic economy. Because of their ownership of the land, Puerto Rico cannot have a diversified crop and raise food for its people. The result is that the entire economy of Puerto Rico is based on the production of sugar. This means that the people are employed only during 3 months of the year, the harvest season on the sugar plantations. The pay during these 3 months amounts to $18 a week. When the harvest season is over there is nothing to do, so that the Puerto Rican is forced to live on an income of about $300 a year.
Now, you may say, why doesn't the Puerto Rican get a job in industry after and before the harvest period. Again, the press has not told you that Puerto Rico has been unable to develop any industries. Why? Again, the press has not told you that whenever attempts to build an industry are made by the Puerto Ricans, industries up here go down there and dump at cut-throat prices. For example, some time ago the Puerto Ricans attempted to establish a soap factory. One of our soap concerns brought soap down to Puerto Rico and sold it at four cents a cake. The Puerto Ricans could not stand this competition. The factory closed down and its workers became unemployed. Now that same U.S. soap concern sells the same bar of soap at ten cents a cake. This has happened time and time again. Is it any wonder that the Puerto Rican cannot find work in his native land? Is it any wonder that he and his children are underfed, and that their main diet is dried codfish, beans and rice? Not even half the families use milk, and those that do get less than a half pint per person. The life of most Puerto Ricans is that of a marginal existence for 3 months of the year, and unemployment for the balance of the year. All this, the press, of course, has never told you.
Now let us see what happens to the Puerto Rican as a consumer. You think prices are high in New York. You and I know that they have reached an all time peak. However, the press has not told you that in Puerto Rico the people have to pay 30 percent more for anything that we purchase in New York. Why? Because Puerto Rico must buy from the United States. Congress passed laws which place Puerto Rico within our tariff laws. This prevents Puerto Rico from purchasing from other countries at cheaper prices, so that the Puerto Rican, receiving no benefits from our tariff, has to carry the load of 30 percent more than we have to pay. The press has not told you that Puerto Rico has been placed under the coastwise shipping law. This means that only United States ships can carry goods to Puerto Rico from any port in the United States. The result is that Puerto Rico has been subjected to a shipping monopoly adding to the cost of existence of two million Puerto Ricans.
Now you see that the plight of the Puerto Rican is caused by selfish monopolies in the United States. The Puerto Rican is subjected to unemployment, abnormally high cost of living, and a one crop agriculture making it impossible for him to raise his own food. All this is not the fault of Puerto Rico or the Puerto Ricans. It is not caused by Puerto Rico or the Puerto Ricans. Why doesn't the government of Puerto Rico do something about it? Why don't the people of Puerto Rico pass laws to protect their industries against dumping? Why doesn't the government of Puerto Rico use ships of other nations to break the monopoly? Why doesn't the government of Puerto Rico pass a law to exempt it from the tariff act, so that it may purchase cheaply from other countries? You have a right to ask these questions, because the press has not told you why. The press has not told you that Puerto Rico has no sovereignty. It has no power to make any laws with respect to tariff; to protect its own industries; against shipping monopolies; and it cannot for all practical purposes enforce any laws that will liberate it from the tyranny of its present one crop agriculture. It cannot legislate over basic questions of life and death. It is subjected to the will of the Congress of the United States and to the veto of the President. The Supreme Court in describing the status of Puerto Rico has stated that Puerto Rico is a territory of, but not part of, the United States. Puerto Rico's economic plight, which is the main cause of the migration to the United States, cannot be resolved until Puerto Rico is granted sovereignty. Puerto Rico can never have the sovereignty that it needs to resolve her economic problems caused by selfish interests in the United States, mind you, until Puerto Rico is given her full independence. It has been stated that Puerto Rico would starve if given independence. I can hardly conceive how it can starve any worse than now. What is more, only with independence and a favorable reciprocal trade treaty, which we have given to other countries, can Puerto Rico protect its own industries against dumping, protect its people against the tariff, and develop an economy which will produce food for the people of Puerto Rico. This again, the press has not told you. And why? The truth would expose what a cruel Wall Street imperialism has caused in Puerto Rico. It would expose that while Puerto Ricans are unemployed, while its industries are destroyed, and while Puerto Ricans have to pay 30 percent more for their food than you and I do, that one share of a sugar corporation stock paid $6 as a dividend last year and $7.35 this year. This, of course, the press has not told you. The campaign of vilification against the people of Puerto Rico has two purposes.
1. To conceal who is responsible for the conditions in Puerto Rico.
2. By vilification, cause discrimination against the three hundred some odd thousand Puerto Ricans in the City of New York, and thereby force them into a condition of second class citizenship, and force them into a cheap labor market. I have the proof. The articles in the press have caused me to receive a great number of letters from people throughout the country offering Puerto Ricans work. What is the kind of work they offer? Domestics, servants, represents ninety-seven percent of the offers I have received.
This is the old, old story. The same campaign against the Puerto Ricans was carried on against the Irish when they first came here, the Jews, Poles and Italians. It is always the game of those whose only interest in our nation is profit and more profit, to force the newly arrived into a cheap labor market.
Puerto Ricans in the City of New York live in slums. That is true. Does any one want to live in slums? The answer to slums is not vilification of the Puerto Ricans, but a genuine slum clearance program, and the enactment of a National Housing program for everyone including our Puerto Rican citizens. The Puerto Ricans are being subjected to discrimination. The answer is not vilification and more discrimination. In our democracy, the answer is the enactment of the Fair Employment Practices Act. Puerto Ricans are the last hired and the first to be fired. Is this the only answer that our democracy can give to these newly arrived?
June 19, 1948
[On June 19, 1948, Congressman Marcantonio said, "the so-called New Deal Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico has moved steadily away from its original program and swung further and further to the right side of big business." He showed how this was affecting civil liberties and academic freedom in Puerto Rico.]
Mr. Speaker, the island of Puerto Rico is small, its population is great, and the working people lead a life of poverty and privation which is not duplicated in any other part of the United States. And because that is so, and because the politicians now in power are trying to ape the reactionary leaders on the mainland, this United States possession has recently produced the most outrageous spectacles of violence against workers and students; the most unrestrained of anti-democratic demonstrations have taken place in Puerto Rico.
We in Congress, in looking at Puerto Rico, can see the hysteria, the terror, and intimidation spreading like wildfire. And what is happening there will certainly take place in our own cities and towns if our reactionaries and witch hunters have their way.
In all of this the rough hand of certain misguided Puerto Rican political leaders cloaks the direction that comes from the American financial and sugar interests on the mainland. For it is these groups who are attempting to make Puerto Rico into a "paradise" for American businessmen; and a purgatory for the poor people of that island.
A recent item in the New York Herald Tribune -- June 10, 1948 -- described Puerto Rico as "the last frontier of free enterprise, where business has a better run for its money than on the prosperous mainland."
The story goes on to quote an industrialist as saying:
"You can practically write your own ticket. They'll build you a modern factory. Plenty of labor at half the scale back home; hydroelectric power; government cooperation; and no taxes for 12 years."
Behind this pleasant picture and an essential part of it has been the manner in which the so-called New Deal Popular Democratic Party has moved steadily away from its original program and swung further and further to the right side of big business. . . Senator Munoz-Marin, head of the Popular Democratic Party, has replaced the old theme of "state enterprise for the people" with the slogan of "private enterprise for profit."
The recent political crises reflect the strains of imposing such a callous program on a people crying desperately for social and economic reforms along the lines of our own New Deal; greater security for the poor and aged, wage increases, housing, medical care, and the eventual establishment of a balanced and stable economy.
Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, head of the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico, has recently returned to Puerto Rico. He has spent 11 years in exile and imprisonment. He has been Puerto Rico's No. 1 victim of Wall Street imperialism. The antidemocratic outbursts have become intensified since Campos returned to Puerto Rico.
Early in April of this year Campos was invited to speak at the University of Puerto Rico. The university officials denied him a meeting place and as students have always in the past -- the students of the University of Puerto Rico protested this denial of academic freedom and free speech.
From such a seemingly innocuous incident there developed violence, arrests, and the eventual closing down of the university itself.
The one-day student strike on April 13 was described as an outbreak of violence by the university rector. He immediately closed the university grounds to the students; and the police, armed with clubs and guns, were called upon to enforce this ruling.
Although some weak-kneed political figures forgetting their own past and their own promises backed the rector in this action, the students, prominent faculty members, and leaders of Puerto Rico from every walk of life, unanimously condemned the police interference and the decision to close the university.
Many students were jailed. Protest meetings were broken up by police clubs and tear gas. Students were expelled from the university in wholesale lots. Even faculty members who expressed sympathy with the students were dismissed from their positions.
On May 7 the shutdown of the university was made permanent and the 1948 commencement exercises were never held.
What is really behind this action on the part of the university authorities?
In Puerto Rico the students have always participated actively in politics. From their ranks have come many of the island's political leaders. And this crackdown is not merely an isolated student escapade. It is in reality a blow at a substantial part of the progressive movement in Puerto Rico.
It is the result of fear and hysteria on the part of the present political leaders. Little men who are bent on establishing a paradise of free private enterprise are ruthlessly suppressing the student movement and every other progressive force in Puerto Rico ...
Part and parcel of the situation in the university, and reflecting the crackdown on all civil rights in Puerto Rico, was the passage on May 22 of three bills designed "to control all activities aiming at destroying the insular government, and so forth." The Mundt-Nixon technique has its counterpart in the three laws, H. R. 23, 24, and 25. The laws were rushed through the Puerto Rican Legislature at 5:30 on the morning of May 22.
It is interesting to notice that these legislative monstrosities cloaked in the hysteria which we in this House have recently experienced were introduced shortly after the recent visit of President Truman to Puerto Rico. In the President's party was Admiral Leahy, former Governor of Puerto Rico, and still a shadowy background figure in the political life of the islands.
I have learned on unimpeachable authority that these gag laws in their original version came to Puerto Rico in English. An import from the mainland. And they were translated into Spanish and then passed through the legislature.
The insular government was ordered to pass these laws to get at any individual or group refusing to fall in line behind the program acceptable to the mainland masters.
The gag laws specifically vest the district Courts with jurisdiction, and explicitly provide for trial by the court without jury.
Like the infamous Mundt-Nixon bill, H. R. 24, in defining a felony under the acts, enumerates the illegal actions and concludes that these are proscribed, as well as organizations formed to accomplish these ends or formed "for other purposes."
The unanimity with which the legislature passed these laws is a true reflection of the pressure that has been put on them. Certainly there is no threat to the government of Puerto Rico today; excluding the threat to continued office that comes to any official in a democracy who has forgotten the needs of his constituents. But called to the heel by the political leaders who do not speak in the name of the people of Puerto Rico, the legislators cast their vote against freedom and against their own good conscience.
The bills were passed without hearings and after but one day of debate.
This legislative development in Puerto Rico, like similar actions we have seen in other countries in Latin America during the past year, are clearly the result of United States pressure. In Cuba, in Chile, in Peru, in Brazil, and also in Puerto Rico, the crackdown against the progressive forces, against the trade union leaders, against every possible group which speaks for the downtrodden people, has developed even as the people in power in these areas have drawn closer to the United States. It is a sad realization that is forced upon the people of these countries that today, everywhere the United States Government pushes its hand, there the ordinary man feels the increased weight of oppression while the man of privilege and wealth becomes more powerful.
June 9, 1949
[Congressman Marcantonio brought many instances of indifferent or callous treatment of Puerto Ricans to the attention of the House. On June 9, 1949, he said:]
Mr. Speaker, the people of my district were shocked to read of the airplane accident that took place off San Juan, Puerto Rico, on June 6. Fifty-four men, women, and children were killed. I have been investigating this matter to the best of my limited ability and have been trying to obtain information relative thereto. I hold in my hand a preliminary report which shows that there is something rotten. This plane carried 82 people, and I find the following comment in a report ... from the Acting Director of the Office of Aviation Safety. Here is how they try to explain this tragedy away. I just want to read one sentence which is very, very revealing of the attitude of this Government agency toward accidents of airplanes that come from Puerto Rico:
"While the number of passengers aboard appears to be very high and would commonly cause questioning on the gross weight, the average weight of a Puerto Rican seems to be around 105 pounds."
Now, those last words show to me that somebody is getting ready with a pail of whitewash to permit those guilty to escape. These words in this report reveal a callous attitude, treating these Puerto Ricans as though they were cattle. They admit that the number of passengers aboard appears to be very high and would commonly cause questioning on the gross weight, but then attempt to explain it away by saying: "The average weight of a Puerto Rican seems to be around 105 pounds."
I find other material in this preliminary report that makes me very, very suspicious. It shows that on a spot inspection they found poor execution of weight and balance forms; ... first-aid kits were found inadequate; emergency equipment was not dated; and no indication was shown when inspection of equipment was made.
October 19, 1949
[On October 19, 1949 Congressman Marcantonio asked the House to "see to it" that the "outrageous ... police intimidation" of the Nationalist Party in Puerto Rico be ended at once.]
Mr. Speaker, again and again over the many years that I have been a Member of this House, I have taken the floor to plead the cause of the people of Puerto Rico.
They are a fine and noble people who for the past 50 years of occupation of their land by the United States have suffered a mounting toll of disease and poverty.
They are a proud people who -- as American citizens -- in moving to the mainland in a desperate effort to better themselves, have found nothing but slums, discrimination, and low-paid jobs as their lot in our cities.
They are a people whose treatment every day gives the lie to the fine talk of our delegates to the United Nations -- talk of the dignity of the human person and of the equality of economic opportunity.
The Puerto Rican people know nothing of these fine things in their lives, and as they read of our delegates to the UN arguing fervently for human rights for men everywhere, they have but to look at themselves and their children, at the disgraceful hovels in which they are crowded, at the walls of discrimination surrounding them, to dismiss all such talk by their own UN representatives as the sheerest hypocrisy.
As I have said again and again and as I repeat here today there can never be a solution of the economic difficulties of Puerto Rico, the root of every other ill suffered by the Puerto Rican people, until independence is granted to them. So long as Puerto Rico remains a colonial appendage of the United States, an exploited, one-crop sugar economy, it will continue to wallow in disease and poverty.
There can only be a resolution of these many problems by the Puerto Rican people themselves, working energetically and purposefully in their own interests and in their own sovereign independent land.
Despite this fact, despite the increasing conviction among the Puerto Rican people that only through independence can they ever hope to build decent lives for themselves and their children the Nationalist Party is daily harassed and terrorized by the police and the territorial government of the island. And the leader of that party, Pedro Albizu Campos, is hounded like a common criminal.
In 1947 he returned to his home after 10 years of exile in the United States. And to the eternal disgrace of our country, which itself was born out of a bitter struggle for independence and today still honors as its greatest heroes those men who led this struggle, this leader of Puerto Rican independence spent 6 years of his exile in the penitentiary in the United States.
Today he lives in San Juan under the type of police surveillance and intimidation that could only have been duplicated in Hitler Germany.
The home of Pedro Albizu Campos is surrounded day and night by police patrols, police cars, and jeeps with mounted machine guns. When Dr. Albizu Campos walks along the streets of San Juan, he is closely followed by four or five plain-clothes policemen on foot, and a load of fully armed policemen in a car a few paces behind.
Every shop he enters, every person to whom he talks, is subsequently visited by representatives of the police department. A reign of terror descends on the luckless citizens of Puerto Rico who spend a few minutes talking to Dr. Albizu Campos.
When the leader of the Nationalist Party leaves San Juan to attend a meeting or to make a speech, his car is trailed through the countryside by an armed column of police cars and jeeps. Every hotel or home in which he stays is immediately surrounded by a cordon of police. Every meeting of the Nationalist Party takes place behind police lines.
The Nationalist Party is a legal party in Puerto Rico. Its leader is an American citizen, supposedly enjoying all the rights and liberties of any other American citizen. Yet both he and his party are harassed and intimidated at every turn.
This absolutely unjustified and inexcusable conduct upon the part of the police and the higher authorities of Puerto Rico must stop at once. This is still a Government of laws and not of men. We have laws to protect us and to punish evildoers. We need no Gestapos in the United States. The situation which I have described here is an outrageous example of police intimidation. This House should take notice of what is happening in Puerto Rico and should see to it that the Territorial government and the Territorial police are put on notice to cease these activities at once.
March 16, 1950
[On July 12, 1949, the Committee on Public Lands of the House of Representatives convened to consider legislation "to provide for the organization of a constitutional government by the people of Puerto Rico." After an eight month recess the Committee reconvened on March 14, 1950, to continue its deliberations on H. R. 7674, a bill for "the Puerto Rican Constitution." The bill was introduced by Antonio Fernós-Isern, Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico. Congressman Marcantonio opposed the bill in a series of speeches before the House and before the Committee. He called it "a supine reaffirmation of the status quo in Puerto Rico under the guise of a meaningless self-government." H. R. 7674 was supported by Luis Munoz-Marin, Governor of Puerto Rico. He and Commissioner Fernós-isern had been elected as candidates of the Popular Democratic Party in 1948. Congressman Marcantonio, at a Committee hearing, declared: "The new colonial position of Munoz-Marin has been officially and openly adopted since his inauguration as colonial Governor of Puerto Rico in January 1949. Since then he has been saying that Puerto Rico is not a colony, but a 'new kind of state,' in open violation of the program and tradition of his own party, the Popular Democratic Party, whose members he has betrayed, and in open violation of the commitments he made before the 1948 elections. The elected candidate Munoz-Marin promised the people, after a vigorous condemnation of the colonial status, to work for the approval of a law allowing Puerto Rico to draft a constitution of its own with a complete self-government ... also to ask Congress ... to include in the same law ... a provision authorizing the Legislature of Puerto Rico to submit to a vote, at any time the Legislature of Puerto Rico would consider it feasible from the economic viewpoint, the alternative of statehood or independence, on the promise on the part of the Congress that it would approve the alternative selected by the people of Puerto Rico. This was the proposition submitted by Luis Munoz-Marin to the people of Puerto Rico, on the basis of which he won the 1948 elections ...
Four selections from Mr. Marcantonio's speeches against H. R. 7674 are presented in the following pages. The first, made on the floor of the House on March 16, 1950, is given in part below.]
Mr. Speaker, the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, the Honorable Fernós-Isern, introduced the other day H. R. 7674. The bill is described as a bill to provide for the organization of a constitutional government by the people of Puerto Rico.
The mere fact that this bill was introduced is a confession on the part of the present rulers of Puerto Rico that the Puerto Rican people are restive under the present colonial status, and that they no longer want any part of it.
The question of colonialism in Puerto Rico, however, will not be solved by H. R. 7674. This bill is an evasion of the real question. It dodges the issue ... and is an attempt to put to sleep the aspirations of the Puerto Rican people for democracy and independence.
What this bill actually is can be found in the words of Mr. Fernós-isern in a statement he inserted in the Congressional Record on Tuesday, March 14, 1950:
"The Congress of the United States since 1900 has provided for the operation of Federal Laws in Puerto Rico. It has determined the economic relationships to exist between Puerto Rico and the mainland. It has determined that the people of Puerto Rico are United States citizens. Such legal and economic provisions of our organic act the people of Puerto Rico are not aiming to disturb. Rather, they wish to reaffirm them and expressly register their consent to their application."
This is an admission on the part of the author of the bill that its purpose is to perpetuate the present system of colonialism under which the people of Puerto Rico are now suffering. Here is a bill that does not even ask for statehood. It is a supine reaffirmation of the status quo in Puerto Rico under the guise of a meaningless self-government.
This proposal of the Muñoz-Marin administration cannot be accepted as having been offered in good faith. Mr. Muñoz-Marin knows better than to expect the establishment of a commonwealth which cannot be established under the provisions of our Constitution.
This latest proposal of Muñoz-Marin can be described as Operation Desperation on the part of those who in the past have led the people to believe that they supported independence, when they were out of power, and now, when confronted with responsibility of office renege on past promises and declarations for independence.
As against this empty gesture, I today have reintroduced my independence bill.
Mr. Speaker, in order to pass honest judgment on this last empty proposal of the Munoz-Marin administration, in contrast with my proposal for genuine independence, I submit that it is of utmost importance that we must first examine our relations with Puerto Rico; that we examine its present government, and that we seek a solution of its most pressing problems.
Puerto Rico was taken over by us by force of arms. This action was subsequently ratified by the treaty of Paris in 1898. As a result Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States.
When we took over this country, which was discovered by Columbus in 1493, and which was under the jurisdiction of Spain until 1898, the Puerto Rican people had won over from Spain, through centuries of struggle, an autonomous charter which guaranteed the people substantial sovereignty. Under that charter the people of Puerto Rico had complete home rule, and besides, had the power of making their own tariff laws and of entering into commercial trade agreements with other countries. The autonomous charter could not be revoked or amended but on the petition of the Puerto Rican parliament.
We substituted for the autonomous government which the Puerto Ricans had won over from Spain, a colonial form of government. Under our present relationship, which the Fernós-isern bill would not change, Puerto Rico, according to our Supreme Court, "belongs to but does not form part of the United States." The government of Puerto Rico is organized under an organic act passed by this Congress, the Jones Act, which can be amended or annulled by us without consulting the people of Puerto Rico. The laws passed by the legislature of Puerto Rico can be amended, suspended, or revoked by Congress. Every law approved by the legislature must be sent to this Congress which can exercise its veto power over them. The Supreme Court of the United States can declare unconstitutional the laws passed by the legislature of Puerto Rico. The President of the United States holds a veto power over the Puerto Rico legislature. The President of the United States appoints the judges of the supreme court, the auditor for Puerto Rico, and all Federal officials in the island, including the judge of the Federal Court. Appeals are taken from the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston. We have exclusive jurisdiction in such vital matters as bankruptcy, navigation, air law, radio, immigration, conscription in time of peace and war and other matters. The structure within which the Puerto Rican government operates cannot be altered, annulled, or in any way modified by the people of Puerto Rico.
We have encircled Puerto Rico within our tariff walls. We have imposed upon that country the coastwise shipping laws. We bind the Puerto Ricans with the treaties we negotiated without their participation in such negotiations. We can force Puerto Rico, as we have done twice through the past 50 years, into a war without consulting them in advance; and we can take over their territory, as we have done on numerous occasions -- in spite of the great need that they have for land -- for air, naval, military, and submarine needs of ours.
All this the Munoz-Marin empty proposal for alleged self-government would perpetuate. All this the Muñoz-Marin government accepts. All this would be continued, this status quo would be made permanent under H. R. 7674. Not one iota of this colonialism that I have described would be changed by the recent Fernós-isern/Muñoz-Marin proposal.
Let me remind you that the Puerto Rican people have no representation in this Congress. The Puerto Rican people are allowed only to send here a Resident Commissioner who has a voice in matters affecting Puerto Rico, but who has no vote.
Under the Spanish regime, at the time we took over Puerto Rico from Spain, the people of Puerto Rico had representation in the Spanish Cortes or Parliament. They had representation in the Senate and 16 representatives in the Spanish House at Madrid.
We can tax the Puerto Rican people besides having the power to send them to war. Thus we do not only impose upon the Puerto Ricans taxation without representation, but we also impose upon them a tax on the blood of their people.
This, too, Muñoz-Marin would perpetuate through the enactment of H. R. 7674.
During the 51 years that Puerto Rico has been under our jurisdiction we have used that island and its people to our advantage. We have established, as I have said before, air, naval, military, and submarine bases in Puerto Rican territory. We have conscripted Puerto Ricans in two wars and have sent them to fight for us in two wars. In the last war over 500,000 Puerto Ricans were drafted and 80,000 were actually under arms. Many of them were in action and many died for the cause of democracy. As a result of the workings of the tariff laws, and the imposition upon the Puerto Ricans of the coastwise-shipping laws, and the denial to them of power to negotiate for reciprocal trade agreements, we have excluded them from world markets. They buy 98 percent of their imports in the United States. In 1948 Puerto Rico bought $337,000,000 in goods from the United States and sold us $199,000,000 worth of goods. The balance of trade thus favors us by $138,000,000. The shipping companies which hold a monopoly in Puerto Rico have made huge profits in the island during the last half century. This can be said also of our banks which are doing business in the island, of the insurance companies, of the Wall Street financial interests, and of several other big American concerns. We have found in Puerto Rico an outlet for our rice, our beans, our codfish, our shoes, clothes, manufactured products, and many other items which number over 1,000.
Again, all this is not changed one iota by the Muñoz-mArin proposal. In fact, H. R. 7674 accepts this form of exploitation.
FACTS ABOUT SUGAR
Congress does not allow Puerto Rico to refine but 15 percent of its total production of sugar. The other 85 percent is refined in the United States by our refiners, at a loss to Puerto Rico of over $30,000,000. This is an outright discrimination exercised by this Congress against the Puerto Rican people, which exemplifies the colonial status of the island.
Here again the last Muñoz-mArin empty gesture, H. R. 7674, does not attempt to remedy this situation.
Furthermore, under the Sugar Act passed by this Congress, the Federal Department of Agriculture has fixed for Puerto Rico an annual export quota of 910,000 tons of sugar, and an annual domestic quota of 100,000 tons. Puerto Rico produced 1,277,482 tons in 1949. Ninety-six thousand tons of excess are in the hands of Puerto Rican producers today. It is estimated that at the end of 1950 there will be an excess of 250,000 tons in the hands of Puerto Rican producers .... let me remind the people of Puerto Rico that with the adoption of H. R. 7674 ... the Puerto Rican sugar quota will continue to be dependent on the will of the Congress of the United States.
Under our rules the people of Puerto Rico have seen the destruction of their coffee trade. That has been so because we offer no tariff protection to coffee. We do that because we produce no coffee in the United States. Our tariff is drafted to protect our crops. If we protect sugar which is a Puerto Rican product, it is because we produce 2,000,000 tons of sugar right here in the United States. If we buy Puerto Rican sugar it is because we have a normal consumption of 7,000,000 tons a year. Coffee was one of the most important cash products to Puerto Rico in 1898 when Puerto Rico had a market for its well-known product in 17 nations. Today Puerto Rico not only is not a coffee-exporting country, but it imports coffee from the United States, which is not a coffee-producing nation. We buy coffee from Brazil and other countries and sell it to the people of Puerto Rico. Today, when the price of coffee has gone up, the Puerto Rican people have been unable to take advantage of the world situation because the coffee growers are ruined.
We afford no real protection to the Puerto Rican tobacco. We fix the price of the articles we sell the Puerto Ricans and of the articles which they sell us. In short, we have a strangle hold upon the Puerto Rican economy and have reduced that country to a state of misery and abysmal poverty. Neither Puerto Rican coffee nor Puerto Rican tobacco can be protected with the enactment of H. R. 7674. These products will remain the victims of our strangle hold upon the economy of Puerto Rico. So that H. R. 7674 is definitely an empty gesture. It fails to deal with the fundamental problems of Puerto Rico. It fails to protect Puerto Rican economy.
Under the colonial system of exploitation which I have just described, we have now in Puerto Rico over 300,000 unemployed out of a total population of 2,200,000 inhabitants. That would amount, more or less, to 21,000,000 unemployed in the United States.
One of the vicious results of this system of exploitation is that we have right now in Puerto Rico 309,000 children of school age without school facilities out of a school population of 688,000 children. The rest do not receive adequate education. They just go to school for half a day. From 6 to 7 persons out of 100 graduate from high school under the half-a-day training program in force. The average person in the rural areas receives the equivalent of 2 years' schooling in the United States, for the average person in Puerto Rico goes to school for 4 years on a half-day basis. The people of Puerto Rico do not have the educational facilities offered to the citizens of the poorest State in the United States.
The conclusions stated above are not my own. They are the conclusions arrived at recently by a committee of experts of Columbia University, hired by the government of Puerto Rico to make a survey of the educational facilities of the people of the island.
We have in Puerto Rico the worst slums of the Western Hemisphere. The tourist going to the island is greeted by the slum called La Perla -- the Pearl. When he departs he is bade farewell by El Fangito -- Little Mud. La Perla and El Fangito are two of the typical slums of the island.
There exists a municipal hospital system in Puerto Rico which has been characterized by the health commissioner of the island, Dr. Juan A. Pons, as one which offers the people a service worse than the one given its dogs in a hospital for animals.
About three-quarters of the total population of Puerto Rico is at present ill-clothed and ill-housed.
To take care of the immediate needs of the Puerto Rican people it is imperative that we enact a program which will help these people to face the impending crisis ...
[At this point Congressman Marcantonio offered 8 specific proposals. These included measures to amend the Sugar Act by permitting Puerto Rico to refine its own sugar, by increasing the sugar quota, and by subsidizing its sale of excess sugar in world markets. He also proposed rehabilitating coffee and tobacco production; introducing social security; subsidizing education; instituting a large scale public works program; and returning to the displaced people of Vieques land which had been requisitioned by the United States Navy, but which was not then being used.]
To solve the problem of Puerto Rico on a permanent basis it is imperative that colonialism be ended in the island, and that the people of Puerto Rico be allowed to draft their own constitution as a free and independent nation, and not as a colony as provided in H. R. 7674. Provisions should be taken at the adoption of my independence bill to insure the transformation of the colonial economy, which we have developed in Puerto Rico since 1898, into the economy of a free and independent nation.
The trend in our time is toward the liquidation of colonialism everywhere, and the granting of recognition to new and independent nations, to work together under the framework of the United Nations. The trend is also toward international cooperation and toward the offering of help to small nations, so that they can better develop their economies, and so that they can better help in the building of a better world.
The Muñoz-Marin/Fernós-Isern proposal runs counter to this trend, and it is therefore reactionary and imbedded in the decayed structure of colonialism.
The people of Puerto Rico can only solve their economic problem through industrialization. In order to develop a wide program of industrialization they must have power to make their own tariff laws, to negotiate reciprocal trade agreements, to make their own coastwise shipping laws, and to have complete jurisdiction over their territory and land, their waters, their air, and their people. They cannot have these powers under colonialism. They cannot have these powers under H. R. 7674. They cannot have these powers under statehood. They can only have these powers under their own sovereignty in a free and independent nation, a nation able to enter into negotiation with other countries on a basis of equality and of justice.
What Puerto Rico needs to solve its problems is sovereignty -- full sovereignty. The Muñoz-Marin proposal denies even limited sovereignty to the people of Puerto Rico.
The people and Government of the United States are bound to help the people of Puerto Rico. It is our responsibility because we have exploited them for over half a century. It is our responsibility because we have cut them off from world markets. It is our responsibility because we have made them dependent on our own economy. It is our responsibility because they have helped fight two of our wars. It is our responsibility because they are a hardworking and progressive people, with a noble tradition of solidarity in the Western Hemisphere, and with a noble cultural heritage.
The people and Government of the United States cannot and will not deny help to a free Republic of Puerto Rico. I am confident that Americans will assist the people of Puerto Rico in their struggle for independence when they are given a true picture of our relations with Puerto Rico.
We have a false picture in Congress, and in the United States, of what has been going on in Puerto Rico, because the colonial government there is headed by a governor who is working hand in hand with imperialistic interests, and whose job it is to give the impression to the people of the United States, and to the world, that Puerto Rico is not a colony, but a country of free and contented people to whom we have extended a fair deal. The name of that man is Luis Munoz-Marin.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to state right here, however, that neither Muñoz-Marin nor his administration are the product of Puerto Rico. They are the product of colonial exploitation. They are the minions of our colonial status imposed on the people of Puerto Rico. Their actions do not reflect on either the integrity or the honor of the people of Puerto Rico. They merely prove again that puppets of imperialism never serve the best interests of their people.
Under the leadership of Muñoz-mArin, the government has embarked on a loan program from Wall Street. It has issued bonds which were sold in Wall Street for $50,000,000 at a very high interest rate. It is negotiating an additional loan for this agency, the water resources authority. To guarantee these bonds they pledged the property of the water resources authority. It also issued bonds which it sold in Wall Street in the amount of $22,700,000, also at a high interest rate, for the Aqueduct and Sewage Service of Puerto Rico. It negotiated this loan for $22,700,000 even though they are expending the money at the rate of about $4,000,000 a year -- the balance is deposited in private banks and draws no interest, while the people of Puerto Rico are paying an interest rate on the total amount of the bonds.
[Later Mr. Marcantonio further developed this point, saying]
I am against the mortgage of the properties of the water resources authority and of the aqueducts to the Wall Street crowd. The water resources were formerly in the hands of the Puerto Rican Railway Light & Power Co. Now they are in the hands of the bondholders of Wall Street. The same can be said of the aqueducts of Puerto Rico. As a result of that the water rates and the electric light rates have gone up to the extent that protest demonstrations have been organized by consumers in Puerto Rico.
Muñoz-Marin has changed the whole philosophy under which the authorities were created, and has used them to his political advantage. To do this he has allied himself with Wall Street vested interests and he is today their stooge and servant. He has mortgaged these authorities to Wall Street interests.
While the people's finance is being squandered and the people's financial ability is being exploited, let us see how the local government itself operates, and again here I repeat, this is not the product of the people of Puerto Rico but the product of colonialism in its worst form.
Mr. Muñoz-Marin has tried to centralize in his own hands all the government of Puerto Rico. Now he is planning to eliminate the municipal assembly and usurp the powers of the municipal officers to be controlled by the Governor.
The most important decisions of the legislature are made at dinners which are given at La Fortaleza to the legislators by Mr. Muñoz-mArin The legislators will not pass bills which have not the previous approval of Muñoz. Actually every bill is written completely at La Fortaleza [the governor's palace].
OPERATION BOOBY TRAP
We have heard through the fancy, high-paid advertising, a great deal about Operation Boot Strap, but to the people of Puerto Rico the Muñoz-mArin administration can be called Operation Booby Trap. The following story of the Caribe Hilton Hotel demonstrates what I mean when I say the Muñoz-Marin administration is Operation Booby Trap for the people of Puerto Rico.
The story on the Caribe Hilton Hotel is an example of the Government's policies to attract industries. The Government of Puerto Rico built the hotel at a cost of $7,000,000. The hotel has 300 rooms. Then, after it was built, the Government leased the hotel to the Hilton Hotel Corp. on a 20-year lease.
Muñoz-mAriN has not even revealed the amount for which the hotel was leased, even though the people have asked for this information. This is part of the policy of secrecy in the Government the people are never given information about the way the money is expended. Everything that was used, including furniture, was flown from the United States. Even the sugar came from the United States to Puerto Rico, and also most of the employees were taken from the United States to Puerto Rico. The expenses for propaganda, as announced by the management, went over $150,000, and the government of Puerto Rico pays half of that amount. Up to this time they have paid $75,000.
The Government policy to attract industries to Puerto Rico is based on the principle of constructing the plants for the firms to go into [in] Puerto Rico, and to equip them. Then the firms are tax-exempt for a period of 12 years. These firms, like Textron, want a guaranty that the minimum salary will not be raised, so that these firms expect to do business on the basis of paying starvation wages to the workers of Puerto Rico. Textron recently said that if the minimum wage is increased from 25 cents an hour, which they are paying now, they will move from Puerto Rico.
The Caribe Hilton Hotel was also exempted from paying taxes.
All these industries which may go to Puerto Rico can leave the island whenever they choose, and leave the Puerto Ricans with all the expenses already incurred. So we can see that all this industrialization program of Muñoz-mAriN is just hooey. It is, I repeat, not Operation Boot Strap, but Operation Booby Trap for the people of Puerto Rico.
While Muñoz-mArin is engaged in Operation Booby Trap for the people of Puerto Rico, let us see what is happening to the people themselves.
The cost of living in Puerto Rico has gone up about 300 percent since 1940 while salaries and wages have had only a slight increase and now are going down. The huge amounts of money which entered the Puerto Rican treasury were because of the revenue on rum, and the high taxes collected from the people of Puerto Rico. I would like to here note that in Congress I protected the income from rum for the treasury of Puerto Rico.
There was in general an artificial atmosphere of prosperity because 80,000 Puerto Ricans were under arms and their relatives were receiving benefits; war construction was going on and there were war government jobs. Muñoz-Marin squandered the huge amounts of money received. No permanent works were built by him. No substantial reserve was established. Muñoz-mAriN received from 1940 to 1948 in his government more money than the total amount of money received by the successive governments of the island from Juan Ponce de Leon, the first Governor under Spain, to 1940.
During the war the price of sugar was frozen to prewar prices, 1939. On the other hand, no control was put on the items imported from the United States. The result was that while the price of sugar was kept low the price of rice, beans, codfish, lard, meat, butter, bacon, machinery, and so forth went up to a fantastic level. It has been figured out by economists of great prestige in the island that, because of this, the people of Puerto Rico lost an average of $80,000,000 a year since 1940, or about $540,000,000 during the war years.
And again let me repeat, the number of unemployed in Puerto Rico totals 300,000 out of a population of 2,200,000 inhabitants.
Yes, the Muñoz-mArin rule is indeed Operation Booby Trap for the people of Puerto Rico.
I could go on and recite many more phases of the exploitation of the people of Puerto Rico. I shall from time to time recite more chapters from the story of the sordid saturnalia of corruption and graft which now exists under our Nero of Fortaleza, the puppet of our colonialism.
My purpose in this speech, however, is to establish, which I believe I have done;
First: That H. R. 7674 is an empty gesture and a device to cover up, and to perpetuate the colonialism and exploitation imposed on the people of Puerto Rico by selfish interests in the United States.
Second: That the graft and corruption by the present rulers of Puerto Rico is not the product of the people of Puerto Rico, but the byproduct of the system of colonialism and exploitation under which the people of Puerto Rico are suffering.
Third: That the suggestions which I have made for immediate solution of Puerto Rico's immediate problems are of immediate character and must be enacted immediately to save the Puerto Rican people from further suffering.
Fourth: That the only real solution for Puerto Rico and its problems is to grant to the people of Puerto Rico full sovereignty; the only guaranty which the people of Puerto Rico can have to solve their problems -- yes, the full sovereignty of a free and independent nation, and this, I submit, can be achieved by the enactment of my bill.
June 8, 1950
[June 8, 1950, Congressman Marcantonio spoke at the continuation session of the Committee conducting hearings on "the Puerto Rican Constitution." After inserting his March 16 speech (see p. 417) into the record of the hearings Mr. Marcantonio protested against holding the hearings in Washington where few Puerto Ricans could appear to speak against the bill. He showed how widespread the opposition to H. R. 7674 was in Puerto Rico, citing many organizations, periodicals and individuals who had spoken out against it there.]
At the outset I strongly urge that hearings be held in Puerto Rico by this committee on this bill. There are many distinguished Puerto Ricans who hold a contrary view ... to the one expressed here by the official authors and supporters of the measure, but who cannot appear here because they cannot afford the expense of coming to Washington. [See p. 435.] Only the bureaucrats are financially able to appear before this committee, here in Washington, in support of the measure. In a matter so vital to the well-being of 2,200,000 people, subjected since 1898 to a colonial status by us, a people which since then has been clamoring for their liberation, I cannot see how this committee can make any well-advised recommendation to the Congress without holding hearings in Puerto Rico, where all the people, rich and poor, can participate.
This legislation affects primarily the people of Puerto Rico. The purpose of H. R. 7674 -- as expressed by the Secretary of State, in a letter addressed on April 24, 1950, to the distinguished chairman of this committee -- is to obtain formal consent of the Puerto Ricans to their present relationship to the United States. If that is the case, the Puerto Rican masses should have an opportunity to express themselves, personally, on such an important matter. Furthermore, the Secretary of State said in his letter to the chairman of this committee, that the approval of bill H. R. 7674, and I quote
"would be in keeping with our obligations under the Charter of the United Nations to take due account of the political aspiration of the people in our territories..."
How can we ascertain if this bill is in line with the political aspirations of the people of Puerto Rico if we hold hearings in a place 1,600 miles away from Puerto Rico, and without giving opportunity to the impoverished Puerto Rican people to appear before you and communicate to you their hopes and their demands?
I am afraid that our State Department and our Interior Department are too anxious to have this bill passed hastily, without due consideration and without giving all Puerto Ricans, without distinction, an opportunity to express themselves on the propriety of this measure. Why is that? Isn't this bill for the Puerto Ricans? Isn't it intended to discharge in part our responsibility as a colonial power? If that is so, how can we discharge such responsibility without affording the Puerto Rican people an opportunity to be heard?
Serious consideration cannot be given to the measure without consulting the people of Puerto Rico. This committee must remember that we have held hearings in Puerto Rico on matters of less importance, the last of which I can remember were held last November, hearings held by a subcommittee of the House Labor Committee.
The argument has been made that this bill was approved by the Puerto Rican people in the 1948 elections. That is a gross misrepresentation.
What are the commitments made by Muñoz-Marin in the 1948 elections? In this respect, the Secretary of State says in his letter to the chairman of this committee that
"in the elections held last November for the elected Governor of Puerto Rico, in which 73 percent of the registered voters participated, 63 percent elected the candidate who proposed that Puerto Rico defer at this time determination of its ultimate political status and seek a relationship with the United States which would permit of a constitution for Puerto Rico."
This is definitely a most grotesque distortion of the truth. The elected candidate, Muñoz-Marin, promised the people, after a vigorous condemnation of the colonial status, to work for the approval of a law allowing Puerto Rico to draft a constitution of its own with a complete self-government ... also to ask Congress ... to include in the same law... a provision authorizing the Legislature of Puerto Rico to submit to a vote, at any time the Legislature of Puerto Rico would think it feasible from the economic viewpoint, the alternatives of statehood or independence ... on the promise on the part of the Congress that it would approve the alternative selected by the people of Puerto Rico. This was the proposition submitted by Luis Muñoz-Marin to the people of Puerto Rico, on the basis of which he won the 1948 elections.
Let us see if I am right. The first time that Muñoz-Marin mentioned the word "constitution" in his political campaign -- in fact, the occasion when he made the commitment to the people was on July 4, 1948, when he delivered the Fourth of July address. He said at that time:
"All of us, absolutely all of us, wish that this obsolete system which we call colonial system is ended ... The form of political relationship in which the United States holds Puerto Rico is not just. Neither is it intelligent. It is unjust and unintelligent."
And there the Spanish word which I interpreted as "unintelligent" is "torpe."
"I want to be able to say so in the name of all of you, to the good confused friends of that Government and that people. As it is unjust it must be corrected from their point of view and our point of view. And because it is unintelligent ... it must be corrected from their point of view. The colonial system is obsolete and should disappear from Puerto Rico and from the whole world."
And then he made the following pledge:
"In order to achieve this end, I think that the people of Puerto Rico should authorize with their votes the following commission," and the Spanish word there which I have interpreted as "commission" is "gestion", "the following commission before the Congress of the United States: That the Congress of the United States approves a law completing self-government in Puerto Rico to the point this may be possible, without being a state, in the constitutional structure of the United States. In other words, that the Congress authorize the people of Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution, in the same way as new States are authorized to do so; that the economic relations between Puerto Rico and the United States should continue basically in the same way as they are now, correcting the only grave error now existing, which is the prohibition which does not allow Puerto Rico to refine all the sugar it produces. In addition to that", follow this, please, "In addition to that ... in the same law Congress should authorize the Legislature of Puerto Rico to submit to the vote of the people in a plebiscite, in any moment that the legislature would decide that the economic development of Puerto Rico permits it, the consultation ... on the following alternative: If the people want the establishment of independence without any special economic condition, or if the people want statehood without any special economic condition, with the pledge on the part of the Congress of effectuating the will of the people. Independence and statehood are the two principal solutions that historically have been endorsed in Puerto Rico.
If the law is passed by the Congress, Puerto Rico itself would be the sole judge of the time when it thought that by its own effort the economic conditions to make feasible either statehood or independence had been established. It would do ... that, first, through its legislature, and immediately afterward, through a plebiscite. That would place the responsibility and the authority directly on the shoulders of the people of Puerto Rico, which is the place where they should be."
And he ended his speech with the following:
"I am going to ask the people of Puerto Rico to authorize with their votes to work in this manner with their difficult problem of political status and of life .... I am going to ask the people of the United States ... to establish this high precedent to finish in the world the liquidation of the colonial system which began to be liquidated the 4th of July of 1776."
Thus spoke Muñoz-Marin That is the commitment he made with the people of Puerto Rico. That is the proposition he submitted to a vote of the people. That is the pledge he made to 392,386 voters who, out of 873,085 registered voters, voted for him.
Let us analyze H. R. 7674 in the light of this commitment. Where is the provision allowing Puerto Rico to refine all the sugar it produces? The answer is "Nowhere."
Where is the provision allowing the Legislature of Puerto Rico to call a plebiscite on independence or statehood anytime it would deem that the economic conditions justify doing so, and giving in advance the approval of the Congress to the preference expressed by the people of Puerto Rico at the time that any such plebiscite would be held? The answer is "Nowhere."
Then it is clear that H. R. 7674 is not in line with the promise made to the people of Puerto Rico.
Then it is clear that neither Commissioner Fern6s nor Governor Muñoz have any mandate to push forward H. R. 7674.
Then it is clear that both of those gentlemen are acting in violation of what they promised the people.
Then it is definitely not true, as stated by the Secretary of State, that the people of Puerto Rico elected a candidate who proposed that Puerto Rico defer at this time determination of its political status.
But both Commissioner Fern6s and Governor Muñoz have been holding that, in spite of the above, they are authorized to push forward H. R. 7674 as the program of the Popular Party approved in its general assembly on August 15, 1948.
Let us see if that is so. The platform of the Popular Party adopted August 15, 1948, says to that respect:
"The Popular Democratic Party, with the authorization of the majority votes of the people of Puerto Rico, would submit to the Congress of the United States the proposition that the political problem of Puerto Rico be solved according to legislation which provides as follows: 1. That preserving the economic and fiscal relationship existing at the present time between Puerto Rico and the United States, the people of Puerto Rico, through action of the legislature, or through action of a constitutional convention called by the said legislature, be authorized to make its own constitution in accordance with the structure which it may judge more in consonance with the democratic administration of the public interests; 2. That the Legislature of Puerto Rico be authorized to call the qualified voters of Puerto Rico, at any time that they deem to be in existence the necessary conditions, to a plebiscite, so that they may decide with their votes: (a) if they would like Puerto Rico to establish itself as an independent republic under the most favored conditions ... that the United States now extends to independent countries; or (b) if they want that Puerto Rico be admitted as a State of the American Union under the same conditions now governing the other States of the Union; or (c) if they are in disagreement with the legislature on the point that the existing conditions make it feasible for Puerto Rico to establish itself as a State of the American Union. 3. That the Congress expresses Its agreement to act in accord with the preference shown by the people of Puerto Rico in the aforesaid plebiscite."
The people of Puerto Rico are against H. R. 7674. The Statehood Party and the Independence Party are militantly against the bill. Attorney Bolivar Pagan, president of the Socialist Party, made a bitter attack on the measure on the floor of the senate. After denouncing the bill as a fraud, he voted for it because he felt that if approved it amounted to the approval of two amendments to the organic act which he approved the extension of power to the Governor of Puerto Rico to appoint the judges of the supreme court and the auditor. Yet he pleaded for the approval of an amendment to allow the Puerto Ricans to hold a plebiscite on the status question, which was defeated.
El Mundo and El Imparcial, the leading Puerto Rican newspapers, edited in San Juan, and El Dia, another important newspaper edited in Ponce, have written several important editorials condemning in the most vigorous and uncompromising terms H. R. 7674.
On March 16, 1950, El Mundo wrote a brilliant editorial entitled "The Next Generation," And may I say that El Mundo is a very conservative newspaper. It has been in existence many, many years.
El Mundo said that H. R. 7674 amounted merely to an amendment to the Jones Act, and was no constitution; that it solves nothing and does not change one iota the fundamental situation of the relations of Puerto Rico with the United States and of the personality of Puerto Rico among the free countries of the world.
And let me quote in part from El Mundo. El Mundo said:
"In the meanwhile, the Governor should make no reference to any previous election because at no time the status problem has been submitted openly to the people. It is confusion to try to interpret the last elections as if all those who voted for Mr. Muñoz-Marin voted at the same time to postpone until the next generation the case of the political status."
El Mundo wrote several other editorials, among them one written on March 31, 1950, entitled "Muñoz speaks more clearly," where it says:
"Mr. Muñoz-Marin said that for the time being we do not have to think either of statehood nor of independence.
"He stated further that he imagined that the Puerto Rican people will tend toward a permanent union with the United States. He gave as an example the fact that our economy is completely integrated with that of the Union and that this relationship is mutually beneficial.
"In this way he discards independence.
"Later he adds that statehood is too expensive, pointing out that the island will have to pay Federal taxes in an amount almost as high as the present insular budget.
"These statements coincide in their orientation with former words of the Governor, but this time his position is more clearly stated.
"Now he does not speak of statehood for the coming generation.
"Now he says plainly that we must not think of statehood or independence. He states that Puerto Rico is right now practically 'a new kind of State,' and that to 'put this fact into a law would be profitable for both Puerto Rico and the United States.'
"'This would solve the issue of the political status,' the Governor says, 'which now does not allow us to dedicate our energy to the very difficult and more essential task of solving our economic problems.'
"In other words, the consecration of the status quo, of 'the new State,' is the Governor's formula for the solution of the political status problem.
"And when the voters of Puerto Rico vote for the constitution that Muñoz-Marin proposes to the people, they will be accepting and confirming that Puerto Rico is content to maintain the present relations as an adequate political status.
"Independence and statehood are not postponed for the coming generations. They are postponed for eternity.
El Imparcial in its editorial of March 2, 1950, entitled "We Do Not Want Intermediate Solutions," said in part:
"Since Governor Muñoz-MarIn has so great an influence in the United States, why does he not try to liquidate the system of colonial government which prevails?
"The constitution which Muñoz upholds is no constitution at all, since the so-called constitution is no different from the Campbell bill and the Free Associated State bill, which caused so much political noise in Puerto Rico in the past.
"The constitution is only a new colonial modality.
"The people do not want a little more liberty. They want full liberty. They want the problem to be solved in its essence, either with complete independence or with statehood.
"They do not want colonialism in disguise, wearing the mask of a constitution."
In an editorial dated March 17, 1950, entitled "With a Different Collar." El Imparcial said:
"Antonio Fern6sIsern and Luis Muñoz-Marin have needed 2 years to write the 541 words of the bill which they have presented before Congress, and through which they confirm, consolidate, and consecrate in the uttermost expression of servitude, or colonial state.
"Does this bill presented to Congress fulfill the political pledge Muñoz and his party made to the voters? No. The bill ridiculously called constitution bill, does not do anything except allow the legislature to subscribe as hers, as if of her own making, the very same provisions of the present organic act, and for that we would have to go through the humiliating farce of a constitutional assembly that will not constitute anything, and which will only ratify the anti-democratic basis of our political relations with the United States, which will continue to be fundamentally the same as they are now.
"The so-called constitution only shows that Muñoz-MarIn has placed himself against the will of the people; he has deserted the independence ranks; he does not waste an opportunity to discredit statehood: the two great aspirations of political dignity shared by the Puerto Rican masses.
"His political mission seems to be that of assuring a penalty of 50 more years of colonialism for Puerto Rico.
"It is the same dog with a different collar."
El Dia has written many brilliant editorials against H. R. 7674 in the same vein as those written by El Mundo and El Imparcial which I have quoted. On the occasion of the refusal of the leaders of the Popular Party to discuss H. R. 7674 at the university, El Dia said the following in an editorial:
"A MAN IS NEEDED"
"Our colleague El Mundo reported yesterday that the Fernós' constitution bill may not be discussed in an open forum at the university since a man was needed to undertake the defense of the constitution bill before Dr. Juan B. Soto, who would defend statehood and before Prof. Rafael Soltero Peralta, who would defend independence.
"The Circle of Social Studies at the University of Puerto Rico, presided by university student Sergio Pena, Jr., an organization which sponsors the said open forum, has endeavored to see the bill discussed before a university audience by three representatives of the three named political aspirations with followers in this country: 1. Statehood. 2. Independence. 3. A semi-colony with additional franchises, as proposed by the constitution bill of Resident Commissioner Fernós-isern
"Dr. Juan Bautista Soto and Dr. Rafael Soltero Peralta, both professors at the University of Puerto Rico, the first one affiliated to the Statehood Party, and the second affiliated to the Independence Party of Puerto Rico, accepted with pleasure the invitation to appear at the proposed forum to defend their respective political ideals.
"The third speaker was missing. The principal speaker, since without him there could be no public discussion of the constitution. The Circle of Social Studies turned to a number of university teachers who are members of the Popular Party, hoping that one of them would accept to discuss the bill from the point of view of the Populares, but no one accepted, so El Mundo informs.
"The university then turned to the attorney general, Vicente Geigel Polanco, one of the outstanding leaders of the Popular Party, and to Attorney Jose Trias Monge, known to be one of the co-authors of the constitution bill, but neither the former nor the latter accepted the invitation.
"So it is that 'a man is needed.' One who will defend the semi-colony of Dr. Fernós' constitutional bill. One who will say as did Senator Samuel R. Quinones: 'Why keep on talking about independence or about statehood?'
"Professors Soto and Soltero Peralta will surely show Christian understanding toward anyone having the courage to appear before the students of the University of Puerto Rico to maintain that there is no need of struggling for liberty and dignity; that the urgent thing is to get a safehold on a dish of lentils.
"A man is needed. . ."
The political writers of the most important magazines of the island have also expressed themselves against H. R. 7674. So have the students of Puerto Rico. So has the General Federation of Workers (Authentic) -- that is, Confederacion General de Trabajadores (Authentica) presided over by the respected labor leader, Attorney Francisco Colon Gordiany. So has the Central Union of Workers -- U.G.T. -- presided over by Mr. Juan Saez Corales, co-founder with Mr. Colon Gordiany and others of the government-controlled General Federation of Workers. The General Federation of Workers had a split in 1945 and gave growth to two labor organizations, the one headed by Mr. Colon Gordiany and the government-controlled group.
Any observer of the political situation in Puerto Rico will come readily to the conclusion that the opposition in the island to H. R. 7674 is profound and widespread and that is why I think a visit by the committee to the island is called for so you will see for yourselves how the people feel about it extending from San Juan in the north to Ponce in the south, and from Luquillo in the east to Mayaguez in the west.
[The protest which Congressman Marcantonio made in the preceding speech was also expressed in communications to the committee chairman from many leading Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rican organizations. The following message is one of a number included in the RECORD.]
San Juan, P. R., May 16, 1950. Congressman J. Hardin Peterson, Chairman, Public Lands Committee, House of Representatives, Washington, D. C.:
We register vigorous protest to haste in which hearings have been set on the Fernós bill on a so-called constitution for Puerto Rico without notice to interested parties and denying them the opportunity to appear before you in opposition to the bill. We oppose the Fernós bill and hold same is repudiated by majority of Puerto Rico. We reiterate our demand that hearings be held in Puerto Rico and ask that opportunity be given us to appear before your committee within reasonable time. We hold the Fernós bill is a sham and a fraud and is in direct conflict and violation of the promises made by Muñoz to the people in the 1948 elections and of the program of the popular Democratic Party which Muñoz presides. The Fernós bill does not represent the aspirations nor the will of the people of Puerto Rico.
DR. GILBERTO CONCEPCION DE GARCIA, President, Puerto Rico Independence Party.
June 8, 1950
[Later, on June 8, 1950, Congressman Marcantonio completed his final daylong argument against H. R. 7674 before the committee holding hearings on the bill. He concluded his appeal for Puerto. Rican independence by saying:]
Nor will I repeat in detail the poverty and misery which is the lot of the common man and his family in Puerto Rico today. These facts have been repeatedly recorded by congressional committee after congressional committee. Yet in all their detail and in all their statistical dryness and accuracy they give no inkling of the bitterness and emptiness the hopelessness of the lives of these people.
It was from this horror of unemployment and insecurity that 10,000 workers and their families are fleeing in unsafe, overloaded planes to work on farms on the mainland. The plane crash on Monday, June 5, with the loss of 28 lives, is not the first of such incidents. It happened because these unhappy, exploited people have no alternative but to accept seasonal work on the mainland. There is little prospect for them in Puerto Rico.
Rice, beans, and dried codfish. A few clothes. A shack. This is the life of the Puerto Rican worker. And it all comes from the mainland, with every article priced far above the mainland prices.
It does not take much thought to conclude that only through industrialization and through diversification of agriculture, with higher wages all around, can the Puerto Rican people hope to raise their standard of life.
But I am convinced that a healthy industrialization and diversification of production and a real economic growth can never come about until after the present economic shackles and domination by the mainland are both destroyed.
And the so-called "Operation Bootstrap," that widely heralded program of industrialization, holds out about as much economic hope for the Puerto Rican people as H. R. 7674 holds out political hope.
Both are self-defeating because they accept the present economic and political status of Puerto Rico as fixed and healthy rather than as they truly are -- the center of the whole cancerous problem.
This identification of Operation Bootstrap with H. R. 7674 is not mine alone. The sponsor of this bill has himself described H. R. 7674 as
"an expression of the same program of advancement which is embodied in 'Operation Bootstrap.'" ...
"Operation Bootstrap" hopes to attract industrial operations by offering cheap, unskilled labor and substantial tax savings to mainland businessmen.
During the 6 years of operation a total of 7,233 jobs were created by plants operated by businessmen attracted from the mainland by "Operation Bootstrap." And of this number 3,440, or almost half, were homework jobs.
That is some record in a country where each year for the past 3 years the labor force has increased by 22,000 men and women.
That is some record in an area in which out of a population of 2,200,000 over 300,000 are unemployed.
To read the statements of these gentlemen who are guiding the industrialization program is to be convinced of its ultimate failure. They, of course, put the blame for the failure upon the Puerto Rican people who, to believe these gentlemen, are slow, stupid, not mechanically minded, and all the rest. This is a slander and a libel which is being repeated in quite a major portion of the United States. It is a libel and a slander on the people of Puerto Rico. But that libel and slander is helped by whom? Let me quote Mr. Moscoso, [President and General Manager of the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Co.] Mr. Moscoso made clear how low his sights are set, when he told Congressman Kelley:
"Well, in Puerto Rico proper we believe that a lot of jobs, from which people shy away in the States, might eventually come down here, and of course, it is not a too hopeful picture to think that these kinds of jobs are the ones that will eventually get here, but we have to start somewhere."
This from the director of Operation Bootstrap! Puerto Rico is to become the source of labor for the jobs which employers cannot convince mainland workers to fill, the lowest paid, the drudgery jobs, these are to be for the Puerto Ricans.
I see no need to say more about Operation Bootstrap. It should be clear to this committee that this is no program to industrialize Puerto Rico, to raise the standard of living and make fuller and happier lives for the Puerto Rican people. It is instead a program to peddle the Puerto Ricans to the highest bidder from the mainland.
It has not worked, and it will not work; no more than this will work.
Puerto Rico has arable land, it has some mineral resources, it has many people. With all these resources, directed in a program clearly in their own interests, these people can begin to solve their own problems.
And these economic problems, like these political, can only be solved if the people of Puerto Rico can exercise their own sovereignty as an independent state.
I am not so naive as to think that independence would overnight end all the problems of the Puerto Rican people. But I know that independence would release the energy and the creativeness of these fine people to meet their problems and to solve them by their own efforts.
Without independence I see no solution. And since H. R. 7674 represents another obstacle in the road to independence, I oppose it completely and urge upon you that it be voted down in committee.
In conclusion I state:
Our country is a signatory to the Charter of the United Nations.
The President in his most recent report on the UN to Congress dated May 22, 1950, described the charter as "express (ing) our fundamental aims in the modern world."
Chapter XI of the charter states that member nations recognize that the interests of non-self governing territories are paramount and that the member nations pledge: to develop self-government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions, and so forth.
I submit that it is time some of this high-sounding language be brought down to earth around home and a taste of the real meaning of these pledges given to the people of Puerto Rico.
June 30, 1950
[Three weeks later, when H. R. 7674 was about to be passed by the House of Representatives, Congressman Marcantonio made what proved to be his last statement on Puerto Rico in Congress. On June 30, 1950 he said, in part:]
Mr. Chairman, I had not intended to take the floor again except that the words of the majority leader, in my mind, should not remain unchallenged. As usual we have had high-sounding words from him to cover up what, in my opinion, is a betrayal of the interest of the Puerto Rican people and a denial of campaign pledges made to them by their leaders. You are pretending to give them something when you are giving them nothing, and by giving them nothing you are depriving them of any opportunity to obtain real sovereignty.
you promised them the right to choose between independence, statehood, and the colonial status. This Congress again is going back on its election oratory ... No promise is being kept. I say that this broken promise is in line with the other broken promises, the broken promise on peace, on civil rights, and the broken promise on repeal of Taft-Hartley.
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