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Flashback Palm Sunday March 21, 1937: U.S. Gov’t Massacres 17 Unarmed Puerto Rican Protesters, Including Innocent Bystanders

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Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos advocated revolution

Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos advocated revolution (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Ponce massacre was the largest massacre in Puerto Rican history.[6]

It occurred on Palm Sunday, 21 March 1937, when a peaceful civilian march in Ponce, Puerto Rico, turned into a police slaughter that killed 19 Puerto Ricans and wounded over 200 others. The march had been organized by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico by the governing Spanish National Assembly in 1873.[7] The march was also protesting the U.S. government’s imprisonment of the party’s leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, on alleged sedition charges.[8]

An investigation by the Hays Commission put the blame squarely on the U.S.-appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Blanton Winship.[9][10] Further criticism by members of the U.S. Congress led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to remove Winship in 1939 as governor.[11] Governor Winship was never prosecuted for the massacre. No one under his chain of command – including the police who took part in the event, and admitted to the mass shooting – was ever prosecuted or reprimanded.[12]

English: Jose Tormos Diego, Mayor of Ponce, Pu...

English: Jose Tormos Diego, Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Several days before the scheduled Palm Sunday march, the Nationalists had received legal permits for a peaceful protest from José Tormos Diego, the mayor of Ponce. According to a 1926 Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruling, government permits were not necessary for the use of plazas, parks or streets for meetings or parades. However, as a courtesy to the Ponce municipal government, the Nationalists requested the permit nevertheless.[13]

However, upon learning about the march, the US-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, General Blanton Winship, ordered the new Insular Police Chief, Colonel Enrique de Orbeta, to contact Mayor Tormos and have him cancel the parade permit. He also ordered Orbeta to increase the police force in the southern city, and to stop, “by all means necessary”, any demonstration conducted by the nationalists in Ponce.[14] Without notice to the organizers, or any opportunity to appeal, or any time to arrange an alternate venue, the permits were abrubtly withdrawn, just before the protest was scheduled to begin.[15]

Following Governor Winship’s orders, Colonel Orbeta went to Ponce where he concentrated police units from across the island sporting “the latest riot control equipment”, among which he also included the machine gunners in the island.[17] For many days, Winship had planned to crush the activities of the Nationalists and their leader, Pedro Albizu Campos.[17]

The Insular Police, a force somewhat resembling the National Guard, was under the direct military command of Governor Winship[11] and ultimate responsibility for the massacre fell on Winship, who controlled the National Guard and Insular Police, and ordered the shootings.[10]

English: Relatives of Nationalists killed in t...

English: Relatives of Nationalists killed in the Ponce massacre in front of Nationalist Party headquarters. Machine gun bullet holes in the wall. Ponce, Puerto Rico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Juana Diaz, Police Chief Guillermo Soldevilla,[18] with 14 policemen, took a position in front of the marchers. Chief Perez Segarra and Sgt. Rafael Molina, commanding nine policemen armed with Thompson submachine guns[15] 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 group of 12 police, armed with rifles, was placed in the west. According to some reports, police numbered “over 200 heavily armed” guards.[19]

As La Borinqueña, Puerto Rico’s national song, was being played, the Ponce branch of the Cadetes de la República under the command of Tomás López de Victoria and the rest of the demonstrators began to march.[17] The Insular Police then started firing on the marchers – killing 17 unarmed civilians, two policemen,[2] and wounding some 235 civilians, including women and children.

A seven-year-old girl was also killed by a bullet.[4][20] Police firing went on for over 15 minutes.[15] The dead included 17 men, one woman, and the seven-year-old girl. Some of the dead were demonstrators, while others were simply passers-by.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ponce_Massacre

Pedro Albizu Campos. Illustration by Editorial El Antillano

A week before, the Nationalists had requested authorization for the march from Mayor José Tormos Diego, who was away from Puerto Rico on vacation and had left Dr. William Gelpí as acting mayor. Gelpí authorized Casimiro Berenguer, the military instructor of the Cadetes de la República to disseminate information to the effect that permission had to be granted by Mayor Tormos Diego. The Nationalists had filed the request despite the fact that the laws of Puerto Rico allowed parades or public acts to be held without the need to ask permission. When Tormos Diego returned to Ponce on March 20, Nationalists Plinio Graciany and Lorenzo Piñeiro visited him at his home, and the mayor promised them that he would issue permission on Sunday morning. Early Sunday morning, as police reinforcements armed with rifles and machine guns were arriving in Ponce, two Nationalists went to the office of the mayor for the permit that they were promised.

About noon, Orbeta met with the mayor and Colonel Blanco, the head of the police force in Ponce, and he questioned the permit that was given to the Nationalists, alleging that the parade was military in character. The mayor made it clear to him that the Nationalist leaders were responsible people and that nothing would happen. Orbeta told him that the Nationalists from Mayagüez would be coming armed, and he said he would hold the mayor responsible for any blood spilled. Tormos Diego then promised to speak to the Nationalists so that they would cancel the activity -revoking the permit that he had just given- because it was Holy Week, thus pleasing the priests who had asked him to do so. The document revoking the permit warned that the police would not allow the activity. The Nationalists, after talking with Mayor Tormos Diego and Colonel Orbeta himself, decided to go forward with the activity.

English: Defendants during the trial of the Na...

English: Defendants during the trial of the Nationalists. Ponce, Puerto Rico. (December, 1937) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The police under the command of Guillermo Soldevila, the head of the force in Juana Díaz, and Felipe Blanco cordoned off the demonstrators, using expert marksmen mobilized from all the police stations in Puerto Rico. The police covered the corner where the Nationalist Council was located on Marina Street, between Aurora and Jobos Streets. Meanwhile, the Cadets of the Republic and the Nurses Corps organized in three columns. The cadets wore a uniform of white trousers, black shirts, black caps, and on the left sleeve, a Calatravian cross. Leading the column was cadet captain Tomás López de Victoria. The young women formed up as the nurses corps, wearing white uniforms and marching behind the young men. Bringing up the rear was the band, made up of five or six musicians.

Nearby, on Aurora and Marina Streets, almost in front of where the Council was located, the families of the cadets came together with other Nationalists who had come to see the parade. The band played “La Borinqueña,” and the captain of the Cadet Corps, Tomás López de Victoria, immediately gave the order to step off. At the precise moment when they were about to do so, Soldevila raised a whip, put it to the chest of López de Victoria, and told him that they could not march. Police officer Armando Martínez ran from the corner in front of the Nationalist Council toward Marina Street, firing once into the air, which unleashed volleys of shots from arms of different calibers. Eight people died instantly and later others died, for a total of nineteen. Police officers Ceferino Loyola and Eusebio Sánchez died victims of the crossfire of their fellows. Georgina Maldonado, a 13 year old girl, an employee of a nearby gas station, José Antonio Delgado, a member of the National Guard who was passing by, and fourteen Nationalists also died.

Photo taken of Albizu Campos in prison some ti...

Photo taken of Albizu Campos in prison some time between 1951 and 1953. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shortly before the shooting, Colonel Orbeta and Captain Blanco inspected the area where the demonstration was to be held, then left in a police vehicle to drive around Ponce, returning to the area after the shooting had ceased and ordering the arrest of everyone in the vicinity. They went into the building where the Council was located, where several wounded persons were also arrested. In addition to the dead, there were some 140 to 200 wounded. The number is not certain, as many of the wounded ordinary citizens and Nationalists were not taken to hospitals but sought assistance from private physicians. The Nationalist prisoners in the La Princesa Prison in San Juan learned of what had happened in Ponce from the radio of a neighbor who lived near the prison, who turned up the volume so that they could hear.

http://www.enciclopediapr.org/ing/article.cfm?ref=06102005

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Written by voiceoftruthusa

November 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Reblogged this on Giftoftruth United.

    Giftoftruth

    November 27, 2013 at 6:32 pm

  2. Reblogged this on Karma's little spanker.

    elementul huliganic

    November 28, 2013 at 6:41 am


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