The Ponce massacre was an event that took place on Palm Sunday, 21 March 1937, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, when a peaceful civilian march turned into a police shooting in which 19 civilians and two policemen were killed, and more than 200 civilians wounded. Most of the dead were reportedly shot in their backs. 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, and to protest the U.S. government's imprisonment of the Party's leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, on sedition charges.
An investigation led by the United States Commission on Civil Rights put the blame for the massacre squarely on the U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico; Blanton Winship. Further criticism by members of the U.S. Congress led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to remove Winship in 1939 as governor.
Governor Winship was never prosecuted for the massacre and 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.
The Ponce massacre remains the largest massacre in post-Spanish imperial history in Puerto Rico. It has been the source of many articles, books, paintings, films, and theatrical works.
Outbreak of the Ponce Massacre
|Location||Ponce, Puerto Rico|
|Date||21 March 1937 |
3:15 pm (EST)
|Target||Supporters of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party|
|Weapons||Thompson submachine guns, tear gas bombs, machine guns, rifles, pistols|
|Deaths||21 (19 civilians and two police officers). The civilian casualties included women and children; the policemen died from friendly fire.|
|235 civilians wounded|
|Perpetrators||Governor Blanton Winship via the Puerto Rico Insular Police|
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. As a courtesy to the Ponce municipal government, the Nationalists nevertheless requested the permit.
Upon learning about the march, the U.S.-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 ordered the police chief to increase the police force in the southern city, and to stop, "by all means necessary", any demonstration conducted by the nationalists in Ponce. Without notice to the organizers, or any opportunity to appeal, or any time to arrange an alternate venue, the permits were abruptly withdrawn, just before the protest was scheduled to begin.
Following Governor Winship's orders, Colonel de Orbeta went to Ponce where he concentrated police units from across the island sporting "the latest riot control equipment", among which he included the machine gunners in the island. Winship intended to crush the activities of the Nationalists and their leader, Pedro Albizu Campos.
The Insular Police, a force somewhat resembling the National Guard, was under the direct military command of Governor Winship and ultimate responsibility for the massacre fell on Winship, who controlled the National Guard and Insular Police, and ordered the shootings.
Police Chief Guillermo Soldevilla of the municipality of Juana Díaz, 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 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.
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. The Insular Police started firing on the marchers – killing 17 unarmed civilians, two policemen, and wounding some 235 civilians, including women and children. Police firing went on for over 15 minutes. The dead included 17 men, one woman, and a young girl. Some of the dead were demonstrators/cadets, while others were passersby. As of 2009, only two survivors were known to be alive, siblings Fernando and Beatriz Vélez.
The flag-bearer of the Cadets of the Republic was shot and killed during the massacre. A young girl, Carmen Fernández proceeded to take the flag, but was shot and gravely injured. A young Nationalist cadet named Bolívar Márquez dragged himself to the wall of Santo Asilo de Damas and wrote with his blood the following message before dying:
Many were chased by the police and shot or clubbed at the entrance of their houses as they tried to escape. Others were taken from their hiding places and killed. Leopold Tormes, a member of the Puerto Rico legislature, claimed to reporters that a policeman had murdered a nationalist with his bare hands. Dr. José Gandara, a physician who assisted the wounded, testified that wounded people running away were shot, and that many were again wounded by the clubs and bare fists of the police. 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; they were later released on bail.
The next day, Winship radioed Washington and reported, officially, that the Nationalists had initiated the shooting. Part of his radiogram report stated that "two shots were fired by the Nationalists ... with Nationalists firing from the street, and from roofs and balconies on both sides of the street ... [the police] showed great patience, consideration and understanding of the situation, as did the officers and men under him [the Police Chief]."
The following day, as a result of this misinformation, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that a Nationalist political revolt had claimed the lives of more than eighteen people in Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rican senator Luis Muñoz Marin traveled to the city of Ponce to investigate the event. After examining the photograph taken by Carlos Torres Morales of El Imparcial, which had not yet been published, he wrote a letter to Ruth Hampton, an official at the Department of the Interior. He said that the photograph showed that the policemen were not shooting at the uniformed Nationalists (Cadets), but at a terrified crowd in full flight.
Investigations of the event differed on whether the police or the marchers fired the first shots. Governor Winship applied pressure on the district attorney's office in charge of the investigation. He requested that the public prosecutor from Ponce, Rafael Pérez Marchand, "arrest more Nationalists", and that no charges be filed against the police. The prosecutor resigned as a result of being denied the opportunity to conduct a proper investigation.
A Puerto Rican government investigation into the incident drew few conclusions. A second, independent investigation ordered by the United States Commission on Civil Rights led by the ACLU's Arthur Garfield Hays, together with Puerto Rican citizens Fulgencio Piñero, Emilio Belaval, José Davila Rice, Antonio Ayuyo Valdivieso, Manuel Díaz García, and Francisco M. Zeno took place. This investigation concluded that the events on 21 March constituted a massacre and mob action by the police. The report harshly criticized the repressive tactics and massive civil rights violations by Governor Winship.
After viewing the photograph taken by Carlos Torres Morales, Hays in his report to the American Civil Liberties Union questioned why the governor's investigation had not used the photography, which was among two that were widely published. According to Hays, the photograph clearly showed 18 armed policeman at the corner of Aurora and Marina streets, ready to fire upon a group of innocent bystanders. The image showed the white smoke in the barrel of a policeman's revolver as he fired upon the unarmed people. The Hays Commission questioned why the policemen fired directly at the crowd, and not at the Nationalist Cadets.
The following are the names of those killed:
In the aftermath of the massacre, no police officer was convicted or sentenced to jail. No police were demoted or suspended and Governor Winship never issued a public apology.
The Ponce massacre reverberated through the U.S. Congress. On the House floor, Congressman John T. Bernard expressed his shock and outrage. He said: "The police in Ponce, probably with the encouragement of the North American police chief and even the governor, opened fire on a Palm Sunday Nationalist march, killing seventeen and wounding more than two hundred."
Congressman Vito Marcantonio joined in the criticism, filing charges against Governor Winship with President Roosevelt. In his speech before Congress titled "Five Years of Tyranny", Congressman Vito Marcantonio reported that "Ex-Governor Blanton Winship, of Puerto Rico, was summarily removed by the President of the United States on May 12, 1939" after charges were filed against Mr. Winship with the President. In his speech, the Congressman detailed the number of killings by the police and added, "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" and the congressman called Governor Winship a 'tyrant'".
The year following the Ponce massacre, on 25 July 1938, Governor Winship wanted to mark the anniversary of the US 1898 invasion of Puerto Rico with a military parade. He chose the city of Ponce to demonstrate that his "Law and Order" policy had been successful against the Nationalists. During the parade, shots were fired at the grandstand where Winship and his officials were sitting in an attempt to assassinate him. It was the first time that an attempt was made on the life of a Governor of Puerto Rico. Winship escaped unharmed but two men were killed, and 36 people were wounded.
The dead included the Nationalist Ángel Esteban Antongiorgi and National Guard Colonel Luis Irizarry. The Nationalist Party denied participation in the attack, but the government arrested several Nationalists and accused nine of "murder and conspiracy to incite violence." Among the nine Nationalists charged and convicted were Tomás López de Victoria, captain of the Ponce branch of the Cadets of the Republic, and fellow cadets Elifaz Escobar, Santiago González Castro, Juan Pietri and Prudencio Segarra. They served eight years in the Puerto Rico State Penitentiary. The four were pardoned by the next full-term US-appointed governor, Rexford Guy Tugwell.
Winship tried to repress the Nationalists. Jaime Benítez Rexach, a student at the University of Chicago at the time and later long-time chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico, wrote to President Roosevelt stating, "Governor [Winship] himself through his military approach to things has helped keep Puerto Rico in a unnecessary state of turmoil. He seems to think that the political problem of Puerto Rico limits itself to a fight between himself and the Nationalists, that no holds are barred in that fight and that everybody else should keep out." Winship was replaced in 1939.
|Newsreel scenes related to the Ponce massacre Here|
A major consequence of the Ponce shootings and the Hayes Commission was the creation in Puerto Rico of a chapter of the ACLU on 21 May 1937. It was named Asociación Puertorriqueña de Libertades Civiles (Puerto Rican Association of Civil Liberties). Its first president was Dr. Tomás Blanco, attorneys Felipe Colón Díaz and Dr. Antonio Fernós-Isern were its vice-presidents, the treasurer was Inés Mendoza, the Secretary was attorney Vicente Géigel Polanco, and the association's legal counsel was attorney Ernesto Ramos Antonini. Luis Muñoz Marin and many leaders from Ponce, including attorney Pérez Marchand and some of the members of the Hayes Commission, were also among the founders.
Today, the Ponce massacre is commemorated annually. "The main consequence of the Ponce Massacre, like the main consequence of the other episodes of state terrorism in the history of our people, is the fear that has been planted into the people of Puerto Rico, the fear that has come to form part of the life of our people, regarding the idea of the struggle for independence. The people of Puerto Rico has, [sic] for the most part, reached the conclusion, as a result of those episodes, that to be an independentista is dangerous, that to be indepedentista means persecution, damage to the person, serious financial difficulties. As a result, that has diminished the rank and file for the ideology of independence and has made very difficult the growth of the independence ideology in Puerto Rico."
The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, an agency of the Government of Puerto Rico, operates the Ponce Massacre Museum. It is located at the intersection where the events took place (corner of Marina and Aurora streets). The museum houses photographs and various artifacts from the Ponce massacre. A section of the museum is dedicated to Pedro Albizu Campos.
The book Revolucion en el Infierno (Revolution in Hell) was published in 2002, and the television film by the same name was released in 2004. It illustrates the events of the Ponce massacre through the life of one of the victims, Ulpiano Perea. The film is an adapted from the playwright by Roberto Ramos Perea, Ulpiano's nephew.
Blanton C. Winship (November 23, 1869 – October 9, 1947) was an American military lawyer and veteran of both the Spanish–American War and World War I. During his career, he served both as Judge Advocate General of the United States Army and as the governor of Puerto Rico, where he personally ordered the Ponce massacre.Cadets of the Republic
Cadets of the Republic, known in Spanish as Cadetes de la República, was a quasi-military youth organization of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in the twentieth century. The organization was also referred to as the Liberation Army of Puerto Rico (Ejército Libertador de Puerto Rico)
The Cadets of the Republic were founded and organized in the 1930s by Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, the president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Some members of the cadets participated in the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party revolts of the 1950s against United States colonial rule.
The following is a brief history of the Cadets of the Republic, covering the period from 1930 to 1950.Casimiro Berenguer
Casimiro Berenguer Padilla was a Puerto Rican nationalist who witnessed the Ponce Massacre. He was the military instructor of the Cadets of the Republic who received permission from Ponce Mayor Tormos Diego to celebrate a parade on March 21, 1937, in commemoration of the abolition of slavery and to protest the jailing of its leaders, including Pedro Albizu Campos. The parade resulted in the police riot known as the Ponce Massacre.Emilio Belaval Maldonado
Emilio Belaval Maldonado (1903-November 8, 1972) served for 9 years as an Associate Justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court from 1953 to 1967.
Born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Graduated from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law in 1927. In the field of laws, was district judge, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court appointed by Puerto Rico Gobernor Luis Muñoz Marin and Secretary of the Hayes Committee, who was in charge of the investigation of the events in the Ponce massacre.
From very young felt love of letters and his first verses appeared in Puerto Rico illustrated magazine, when he was just 14 years old. Then, devoted himself to the cultivation of the tale, from their initial two books: El Libro Azul (1918) and Cuentos para Celegiales (1922). In his stories he reflects about the Puerto Rican social reality.Isabel Rosado
Isabel Rosado (November 5, 1907 – January 13, 2015), a.k.a. Doña Isabelita, was an educator, social worker, activist and member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Influenced by the events of the Ponce Massacre, Rosado became a believer of the Puerto Rican independence movement and was imprisoned because of her commitment to the cause.Jayuya Uprising
The Jayuya Uprising, also known as the Jayuya Revolt or El Grito de Jayuya, was a Nationalist revolt that took place on October 30, 1950, in the town of Jayuya, Puerto Rico. The revolt, led by Blanca Canales, was one of the multiple revolts that occurred throughout Puerto Rico on that day against the Puerto Rican government supported by the United States. The Nationalists were opposed to US colonization of Puerto Rico.José E. Colom
José E. Colom (5 February 1889 - ca. 1960) was acting Governor of Puerto Rico between 25 June 1939 and 11 September 1939 after the previous governor, Blanton C. Winship, was removed from office by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for abuse of his authority in depriving the people of Puerto Rico of their civil rights. (See the Ponce Massacre).José N. Gándara
Dr. José Narciso Gándara Cartagena (1907–1954) was a Puerto Rican physician and public servant. He led medical personnel in the treatment of the hundreds of wounded of the Ponce Massacre that occurred on Palm Sunday, 1937, in Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the hands of the Insular Police, under orders of the American colonial governor Blanton Winship. He also provided expert witness testimony regarding the Puerto Rican Nationalists victims being shot on their backs while they ran away from the police, and that many were wounded by the police using their clubs and bare fists.José Tormos Diego
José Valentin Tormos Diego (2 November 1890 – 24 August 1977) was a Puerto Rican politician and Mayor of Ponce, Puerto Rico, from 1937 to 1941. He is best remembered for under his administration the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party received a permit for a peaceful march, which resulted in the Ponce Massacre by Insular Police under authority supplied by US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Governor Blanton Winship. During his administration he also rebuilt the historic Teatro La Perla, and reconditioned the Teatro La Perla northern annex to be used as headquarters of the municipal public library.Juan Antonio Corretjer
Juan Antonio Corretjer (March 3, 1908 – January 19, 1985) was a Puerto Rican poet, journalist and pro-independence political activist opposing United States rule in Puerto Rico.Museo de la Masacre de Ponce
The Museo de la Masacre de Ponce (the Ponce Massacre Museum) is a museum and historic building in Ponce, Puerto Rico. It depicts the history and events surrounding the Ponce Massacre, which occurred in broad daylight on Palm Sunday in 1937. The museum is housed inside the building where the event itself occurred, with one of its sections devoted to the Nationalist leader, Pedro Albizu Campos. It also documents the blacklisting of Puerto Rican Nationalists performed by the United States, as well as hosting a considerable number of photos from the Nationalist era.The museum is listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in as Casa de la Masacre (the Massacre House).Ponce
Ponce may refer to:
Ponce, Puerto Rico, a city in Puerto Rico
Ponce High School
Ponce massacre, 1937
USS Ponce, several ships of the US Navy
Manuel Ponce, a Mexican composer active in the 20th centuryPuerto Rico Nationalist Party
The Puerto Rico Nationalist Party (Spanish: Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico, PNPR) is a Puerto Rican political party which was founded on September 17, 1922, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its primary goal was to work for Puerto Rico's independence. The Party's selection in 1930 of Pedro Albizu Campos as its president brought a radical change to the organization and its tactics.
In the 1930s, intimidation, repression and persecution of Party members by the government, then headed by a U.S. president-appointed governor, led to the assassination of two government officials, the attempted assassination of a federal judge in Puerto Rico, and the Rio Piedras and Ponce massacres. Under the leadership of Albizu Campos, the party abandoned the electoral process in favor of direct armed conflict as means to gain independence from the United States.
By the late 1940s, a more US-friendly party, the Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico, had gained an overwhelming number of seats in the legislature and, in 1948, it passed "Puerto Rico's Gag Law", which attempted to suppress the Nationalist Party and similar opposition. The Puerto Rican police arrested many Nationalist Party members under this law, some of whom were sentenced to lengthy prison terms. With a new political status pending for Puerto Rico as a Commonwealth, Albizu Campos ordered armed uprisings in several Puerto Rican towns to occur on October 30, 1950. In an related effort, two Nationalists also attempted to assassinate US President Harry S. Truman on November 1, 1950, in an effort to call international attention to issues related to Puerto Rico's political status, but the attempt failed. The last major armed event by the Nationalists occurred in 1954 at the US House of Representatives when four party members shot and wounded five Congressmen.
After Albizu Campos's death in 1965, the party dissolved into factions and members joined other parties, but some continue to follow the party's ideals in one form or another, often informally or ad hoc, to this day.Rafael Cancel Miranda
Rafael Cancel Miranda (born July 18, 1930) is a political activist, member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and an advocate of Puerto Rican independence. On March 1, 1954, Miranda together with fellow Nationalists Lolita Lebrón, Andrés Figueroa Cordero, and Irvin Flores Rodríguez entered the United States Capitol building armed with automatic pistols and fired 30 shots. Five congressmen were hit, however all the representatives survived and Cancel Miranda, along with the other three members of his group were immediately arrested. Cancel Miranda was the only Nationalist out of the four to have been jailed in Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a Federal Bureau of Prisons federal prison.Raimundo Díaz Pacheco
Raimundo Díaz Pacheco (1906-October 30, 1950) was a political activist and the Treasurer General of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. He was also commander-in-chief of the Cadets of the Republic, the official youth organization within the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. This quasi-military organization was also known as the Ejército Libertador de Puerto Rico (The Liberation Army of Puerto Rico).
On October 30, 1950, a series of revolts occurred in scattered locations in Puerto Rico in opposition to U.S. colonial rule. These were known as the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party revolts. On that day of October 30, Díaz Pacheco led an armed attack on La Fortaleza, the residence of the Governor of Puerto Rico in San Juan, with the intent to assassinate Governor Luis Muñoz Marín. Díaz Pacheco was shot dead in the unsuccessful attempt.Riot control
Riot control refers to the measures used by police, military, or other security forces to control, disperse, and arrest people who are involved in a riot, demonstration, or protest. If a riot is spontaneous and irrational, actions which cause people to stop and think for a moment (e.g. loud noises or issuing instructions in a calm tone) can be enough to stop it. However, these methods usually fail when there is severe anger with a legitimate cause, or the riot was planned or organized. Law enforcement officers or military personnel have long used less lethal weapons such as batons and whips to disperse crowds and detain rioters. Since the 1980s, riot control officers have also used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and electric tasers. In some cases, riot squads may also use Long Range Acoustic Devices, water cannons, armoured fighting vehicles, aerial surveillance, police dogs or mounted police on horses. Officers performing riot control typically wear protective equipment such as riot helmets, face visors, body armor (vests, neck protectors, knee pads, etc.), gas masks and riot shields. However, there are also cases where lethal weapons are used to violently suppress a protest or riot, as in the Boston Massacre, Haymarket Massacre, Banana Massacre, Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Kent State Massacre, Soweto Uprising, Mendiola Massacre, Bloody Sunday (1905) , Ponce massacre, Bloody Sunday (1972), Venezuelan Protest(2017), Tuticorin Massacre (2018)San Juan Nationalist revolt
The San Juan Nationalist revolt was one of many uprisings against United States Government rule which occurred in Puerto Rico on October 30, 1950 during the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party revolts. Amongst the uprising's main objectives were an attack on La Fortaleza (the Governor's mansion in San Juan), and the U.S. Federal Court House Building in Old San Juan.Tomás López de Victoria
Tomás López de Victoria (1911–????) was a political activist and the Sub-Commander of the Cadets of the Republic. These cadets were the official youth organization within the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. They were also known as the Ejército Libertador de Puerto Rico (The Liberation Army of Puerto Rico).
On March 21, 1937, López de Victoria, as Captain of the Ponce branch of cadets, led his group in a peaceful march in the city of Ponce. The march turned into a bloody police slaughter known as the Ponce massacre, when the police fired their weapons against the Nationalists and innocent bystanders, killing 18 Puerto Ricans and wounding over 200 others.
On October 30, 1950, a series of revolts occurred in scattered locations in Puerto Rico in opposition to U.S. colonial rule. These were known as the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party revolts. On that day of October 30, López de Victoria led the Nationalist revolt in the town of Arecibo.Vidal Santiago Díaz
Vidal Santiago Díaz (January 1, 1910 – March 1982) was a member of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and served as president of the Santurce Municipal Board of officers of the party. He was also the personal barber of Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos. Though not involved in the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s, Santiago Díaz's barbershop was attacked by forty armed police officers and U.S. National Guardsmen. The attack was historic in Puerto Rico—the first time an event of that magnitude had ever been transmitted live via radio and heard all over the island.
|19th century activists|
|20th and 21st century|