Puerto Rico – Rich in Culture, Rich in History

Grito de Lares (Cry of Lares)

El Grito de Lares by Leonardo Rivera

El Grito de Lares by Leonardo Rivera

El Grito de Lares (The Cry of Lares) also referred as the Lares upris­ing, the Lares revolt, Lares rebel­lion or even Lares Rev­o­lu­tion was the revolt against Span­ish rule in Puerto Rico on Sep­tem­ber 23,  1868, in the town of Lares, Puerto Rico.

Seeds for revolt

In the 1860s, the gov­ern­ment of Spain was involved in sev­eral con­flicts across Latin Amer­ica.   It became involved in a war with Peru and Chile, and had to address slave revolts in Cuba.   Puerto Rico and Cuba also suf­fered at the time a severe eco­nomic cri­sis due to increas­ing tar­iffs and taxes imposed by a mer­can­tilist Spain on most import and export goods  the Span­ish crown badly needed these funds to sub­si­dize its troops in an effort to regain con­trol of the Domini­can Republic.

In the mid 19th cen­tury in Puerto Rico, many sup­port­ers of inde­pen­dence from Spain and oth­ers who sim­ply called for lib­eral reforms were jailed or exiled. How­ever, in 1865 Spain attempted to appease the grow­ing dis­con­tent of the cit­i­zens of its remain­ing colonies in the con­ti­nent by set­ting up a board of review that would receive com­plaints from rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the colonies and attempt to adjust leg­is­la­tion that affected them. This board, the “Junta Infor­ma­tiva de Refor­mas de Ultra­mar” (Over­seas Infor­ma­tive Reform Board) would be formed by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of each colony, in pro­por­tion to their col­lec­tive pop­u­la­tion, and would meet in Madrid. The Junta would report to the then Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Emilio Castelar.


The Puerto Rican del­e­ga­tion was freely elected by those eli­gi­ble to vote (male cau­casian prop­erty own­ers), in a rare exer­cise of polit­i­cal open­ness in the colony.   Segundo Ruiz Belvis was elected to the Junta rep­re­sent­ing Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, some­thing that hor­ri­fied the then gov­er­nor gen­eral of the island.  To the frus­tra­tion of the Puerto Rican del­e­gates, includ­ing their leader, Jose Julian Acosta, the Junta had a major­ity of Spanish-born del­e­gates, which would vote down almost every mea­sure they sug­gested.   How­ever, Acosta could con­vince the Junta that abo­li­tion could be achieved in Puerto Rico with­out dis­rupt­ing the local econ­omy (includ­ing its Cuban mem­bers, who frowned upon imple­ment­ing it in Cuba because of its much higher num­bers of slave labor). Once he became prime min­is­ter in 1870, Caste­lar did approve an abo­li­tion bill, prais­ing the efforts of the Puerto Rico mem­bers, sin­cerely moved by Acosta’s arguments.

How­ever, beyond abo­li­tion, pro­pos­als for auton­omy were voted down, as were other peti­tions to limit the unlim­ited power the gov­er­nor gen­eral would have upon vir­tu­ally all aspects of life in Puerto Rico.   Once the Junta mem­bers returned to Puerto Rico, they met with local com­mu­nity lead­ers in a famed meet­ing at the Hacienda El Cacao in Car­olina, Puerto Rico in early 1865.   Ramon Eme­te­rio Betances, who sup­ported inde­pen­dence from Spain and had been exiled by the Span­ish gov­ern­ment twice by that time, was invited by Ruiz and did attend.   After lis­ten­ing to the Junta mem­bers’ list of voted-down mea­sures, Betances stood up and retorted: “Nadie puede dar lo que no tiene” (You cant give away, what you dont have.), a phrase that he would con­stantly use through the rest of his life when refer­ring to Spain’s unwill­ing­ness to grant Puerto Rico or Cuba any reforms.   He would then sug­gest set­ting up a revolt and pro­claim inde­pen­dence as soon as pos­si­ble. Many of the meeting’s atten­dants sided with Betances, to Acosta’s horror.

Frus­trated by the lack of polit­i­cal and eco­nomic free­dom, and enraged by the con­tin­u­ing repres­sion on the island, an armed rebel­lion was staged by the pro-independence move­ment soon after.


Plan­ning stage

CasarojaThe Lares upris­ing, com­monly known as the “Grito de Lares” occurred on Sep­tem­ber 23, 1868, but was planned well before that date by a group led by Dr. Ramon Eme­te­rio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis, who on Jan­u­ary 6, 1868 founded the Comite Rev­olu­cionario de Puerto Rico (Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mit­tee of Puerto Rico) from their exile in the Domini­can Repub­lic.   Betances authored sev­eral “Procla­mas” or state­ments attack­ing the exploita­tion of the Puerto Ricans by the Span­ish colo­nial sys­tem and called for imme­di­ate insur­rec­tion.   These state­ments soon cir­cu­lated through­out the island as local dis­si­dent groups began to organize.

That same year, poet­ess Lola Rodriguez de Tio, inspired by Ramon Eme­te­rio Betances’s quest for Puerto Rico’s inde­pen­dence, wrote the patri­otic lyrics to the exist­ing tune of  La Borinquena.

Secret cells of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mit­tee were estab­lished in Puerto Rico by Math­ias Brug­man, Mar­i­ana Bracetti and Manuel Rojas bring­ing together mem­bers from all sec­tors of soci­ety, to include landown­ers, mer­chants, pro­fes­sion­als, peas­ants, and slaves.   Most were “criol­los” (born on the island). The crit­i­cal state of the econ­omy, along with the increas­ing repres­sion imposed by the Span­ish, served as cat­a­lysts for the rebel­lion.   The strong­hold of the move­ment were towns located on the moun­tains of the west of the island.

On Sep­tem­ber 20th, Fran­cisco Rami­rez Med­ina held a meet­ing at his house in which the insur­rec­tion was planned and set to begin in Camuy on Sep­tem­ber 29.   The meet­ing was attended by Marcelino Vega, Car­los Marti­nez, Boni­fa­cio Aguero, Jose Anto­nio Her­nan­dez, Ramon Estrella, Bar­tolome Gon­za­lez, Cesilio Lopez, Anto­nio San­ti­ago, Manuel Rami­rez, Ulises Can­cela.   Can­cela instructed Manuel Mari­a Gon­za­lez to deliver all of the acts and impor­tant papers in regard to the meet­ing to Manuel Rojas. On the night of Sep­tem­ber 19 a Span­ish cap­tain sta­tioned in Que­bradil­las, Juan Cas­tañon, over­heard two cell mem­bers com­ment­ing that on Sep­tem­ber 29 the troop at Camuy would be neu­tral­ized by poi­son­ing the bread rations.   Given the fact that Sep­tem­ber 29 would be a hol­i­day for most labor­ers, simul­ta­ne­ous upris­ings would occur, begin­ning with the cell in Camuy, and fol­low­ing with the ones in var­i­ous other points; rein­force­ments would come in through a ship, “El Telegrafo”, and the cells would be rein­forced by more than 3,000 mer­ce­nar­ies.   Cas­tañon and his men then entered Gonzalez’s res­i­dence and con­fis­cated the doc­u­ments of Medina’s meet­ing and alerted his com­mand­ing offi­cer in Arecibo.   The cell lead­ers at the Lan­zador del Norte cell in Camuy were soon arrested. The rebels decided to move up the date of the rev­o­lu­tion after the author­i­ties on the island dis­cov­ered the plan.

Procla­ma­tion of the Repub­lic of Puerto Rico


It was then agreed to first strike at the town of Lares on Sep­tem­ber 24. Some 400–600 rebels gath­ered on that day in the hacienda of Manuel Rojas, located in the vicin­ity of Pezuela, on the out­skirts of Lares.   Poorly trained and armed, the rebels reached the town by horse and foot around mid­night. They looted local stores and offices owned by “penin­su­lares” (Spanish-born men) and took over the city hall.   Span­ish mer­chants and local gov­ern­ment author­i­ties, con­sid­ered by the rebels to be ene­mies of the father­land, were taken as pris­on­ers.   The rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies then entered the town’s church and placed the rev­o­lu­tion­ary flag knit­ted by Bracetti on the High Altar as a sign that the rev­o­lu­tion had begun and the Repub­lic of Puerto Rico was pro­claimed at (2:00 am local time) under the pres­i­dency of Fran­cisco Ramirez Med­ina.   The rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies offered free­dom to the slaves who joined them.

Con­fronta­tion at San Sebastian

The rebel forces then departed to take over the next town, San Sebas­t­ian del Pepino.   The Span­ish mili­tia, how­ever, sur­prised the group with strong resis­tance, caus­ing great con­fu­sion among the armed rebels who, led by Manuel Rojas, retreated back to Lares.   Upon an order from the gov­er­nor, Julian Pavi­a, the Span­ish mili­tia soon rounded up the rebels and quickly brought the insur­rec­tion to an end.

Tri­als and amnesty

Gen._Juan_Ruis_RiveraSome 475 rebels, among them Manuel Rojas, Mar­i­ana Bracetti and Juan Rius Rivera were impris­oned in Arecibo.   On Novem­ber 17, a mil­i­tary court imposed the death penalty, for trea­son and sedi­tion, on all the pris­on­ers. Mean­while, in Madrid, Euge­nio Maria de Hos­tos and other promi­nent Puerto Ricans were suc­cess­ful in inter­ced­ing with Pres­i­dent Fran­cisco Ser­rano, who had him­self just led a rev­o­lu­tion against the monar­chy in Spain.   In an effort to appease the already tense atmos­phere on the island, the incom­ing gov­er­nor, Jose Lau­re­ano Sanz, dic­tated a gen­eral amnesty early in 1869 and all pris­on­ers were released. Betances, Rojas, Lacroix, Aure­lio Mendez, and many more were sent into exile. Juan Rius Rivera went to Cuba and became the Commander-in-Chief of the Cuban Lib­er­a­tion Army of the west after Gen­eral Anto­nio Maceo’s death.   Mar­i­ana Bracetti moved to the town of Anasco, where she died in 1903.


BetancesTombEven though the revolt in itself failed, its over­all out­come was pos­i­tive, since Spain granted more polit­i­cal auton­omy to the island.

Span­ish jour­nal­ist Jose Perez Mori­s (some­times cred­ited incor­rectly as Perez Mor­ris) wrote an exten­sive book against the Grito and its par­tic­i­pants that, while biased heav­ily against them, served as the most accu­rate account of the events from an his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive.   From an ide­o­log­i­cal stand­point, Perez’s edi­to­ri­al­iza­tions are still widely used by oppo­nents of Puerto Rican inde­pen­dence to denounce what they per­ceive as the over-glorification of a minor revolt.   How­ever, stud­ies pub­lished recently point out that the Grito had far more sym­pa­thiz­ers — and its logis­tics were more wide­spread within Puerto Rico — than what the event’s dura­tion sug­gested. Dur­ing the years imme­di­ately fol­low­ing the Grito, there were minor pro-independence protests and skir­mishes with the Span­ish author­i­ties in Las Marias, Adjun­tas, Utu­ado, Vieques, Baya­mon, Ciales and Toa Baja (Palo Seco). His­to­ri­ans also point to the length of Perez’s com­ments ver­sus his actual report­ing of events in his book as a clue: had the event really been the minor revolt he asserted it to be, it would not deserve such an exten­sive, neg­a­tive treatment.

The Grito de Lares as a holiday

Com­mem­o­rat­ing the Grito de Lares as a hol­i­day was out­lawed by both Span­ish and Amer­i­can, author­i­ties in Puerto Rico, dur­ing dif­fer­ent time peri­ods.   The Span­ish pro­hi­bi­tion lasted until its colo­nial rule over Puerto Rico for­mally ended in 1899.   Con­se­quently, besides minor yearly events by the peo­ple of Lares cel­e­brated after­wards, the Grito was almost for­got­ten by most peo­ple.   How­ever, pro-independence sup­port­ers such as Jose de Diego and Luis Llorens Tor­res intended to pop­u­lar­ize the idea of com­mem­o­rat­ing the event as a hol­i­day.   De Diego, for instance, requested the foun­da­tion of the Uni­ver­sity of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (which he pro­posed to the Puerto Rican Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly) to occur on 23 Sep­tem­ber, 1911, to coin­cide with the Grito’s anniversary.

In the late 1920s mem­bers of the Nation­al­ist Party of Puerto Rico staged minor cel­e­bra­tions in the town of Lares as both his­tor­i­cal and fund-raising efforts.   When Pedro Albizu Cam­pos gained con­trol over the party, “friv­o­lous” activ­i­ties related to the Grito (such as the yearly fundrais­ing dance) were ter­mi­nated, and a series of rit­u­als devel­oped to com­mem­o­rate the event in a dig­ni­fied man­ner.   One of Albizu’s bet­ter known quotes is: “Lares es Tierra Santa, y como tal, debe entrarse a ella de rodil­las” (“Lares is Holy Land, and as such, it must be entered kneel­ing down”).

Key to the rit­u­als asso­ci­ated with the Grito is the gift, given by Chilean writer Gabriela Mis­tral to Albizu’s fam­ily, of a tamarind tree obtained from Simon Bolivar’s estate in Venezuela. The tree was planted at the Plaza de la Rev­olu­cion with soil taken from the eigh­teen other Spanish-speaking Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries.   Albizu meant to give the Plaza a liv­ing sym­bol of sol­i­dar­ity with the strug­gle for free­dom and inde­pen­dence ini­ti­ated by Boli­var (who, while vis­it­ing Vieques, promised to assist the Puerto Rico inde­pen­dence move­ment, but whose promise never mate­ri­al­ized due to the power strug­gles sur­round­ing him), as well as a sym­bol of the bit­ter­sweet (as the trees’ fruit) hard­ships needed to reach Puerto Rico’s inde­pen­dence.   As such, the Tamarindo de Don Pedro was meant to resem­ble the Gernikako Arbola in the Basque Coun­try between Spain and France.

In 1969, under the admin­is­tra­tion of Gov­er­nor Luis A Ferre, a state­hood sup­porter, Lares was declared a His­toric Site by the Insti­tute of Puerto Rican Cul­ture, and is known as the birth­place of Puerto Rican Nation­al­ism.   The Grito is not a national hol­i­day in Puerto Rico, although it is con­sid­ered as such by the Uni­ver­sity of Puerto Rico (see above).

From Wikipedia, the free ency­clo­pe­dia

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