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Ponce Mas­sacre

On March 21, 1937, Ponce was involved in an inci­dent called the Ponce Mas­sacre. The inci­dent occurred as a result of a march orga­nized in Ponce on Palm Sun­day by the Puer­to Rican Nation­al­ist Par­ty. The women were dressed in white, as nurs­es of the Red Cross. The men wore all white or a black shirt and white pants. Some of the oth­er adults wore cadet uni­forms of a Lib­er­a­tion Army, the gath­ered group were the Cadets of the Repub­lic and the Daugh­ters of Lib­er­ty.  The march was orga­nized to com­mem­o­rate the end of slav­ery in 1873 and to also protest the incar­cer­a­tion of Nation­al­ist Par­ty Leader, Pedro Albizu Cam­pos, who was jailed in Atlanta Geor­gia as well as demand­ing Puer­to Rico’s Inde­pen­dence from the Unit­ed States.

Pedro Albizu Campos

Nine­teen unarmed nation­al­ist pro­test­ers, peace­ful­ly cel­e­brat­ing the Abo­li­tion of Slav­ery (in 1873), were fatal­ly shot by police under orders from the Unit­ed States, CoIn­t­er­Pro (Counter Intel­li­gence Pro­gram) and non-demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed mil­i­tary assigned Gov­er­nor, Major Gen­er­al, Blan­ton C. Win­ship.  Sev­er­al days before the Protest the group filed and was grant­ed a per­mit by the may­or of Ponce, Blas Oliv­eras to gath­er and protest on the 21st of march 1937.  That is what the group of pro­test­ers meant to do, march in a peace­ful man­ner to voice their con­cerns.

On the day of the protest just hours before the march was to start the colo­nial mil­i­tary Gov­er­nor of Puer­to Rico Major Gen­er­al Blan­ton Win­ship decid­ed to order the May­or to can­cel the per­mit.  Gov­er­nor Win­ship ordered the Police who wre dressed in mil­i­tary uni­forms and black boots to do what thet will to stop the group from march­ing.  The police­men sur­round­ed the marchers and ordered them to dis­as­sem­ble and leave, and the peo­ple did as they were told but right­ful­ly the group was very upset and angry by this last minute turn of events.  The group decid­ed to hold the protest any­way, as they start­ed to march they marched wav­ing the ille­gal Puer­to Rican flag (now the offi­cial flag of the cur­rent com­mon­wealth of Puer­to Rico ) and the song “La Bor­in­queña” the then out­lawed anthem (now it’s the offi­cial Puer­to Rican anthem) played a shot rang out, it is not known if it was from a police offi­cer or from the crowd watch­ing the march. On this Point is where a con­tro­ver­sy exist, some say that the police start­ed every­thing when they opened fire on the group of marchers. Oth­ers say the pro­test­ers start­ed it by pro­vok­ing the police. Who ever start­ed it that doesn’t mat­ter, because what fol­lowed was the worst mas­sacre in Puer­to Rican His­to­ry. The police that sur­round­ed them were con­cen­trat­ed from all over the island by Colonel Orbe­ta on his way to Ponce.

relatives of killed in massacre

rel­a­tives of killed in mas­sacre

The gov­ern­ment had planned for days to restrict the activ­i­ties of the Nation­al­ist par­ty dur­ing this protest march.  The Chief of Police Guiller­mo Sol­dev­il­la, with 14 police­men, placed him­self in front of the marchers.  Chief Perez Segar­ra and Sergeant Rafael Moli­na, com­man­der of 9 police­men who were armed with Thomp­son sub- machine guns and tear gas bombs, stood in back of them.   Chief of Police Anto­nio Bernar­di, head­ing 11 police­men armed with machine guns, stood to the east of them. The last group of 12 police­men armed with rifles was, posi­tioned to the west of the marchers.   Instead of peace­ful­ly stop­ping the group or arrest­ing them.   They were fired upon for over 15 min­utes by the police from their four posi­tions.   The peo­ple ran but were sur­round­ed, as the streets were blocked by the police, they climbed over bloody shot bod­ies.

Dur­ing the Fif­teen minute shoot­ing at the Mas­sacre the flag-bear­er a mem­ber of the Cadets of the Repub­lic was killed.   Car­men Fer­nan­dez when she was the flag-bear­er fall tried to pick up the flag her­self, she was shot and grave­ly injured.   At this time Domin­ga Barcer­ril a lady who was already hid­ing saw the flag fall on the ground, she ran up to the flag picked it up, waved it and ran towards a hos­pi­tal for cov­er she was unharmed.   When asked why she exposed her­self to dan­ger, she said that “El Mae­stro (The Teacher) has told us that the flag must always be raised up high” the teacher was Don Pedro Abizu Cam­pos.   About 100 pro­test­ers were wound­ed and nine­teen were killed, the dead includ­ed 17 men, one woman, and a sev­en year old girl.

Some of these dead were demon­stra­tors, while the rest were passers-by.   Many were chased by the police and shot or clubbed at the entrance to their homes oth­ers were dragged from their hid­ing places and killed.   Leopold Tormes, a mem­ber of the Puer­to Rico Leg­is­la­ture said that one police­man mur­dered a nation­al­ist with his bare hands.   One thing is known, that the first shot that rang out was not fired by any of the Pro­test­ers.   Dr. Jose Gan­dara, one of the physi­cians who assist­ed the wound­ed, tes­ti­fied that some of the wound­ed peo­ple were shot while run­ning away, and that many were again wound­ed by clubs and the bare fists of the police.   No arms were found in the hands of the wound­ed civil­ians, nor on the dead ones.

The mem­bers of the Nation­al­ist Par­ty and the Cadets of the Repub­lic were unarmed and trapped by the police who shot them at close range.   This crime was com­mit­ted under the direct orders of Gen­er­al Blan­ton Win­ship,   the colo­nial gov­er­nor of the island.   After this act by the gov­ern­ment, the impris­oned Nation­al­ist lead­ers were jailed and trans­ferred to Atlanta.  Angel Este­ban Anton­gior­gi one of the mem­bers of the com­man­do, fired his weapon until he ran out of bul­lets before being killed by a police offi­cer

The People who were killed in the Ponce Massacre:

  • Juan Del­ga­do Cotal Nieves
  • Maria Her­nan­dez Del Rosario
  • Luis Jimenez Morales
  • Ceferi­no Loy­ola Perez (insu­lar police)
  • Georgina Mal­don­a­do (7 year-old)
  • Boli­var Mar­quez Telechea
  • Ramon Ortiz Toro
  • Ulpi­ano Perea
  • Juan Anto­nio Pietran­toni
  • Juan Reyes Rivera
  • Con­ra­do Rivera Lopez
  • Ivan G. Rodriguez Figueras
  • Jenaro Rodriguez Mendez
  • Pedro Juan Rodriguez Rivera
  • Obdulio Rosario
  • Euse­bio Sanchez Perez (insu­lar police)
  • Juan San­tos Ortiz
  • Juan Tor­res Gre­go­ry
  • Teodoro Velez Tor­res

 

Long Live the Repub­lic!

Down with the Assas­sins!

 

Blanton WinshipThis is what Boli­var Mar­quez one of the Nation­al­ist wrote in his own blood on the pave­ment as he laid dying. This day will go down in Puer­to Rican His­to­ry as the day of the cru­elest act com­mit­ted by the U.S Gov­ern­ment on the Puer­to Rican Peo­ple.   Inves­ti­ga­tions of the events reached dis­agree­ing opin­ions on whether the Police or the nation­al­ist marchers fired the first shot. Gov­er­nor Win­ship used his pow­er and influ­ence and request­ed that the pub­lic pros­e­cu­tor from Ponce Rafael Marc­hand to arrest more Nation­al­ist and that no charges be made against the police.   Perez Marc­hand resigned when he was not allowed to con­duct a prop­er inves­ti­ga­tion by the gov­er­nor. A gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tion into the inci­dent pro­duced few con­clu­sions.   A sec­ond inves­ti­ga­tion by the U.S com­mis­sion for civ­il rights con­clud­ed that the events of that day, March 21, 1937 was indeed a mas­sacre.   The report also harsh­ly crit­i­cized the tac­tics used con­sti­tut­ed a mas­sive vio­la­tion of civ­il right by Gov­er­nor Blan­ton Winship“s admin­is­tra­tion.

“The event should nev­er be for­got­ten, because it can show some peo­ple that the USA has not always been a fight­er for free­dom.   The Span­ish also did the same thing and more, but for the USA it is hyp­o­crit­i­cal to advo­cate free­dom to the world and tram­ple peo­ple in their own back­yard, in their own “pro­tec­tion”.   Some say don’t stay think­ing in the past too long, think of the future.   Well what is the future with­out a past to learn from, to know what effects cer­tain things can hap­pen once you try them, to know who you are and what it took to get you where you are, we soon will be his­to­ry, don’t you want peo­ple to remem­ber you?”

Ponce Massacre Museum

Ponce Mas­sacre Muse­um is locat­ed on the cor­ners of Auro­ra and mari­na streets in the Ponce His­toric Sec­tor in the same inter­sec­tion where the Mas­sacre took place.   This muse­um offers an exhib­it about one of Ponce’s and Puer­to Rico’s vio­lent chap­ters.   The muse­um offers an exten­sive col­lec­tion of pic­tures, doc­u­men­ta­tion, and mem­o­ra­bil­ia of the time, as well as sev­er­al exhibits and videos of the events on that bloody Palm Sun­day in 1937.   It also includes infor­ma­tion of the peo­ple involved in the mas­sacre, along with homage to nation­al­ist fig­ure Pedro Albizu Cam­pos.