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).

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