"Be good, do good, live long in peace." --DJ 

How Pedro Albizu Campos Got a Bad Deal
(September 12, 1891 – April 21, 1965)

Pedro Albizu Campos was a Puerto Rican attorney and politician, and the leading figure in the Puerto Rican independence movement. Gifted in languages, he spoke six; graduating from Harvard Law School with the highest grade point average in his law class, an achievement that earned him the right to give the valedictorian speech at his graduation ceremony.

However, hostility towards his mixed racial heritage would lead to his professors delaying two of his final exams in order to keep him from graduating on time. During his time at Harvard University he became involved in the Irish struggle for independence.

Albizu Campos was the president and spokesperson of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party from 1930 until his death in 1965. Because of his oratorical skill, he was hailed as El Maestro (The Teacher). He was imprisoned twenty-six years for attempting to overthrow the United States government in Puerto Rico. In 1950, he planned and called for armed uprisings in several cities in Puerto Rico on behalf of independence. Afterward he was convicted and imprisoned again. He died in 1965 shortly after his pardon and release from federal prison, some time after suffering a stroke. There is controversy over his medical treatment in prison.

He was born in a sector of Barrio Machuelo Abajo in Ponce, Puerto Rico to Juana Campos, a domestic worker of Spanish, African and Taíno ancestry, on 12th. of September of 1891. His father, Alejandro Albizu Romero, known as "El Vizcaíno," was a Basque merchant, from a family of Spanish immigrants who had temporarily resided in Venezuela. From an educated family, Albizu was the nephew of the danza composer Juan Morel Campos, and cousin of Puerto Rican educator Dr. Carlos Albizu Miranda. The boy's mother died when he was young and his father did not acknowledge him until he was at Harvard University.

Albizu graduated from Ponce High School, a "public school for the city's white elite." In 1912, Albizu was awarded a scholarship to study Engineering, specializing in Chemistry, at the University of Vermont. In 1913, he transferred to Harvard University so as to continue his studies.

At the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered in the United States Infantry. Albizu was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserves and sent to the City of Ponce, where he organized the town's Home Guard. He was called to serve in the regular Army and sent to Camp Las Casas for further training. Upon completing the training, he was assigned to the 375th Infantry Regiment. The United States Army, then segregated, assigned Puerto Ricans of recognizably African descent as soldiers to the all-black units, such as the 375th Regiment. Officers were men classified as white, as was Albizu Campos.

Lieutenant Pedro Albizu Campos was honorably discharged from the Army in 1919, with the rank of First Lieutenant. However, his exposure to racism during his time in the U.S. military altered his perspective on U.S.- Puerto Rico relations, and he became the leading advocate for Puerto Rican independence.

Albizu graduated from Harvard Law School in 1921 while simultaneously studying Literature, Philosophy, Chemical Engineering, and Military Science at Harvard College. He was fluent in six modern and two classical languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Latin, and ancient Greek.

Upon graduation from law school, he was recruited for prestigious positions, including a law clerkship to the U.S. Supreme Court, a diplomatic post with the U.S. State Department, the regional vice-presidency (Caribbean region) of a U.S. agricultural syndicate, and a tenured faculty appointment to the University of Puerto Rico.

So What Happened?
— The Bad Deal
On June 23, 1921, after graduating from Harvard Law School, he returned to Puerto Rico—but without his law diploma. He had been the victim of racial discrimination by one of his professors, who delayed Albizu Campos' third-year final exams for courses in Evidence and Corporations. He was about to graduate with the highest grade-point average in his entire law school class. As such, he was scheduled to give the valedictory speech during the graduation ceremonies. His professor delayed his exams so that he could not complete his work, and avoided the "embarrassment" of a Puerto Rican law valedictorian.

Nationalist activists wanted independence from foreign banks, absentee plantation owners, and United States colonial rule. Accordingly, they started organizing in Puerto Rico. In 1919, José Coll y Cuchí, a member of the Union Party of Puerto Rico, took followers with him to form the Nationalist Association of Puerto Rico in San Juan, to work for independence. They gained legislative approval to repatriate the remains of Ramón Emeterio Betances, the Puerto Rican patriot, from Paris, France.

In 1932, Albizu published a letter accusing Dr. Cornelius P. Rhoads, an American pathologist with the Rockefeller Institute, of killing Puerto Rican patients in San Juan's Presbyterian Hospital, as part of his medical research. Albizu Campos had been given an unmailed letter by Rhoads addressed to a colleague, found after Rhoads returned to the United States.

Part of what Rhoads wrote, in a letter to his friend which began by complaining about another's job appointment, included the following:

"I can get a damn fine job here and am tempted to take it. It would be ideal except for the Puerto Ricans. They are beyond doubt the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever inhabiting this sphere. It makes you sick to inhabit the same island with them.

They are even lower than Italians. What the island needs is not public health work but a tidal wave or something to totally exterminate the population. It might then be livable.

I have done my best to further the process of extermination by killing off 8 and transplanting cancer into several more. The latter has not resulted in any fatalities so far...

The matter of consideration for the patients' welfare plays no role here - in fact all physicians take delight in the abuse and torture of the unfortunate

Albizu sent copies of the letter to the League of Nations, the Pan American Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, newspapers, embassies, and the Vatican. He also sent copies of the Rhoads letter to the media, and published his own letter in the Porto Rico Progress. He used it as an opportunity to attack United States imperialism, writing:

"The mercantile monopoly is backed by the financial monopoly... The United States have mortgaged the country to their own financial interests. The military intervention destroyed agriculture. It changed the country into a huge sugar plantation..."

Albizu Campos accused Rhoads and the United States of trying to exterminate the native population, saying, "Evidently, submissive people coming under the North American empire, under the shadow of its flag, are taken ill and die.

The facts confirm absolutely a system of extermination." He went on, "It (the Rockefeller Foundation) has in fact been working out a plan to exterminate our people by inoculating patients unfortunate enough to go to them with virus of incurable diseases such as cancer."

After these events, on April 3, 1936, a federal grand jury submitted an indictment against Albizu Campos, Juan Antonio Corretjer, Luis F. Velázquez, Clemente Soto Vélez and the following members of the cadets: Erasmo Velázquez, Julio H. Velázquez, Rafael Ortiz Pacheco, Juan Gallardo Santiago, and Pablo Rosado Ortiz. They were charged with sedition and other violations of Title 18 of the United States Code.

Lolita Lebrón called him "Puerto Rico's most visionary leader" and nationalists consider him "one of the island's greatest patriots of the 20th century." Juan Manuel Carrión wrote that "Albizu still represents a forceful challenge to the very fabric of Puerto Rico's colonial political order."

His followers state that Albizu's political and military actions served as a primer for positive change in Puerto Rico, including the improvement of labor conditions for peasants and workers, a more accurate assessment of the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, and an awareness by the political establishment in Washington, D.C. of this colonial relationship.

Supporters state that the legacy is that of an exemplary sacrifice for the building of the Puerto Rican nation...a legacy of resistance to colonial rule. His critics say that he "failed to attract and offer concrete solutions to the struggling poor and working class people and thus was unable to spread the revolution to the masses."

The revival of public observance of the Grito de Lares and its significant icons was a result of Albizu Campos's efforts as the leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.

During his imprisonment, Albizu suffered deteriorating health. He alleged that he was the subject of human radiation experiments in prison and said that he could see colored rays bombarding him. When he wrapped wet towels around his head in order to shield himself from the radiation, the prison guards ridiculed him as El Rey de las Toallas (The King of the Towels).

Officials suggested that Pedro Albizu Campos was suffering from mental illness, but other prisoners at La Princesa prison including Francisco Matos Paoli, Roberto Díaz and Juan Jaca, claimed that they felt the effects of radiation on their own bodies as well.

Dr. Orlando Daumy, a radiologist and president of the Cuban Cancer Association, traveled to Puerto Rico to examine him. From his direct physical examination of Albizu Campos, Dr. Daumy reached three specific conclusions:

1) that the sores on Albizu Campos were produced by radiation burns
2) that his symptoms corresponded to those of a person who had received intense radiation,
3) that wrapping himself in wet towels was the best way to diminish the intensity of the rays.

In 1956, Albizu suffered a stroke in prison and was transferred to San Juan's Presbyterian Hospital under police guard.

On November 15, 1964, on the brink of death, Pedro Albizu Campos was pardoned by Governor Luis Muñoz Marín. He died on April 21, 1965. More than 75,000 Puerto Ricans were part of a procession that accompanied his body for burial in the Old San Juan Cemetery.

Statue of Don Pedro Albizu Campos in Mayaguez



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