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The Militant, 16 June 1945

Evelyn Atwood

Arrested Puerto Rican Nationalist Leader
Opposes Wall St. Imperialism

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 24, 16 June 1945, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


“They think they can kill great ideas by throwing the men who represent these ideas into prison,” Julio Pinto Gandia, former acting president and secretary-general of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party said to me when I interviewed him on June 7 at his home, 326 West 17th St., N.Y.C.

Gandia was referring to his arrest on June 4 by the FBI for his refusal to comply with the draft laws. He is now being held in $1,000 bail for a federal hearing on June 19 on charges of draft evasion. If convicted, he faces five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The Puerto Rican nationalist leader acted in accordance with the policy of his Party, which in 1941 unanimously voted, in open convention, not to cooperate with the U.S. Selective Service because “the United States holds Puerto Rico under a military, illegal government.” Thus his is a case of the political persecution of a leader of a subject people fighting for its independence.

Fights for Principle

“You must understand the political background of my case,” Gandia explained. “This arrest is a minor thing. It is not what happens to me, but the fate of our nationalist movement to free Puerto Rico from U.S. imperialism that is important. I was railroaded to six years in prison in this country once before because of my political beliefs. And the reason, of course, is that I am fighting for a principle.”

Gandia paused as be saw me taking notes and could not conceal his doubts. “Most newspapers are silent about the principle behind my fight and why I am persecuted. They lie, they distort the facts ...” But when I hastened to assure him that The Militant supported the struggles of colonial peoples for independence and published the truth about them for its readers, be brightened up. Slight and frail, he rose from his chair, his hollow cheeks becoming bright red with emotion.

“Then your paper could help my cause a great deal! If you would really tell the American people all the things they do not know! Most Americans do not believe that the United States is an imperialist country. They say: ‘It cannot be – we are a Democracy.’ But some, a few, who have found out what your country has done to mine, feel terribly ashamed. They know then that it is just as bad as what England has done to India.”

The conquest and exploitation of Puerto Rico is indeed a black page in imperialist aggrandizement. In 1898 during the Spanish- American War – the first military venture of U.S. imperialism – the United States seized Puerto Rico, along with Cuba, Guam and the Philippines, all of them former possessions of Spain.

A Black Page

After two years of military dictatorship, Congress in 1900 provided a “civil government” through the Foraker Act. When the Puerto Ricans rebelled against the despotic powers this gave the U.S. government, the Organic Law was passed and subsequently amended several times to give the appearance of native participation in the government. But never has Puerto Rico been able to shake the “Colossus of the North” off its back and take its government into its own hands.

Through U.S. appointment of all leading officials, Wall St. rules and ruins the island. The native farmers have been dispossessed. Half the island is owned by the absentee American sugar interests. The industries are almost entirely owned by absentee profiteers. The average weekly wage is $5.31. More than 90 per cent of the average Puerto Rican family’s income must go for food which averages 25% higher than what is paid in New York City for the same products. Chronic unemployment engulfs 70 percent of the workers and keeps the people in starvation. There are no schools for more than half the children.

Liberty Denied

In this war as in the last, the young men of Puerto Rico have been taken into the U.S. Army to fight and die for the “democracy” and “freedom” they have been denied at home. To this extent only has the privilege of citizenship been “conferred” upon them.

“I have been in the struggle for the independence of my country for 17 years,” said Gandia, who is now 37 years old. The Nationalist Party, of which he is a leader, was formed after the last war, in the 1920’s. “We ask nothing of the United States except that it get out of our country!”

The popular movement for independence came to a climax in 1937, when the U.S. sent Blanton Winship of Georgia to Puerto Rico as governor, to suppress the Nationalist movement. A series of killings by the police for which the Nationalists were held responsible, culminated in the Ponce Massacre on Palm Sunday, 1937. The American police machine-gunned a completely unarmed procession of Nationalists marching to a cathedral, killing 21 and wounding more than 200.

60 in Prison

“Since that time,” Gandia told roe, “most of our leader have been imprisoned. There are more than 60 of us in U.S. prisons even today. Some, who have served their terms, are kept in exile in this country. Don Pedro Albizu Campos, president of our party, was sent to Atlanta for seven years. His health got very bad and he is now here in a New York hospital. I was sent to Leavenworth for five years.”

I asked Gandia about his own health. “Oh, I survived,” he said with a half smile and gesture. “We survive, I guess, because we have to. We still have work to do.” Then he told me he was released on parole after three and a half years’ in federal prison and sent back to Puerto Rico. “But I would not – as the officials say – ‘comply with the conditions of parole.’ So after two weeks they brought me back and put me in Petersburg, Va. penitentiary to finish my sentence. I was released in January, 1943 and came to New York.”

Before the conclusion of the interview, Gandia spoke again on the present charge against him of draft evasion.

“I do not evade anything. I simply refuse to fight as a slave of an imperialist power. I will fight as much as is needed, but only for the freedom and independence of my people. I know there are many young men from Puerto Rico in the U.S. army, but they don’t know what they are doing. They do not understand. They think they are fighting for freedom and democracy. But they will learn ... that kind of fight begins at home.”

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