Wednesday, 27 November 2013


                          BLACK                 SOCIAL               HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The Ponce massacre was the largest massacre in Puerto Rican history.
It occurred on Palm Sunday, 21 March 1937, when a peaceful civilian march in Ponce, Puerto Rico, turned into a police slaughter that killed 19 Puerto Ricans and wounded over 200 others. The march had been organized by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party to commemorate the abolition of slavery in Puerto Rico by the governing Spanish National Assembly in 1873. The march was also protesting the U.S. government's imprisonment of the party's leader, Pedro Albizu Campos, on alleged sedition charges.
An investigation by the Hays Commission put the blame squarely on the U.S.-appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Blanton Winship. Further criticism by members of the U.S. Congress led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to remove Winship in 1939 as governor. Governor Winship was never prosecuted for the massacre. No one under his chain of command - including the police who took part in the event, and admitted to the mass shooting - was ever prosecuted or reprimanded.

Several days before the scheduled Palm Sunday march, the Nationalists had received legal permits for a peaceful protest from José Tormos Diego, the mayor of Ponce. According to a 1926 Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruling, government permits were not necessary for the use of plazas, parks or streets for meetings or parades. However, as a courtesy to the Ponce municipal government, the Nationalists requested the permit nevertheless.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Chronology of events

However, upon learning about the march, the US-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, General Blanton Winship, ordered the new Insular Police Chief, Colonel Enrique de Orbeta, to contact Mayor Tormos and have him cancel the parade permit. He also ordered Orbeta to increase the police force in the southern city, and to stop, "by all means necessary", any demonstration conducted by the nationalists in Ponce. Without notice to the organizers, or any opportunity to appeal, or any time to arrange an alternate venue, the permits were abrubtly withdrawn, just before the protest was scheduled to beging.

The Insular Police, a force somewhat resembling the National Guard, was under the direct military command of Governor Winship and ultimate responsibility for the massacre fell on Winship, who controlled the National Guard and Insular Police, and ordered the shootings.
 Following Governor Winship's orders, Colonel Orbeta went to Ponce where he concentrated police units from across the island sporting "the latest riot control equipment", among which he also included the machine gunners in the island. For many days, Winship had planned to crush the activities of the Nationalists and their leader, Pedro Albizu Campos.
Juana Diaz, Police Chief Guillermo Soldevilla, with 14 policemen, took a position in front of the marchers. Chief Perez Segarra and Sgt. Rafael Molina, commanding nine policemen armed with Thompson submachine guns and tear gas bombs, stood in the back. Chief of Police Antonio Bernardi, heading 11 policemen armed with machine guns, stood in the east; and another group of 12 police, armed with rifles, was placed in the west. According to some reports, police numbered "over 200 heavily armed" guards.[19]
 BLACK                SOCIAL         HISTORY

As La Borinqueña, Puerto Rico's national song, was being played, the Ponce branch of the Cadetes de la República under the command of Tomás López de Victoria and the rest of the demonstrators began to march. The Insular Police then started firing on the marchers - killing 17 unarmed civilians, two policemen, and wounding some 235 civilians, including women and children.
A seven-year-old girl was also killed by a bullet. Police firing went on for over 15 minutes.[15] The dead included 17 men, one woman, and the seven-year-old girl. Some of the dead were demonstrators, while others were simply passers-by. At of 2009, only two survivors were still known to be alive, Fernando Velez and his sister Beatriz Velez, nephew and niece of patriots Emeli Velez and Erasmo Vando.
The flag-bearer of the Cadets of the Republic was shot and killed during the massacre. A young girl by the name of Carmen Fernández proceeded to take the flag, but was shot and gravely injured. A young Nationalist cadet by the name of Bolívar Márquez, dragged himself to the wall of Santo Asilo de Damas and wrote with his blood the following message before dying:
“¡Viva la República, Abajo los asesinos!”
(“Long live the Republic, Down with the Murderers!”)
Many were chased by the police and shot or clubbed at the entrance of their houses as they tried to escape. Others were taken from their hiding places and killed. Leopold Tormes, a member of the Puerto Rico legislature, told reporters how a policeman murdered a nationalist with his bare hands. Dr. Jose N. Gandara, one of the physicians who assisted the wounded, testified that wounded people running away were shot, and that many were again wounded by the clubs and bare fists of the police. No arms were found in the hands of the civilians wounded, nor on the dead ones. About 150 of the demonstrators were arrested immediately afterward; they were later released on bail.

Official version of the events

BLACK               SOCIAL             HISTORY
The next day, Governor Winship radioed Washington and reported, officially, that the Nationalists had initiated the shooting.[28][29] Part of his radiogram report stated that "two shots were fired by the Nationalists…with Nationalists firing from the street, and from roofs and balconies on both sides of the street...[the police] showed great patience, consideration and understanding of the situation, as did the officers and men under him [the Police Chief]."
The following day, as a result of this misinformation, the New York Times and Washington Post reported that a Nationalist political revolt had claimed the lives of over eighteen people in Puerto Rico.
The Puerto Rican senator Luis Muñoz Marin traveled to the city of Ponce to investigate the event. After examining the photograph taken by Carlos Torres Morales of El Imparcial, which had not yet been published, he wrote a letter to Ruth Hampton, an official at the United States Department of the Interior. He said that the photograph showed that the policemen were not shooting at the uniformed Nationalists (Cadets), but at a terrified crowd in full flight.

The investigation and the Hays Commission


Subsequent investigations of the event reached conflicting conclusions on whether the police or the marchers fired the first shots. Governor Winship applied pressure on the district attorney's office in charge of the investigation. He also requested that the public prosecutor from Ponce, Rafael Pérez Marchand, "arrest more Nationalists," and that no charges be filed against the police. In response to this pressure, prosecutor Perez Marchand resigned for not being allowed by the governor to conduct a proper investigation.
A Puerto Rican government investigation into the incident drew few conclusions. A second, independent investigation ordered by the United States Commission on Civil Rights led by ACLU's Arthur Garfield Hays, together with prominent Puerto Rican citizens Fulgencio Pinero, Emilio Belaval, Jose Davila Rice, Antonio Ayuyo Valdivieso, Manuel Diaz Garcia, and Franscisco M. Zeno took place. This investigation concluded that the events on March 21 constituted a massacre and mob action by the police. The report harshly criticized the repressive tactics and massive civil rights violations by Governor Winship.
After viewing the photograph taken by Carlos Torres Morales, Hays in his report to the American Civil Liberties Union questioned why the governor's investigation had not used the photography, which was among two that were widely published. According to Hays, the photograph clearly showed 18 armed policeman at the corner of Aurora and Marina streets, ready to fire upon a group of innocent bystanders. The image also showed the white smoke in the barrel of a policeman's revolver, as he fired upon the unarmed people. The Hays Commission questioned why the policemen fired directly at the crowd, and not at the Nationalist Cadets.