Template:Puerto Rican Nationalist Party The Ponce Massacre is a violent chapter in the political history of Puerto Rico. On March 21, 1937 (Palm Sunday), a march was organized in the southern city of Ponce, Puerto Rico, by the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. The march, organized to commemorate the ending of slavery in Puerto Rico by the governing Spanish National Assembly in 1873, was also formed to protest the incarceration by the U.S. government of nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos on sedition charges. The peaceful march resulted in the death of 17 unarmed civilians at the hands of the Insular Police, in addition to some 235 wounded civilians, including women and children. The Insular Police, a force somewhat resembling the National Guard of the typical U.S. state, answered to orders of the U.S. appointed governor of Puerto Rico, General Blanton Winship. Ultimately, responsibility for the massacre fell on Governor Winship, and he is considered to have, in effect, ordered the massacre. It was the biggest massacre in Puerto Rican history.
Chronology of events
Days before, march organizers received permits for a peaceful protest from the municipality of Ponce, under Mayor José Tormos Diego. Upon learning of the planned protest, however, the colonial governor of Puerto Rico at the time, General Blanton Winship, who had been appointed by US president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, demanded the immediate withdrawal of the permits. They were withdrawn a short time before the protest was scheduled to begin.
Colonel Orbeta, Chief of Police under governor Winship, went to Ponce concentrating police units from across the island, among which he included all the machine gunners in the island. For many days, the government had planned to restrict the activities of the nationalists and their leader, Pedro Albizu Campos.
Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico, Chief of Police Guillermo Soldevilla, with 14 policemen, placed himself in front of the marchers. Chief Perez Segarra and Sgt. Rafael Molina, commanding nine policemen who were 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.
As "La Borinqueña", Puerto Rico's national song, was being played, the demonstrators began to march. They were then fired upon for over 15 minutes by the police from their four positions. About 235 were wounded and nineteen were killed. The dead included 17 men, one woman, and a seven-year-old girl. Some of the dead were demonstrators, while others were simply passers-by. At the present time, only two survivors are still alive, Fernando Velez and his sister Beatriz Velez, nephew and niece of patriots Emeli Velez and Erasmo Vando. 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.
Upon his arrival from Washington, D.C., Luis Muñoz Marin traveled to the City of Ponce to investigate the massacre. After examining the photograph taken by Carlos Torres Morales and which still had not been made public, he wrote to Ruth Hampton, an official at the United States Department of the Interior, and stated that the photograph clearly showed that the policeman were not shooting at the uniformed Nationalists, but at a terrorized 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 pressured the district's attorney in charge of the investigation, and requested that the public prosecutor from Ponce, Rafael Pérez Marchand, arrested more nationalists and that no charges were made against the police. Perez Marchand resigned when he was not allowed by the governor to conduct a proper investigation.
A government investigation into the incident drew few conclusions. A second, independent investigation ordered by the US Commission for Civil Rights (May 5, 1937) led by Arthur Garfield Hays (a member of the ACLU) with Fulgencio Pinero, Emilio Belaval, Jose Davila Rice, Antonio Ayuyo Valdivieso, Manuel Diaz Garcia, and Franscisco M. Zeno, concluded that the events on March 21 constituted a massacre. The report harshly criticized the repressive tactics and massive civil rights violations by the administration of Governor Blanton Winship.
After viewing the picture of the massacre taken by Carlos Torres Morales, Hayes in his report to the American Civil Liberties Union wondered why the government in its investigation did not use the photograph which was among two that were widely published. According to Hayes, in the photograph it can be observed that 18 armed policeman at the corner of Aurora and Marina streets were ready to fire against a group of innocent bystanders. The image also showed the white smoke coming out of the barrel of a policeman's revolver as he fired upon the people. His Committee was unable to understand why the pictured policeman and the others fired directly at the crowd and not at the Cadets.
Luis Muñoz Marin reacting to the evidence said that the photograph taken by Carlos Torres Morales "is remarkable in that the policemen are not shooting at the uniformed nationalists but at a terrorized crowd in full flight." 
People killed in the Ponce Massacre
The following is a list of the people who were killed in the Ponce Massacre:
- Cotal Nieves, Juan Delgado
- Hernandez del Rosario, Maria
- Jimenez Morales, Luis
- Loyola Perez, Ceferino (insular police)
- Maldonado, Georgina (7-year-old)
- Marquez Telechea, Bolivar
- Ortiz Toro, Ramon
- Perea, Ulpiano
- Pietrantoni, Juan Antonio
- Reyes Rivera, Juan
- Rivera Lopez, Conrado
- Rodriguez Figueras, Ivan G.
- Rodriguez Mendez, Jenaro
- Rodriguez Rivera, Pedro Juan
- Rosario, Obdulio
- Sanchez Perez, Eusebio (insular police)
- Santos Ortiz, Juan
- Torres Gregory, Juan
- Velez Torres, Teodoro
Recorded in the Congressional Record
The police in Ponce, probably with the encouragement of the North American police chief and even the governor, opened fire on a Palm Sunday Nationalist march, killing seventeen and wounding more than two hundred.
- — Hon. Congressman John T. Bernard
The statements can be found in:
- Extension of Remarks of the Honorable Congressman John T. Bernard of Minnesota in the Congressional Record, 75th Congress, 1st Session, 14 April 1937, Volume 81:934-936;
- Harwood Hull, Clash Rekindles Puerto Rican Feud, New York Times, 28 March 1937, page 11;
- 7 Die in Puerto Rican Riot: 50 Injured as Police Fire on Fighting Nationalists, New York Times 22 March 1937, p. 1.
Attempt against Winship
Governor Winship decided to celebrate, with a military parade, the invasion of Puerto Rico on July 25, 1938, in the city of Ponce, a little over a year after the Ponce massacre. His intentions was to demonstrate that his "Law and Order" policy had been a successful one against the Nationalists. The parade was interrupted by a hail of bullets fired towards the grandstand, in an attempt to assassinate Winship, by alleged members of the Nationalist Party. It was the first time in Puerto Rican history that an attempt had been made against a governor. Although Winship had escaped unscathed, a total of 36 people were wounded and among the dead were National Guard Colonel Luis Irizarry and Nationalist Angel Esteban Antongiorgi. Several nationalists in the crowd were arrested and nine accused of participating in the attack. Even though the Nationalist Party officially distanced themselves from the attack and claimed that it had been the act of an isolated individual, the party was condemned to be overtaken by the momentous political events of that decade.
One of the by-products of the Ponce Massacre and the Hays Commission was the creation in Puerto Rico of a chapter of the ACLU on May 21, 1937. It was named "Asociación Puertorriqueña de Libertades Civiles" (Puerto Rican Association of Civil Liberties). Its first president was Dr. Tomás Blanco, attorneys Felipe Colón Díaz and Dr. Antonio Fernós Isern were its vice-presidents, the treasurer was Inés María Mendoza, the Secretary was attorney Vicente Géigel Polanco, and the association's legal counsel was attorney Ernesto Ramos Antonini. Luis Muñoz Marin and many leaders from Ponce, including attorney Pérez Marchand and some of the members of the Hays Commission, were also among the founders.
Ponce Massacre Museum
The Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, an agency of the Government of Puerto Rico, runs the Ponce Massacre Museum, located at the intersection where the events took place (corner of Marina and Aurora streets). It houses photographs and various artifacts from the Ponce Massacre. A section of the museum is dedicated to Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos.
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