- Nelson Denis
author of War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony. He is a former New York state assemblyman and served as the editorial director of El Diario, the largest Spanish-language newspaper in New York City.
- Rep. José Serrano
Democratic congressman from New York. He successfully pushed the FBI to declassify records regarding the Bureau’s activities targeting independence activists. He was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
- Hugo Rodriguez
undersecretary of relations with North America for the Puerto Rican Independence Party.
Commemorations are being held today to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, popularly known to many as Don Pedro, the former head of the Nationalist Party and leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement. Albizu Campos spent some 26 years in prison for organizing against U.S. colonial rule. He was born in 1891, seven years before the U.S. invaded the island. He would go on to become the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard Law School. Once he returned to Puerto Rico, he dedicated the rest of his life to the independence movement, becoming president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1930. It was a position he held until his death in 1965. In 1936, Albizu Campos was jailed along with other Nationalist leaders on conspiracy and sedition charges. His jailing led to protests across Puerto Rico. On Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937, police shot and killed 21 Puerto Ricans and wounded over 200 others taking part in a peaceful march to protest Albizu Campos’ imprisonment. The event became known as the Ponce massacre. After his eventual release, Albizu Campos was arrested again in 1950, just days after a Nationalist revolt began on October 30. Pedro Albizu Campos would spend almost the rest of his life in prison, where he repeatedly charged that he was the subject of human radiation experiments. We hear Albizu Campos in his own words and speak to three guests: Rep. José Serrano (D-NY); Nelson Denis, author of the new book, “War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony”; and Hugo Rodríguez of the Puerto Rican Independence Party.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Commemorations are being held across Puerto Rico today to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, popularly known to many as Don Pedro, the former head of the Nationalist Party and leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement. Albizu Campos spent some 26 years in prison for organizing against U.S. colonial rule. He was born in 1891, seven years before the U.S. invaded the island. He would go on to become the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard Law School. Once he returned to Puerto Rico, he dedicated the rest of his life to the independence movement, becoming president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1930. It was a position he held until his death in 1965.
AMY GOODMAN: In 1936, Albizu Campos was jailed along with other Nationalist leaders on conspiracy and sedition charges. His jailing led to protests across Puerto Rico. On Palm Sunday, March 21st, 1937, police shot and killed 21 Puerto Ricans and wounded over 200 others taking part in a peaceful march to protest Albizu Campos’s imprisonment. The event became known as the Ponce massacre. After his eventual release, Albizu Campos was arrested again in 1950, just days after a Nationalist revolt began on October 30th. This is how his arrest was reported at the time.
UNIVERSAL-INTERNATIONAL NEWS BRIEF: Puerto Rico rounds up its Nationalist fanatics, following the wounding of five U.S. congressmen. Ringleader of the group, Pedro Campos, is subdued after a two-hour gun battle with police, which ended when his barricaded hideout was the target for a tear-gas barrage. In all, 37 of the party are arrested. Several hundred rounds of ammunition were fired during the battle before the barricaded hideout was crashed. Campos now faces the original 89-year sentence imposed at the time of the attempt on former President Truman’s life, from which he had been paroled. Linked to communists, the Nationalist arsenal is believed to have been supplied by Reds, now being hunted throughout the island.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pedro Albizu Campos would spend almost the rest of his life in prison, where he repeatedly charged that he was the subject of human radiation experiments. Photos taken of him in prison show his body covered with welts. This is an excerpt of a speech Pedro Albizu Campos gave just a month before one of his arrests, the arrest in 1950.
PEDRO ALBIZU CAMPOS: [translated] Mr. President of the Lares Municipal Council, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not easy to give a speech when we have our mother laying in bed and an assassin waiting to take your life. Such is the present situation of our country, our mother, of Puerto Rico. The assassin is the power of the United States of North America. One cannot give a speech while the newborn of our country are dying of hunger; while the adolescents of our homeland are being poisoned with the worst virus of them all, the virus of slavery; when the adults of our homeland must leave their hometown of Lares in fear, and they don’t even have exit to countries other than the enemy power that binds us. They must go to the United States to be the slaves of the economic powers, of the tyrants of our country. They are the slaves who go to Michigan out of need, to be scorned and outraged and kicked.
One cannot easily give a speech when this tyrant has the power to tear the sons right out of the hearts of Puerto Rico mothers to send to Korea, or into hell, to kill, to be the murderers of innocent Koreans, or to die covering a front for the Yankee enemies of our country, for them to return insane to their own people or for them to return mutilated beyond recognition, even by their own mothers. It’s not easy. Our blood boils. Impatience beats at our hearts and tells us that patience must end, it must disappear, and that the day of Lares must be the day of Lares, which is to say it must be the day of the Puerto Rican revolution.
This year is the hundredth anniversary of the creation of the Cuban flag. And in the beautiful, deeply profound speech our illustrious secretary-general made in homage to the flag of Cuba, he compared it and called it the womb of our own flag, for this centennial of the Cuban flag is also the centennial of the Puerto Rican flag in the sense of origin. We have called together here those who want the union of our brothers, of our Latin American brothers, and, very specially, the Cubans, all the people of the Antilles, the Haitians, the Dominicans, for all of them who love the independence of Puerto Rico as their very own, because as long as Puerto Rico is not free, every single one of those nations feels mutilated
AMY GOODMAN: That was Puerto Rican independence leader Pedro Albizu Campos speaking in 1950, shortly before he was arrested. He died 50 years ago today, on April 21st, 1965.
We’re joined here in New York by José Serrano, Democratic congressman from New York, who successfully pushed the FBI to declassify records regarding the Bureau’s activities targeting independence activists. He was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.
Also here in New York, Nelson Denis is author of a new book, War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony. He’s the former New York state assemblyman and former editorial director of El Diario, the largest Spanish-language newspaper here in New York City.
And joining us from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Hugo Rodríguez, undersecretary of relations with North America for the Puerto Rico Independence Party. He’s joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from the party’s headquarters.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s start off with Congressmember Serrano, why you feel Pedro Albizu Campos is so important, not only for Puerto Ricans, but for people throughout this country.
REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: Well, because it’s a historical situation. First of all, you know, one of the things I hear in Congress a lot is, we can’t resolve the status of Puerto Rico until Puerto Ricans decide what they want. Well, no, they didn’t invade us; we invaded them. And in my case, “we invaded them” gets very complicated, since I was born there, and now I’m a member of the U.S. Congress. So—but part of me invaded the other part of me, I guess.
And Pedro Albizu Campos was a man who stood up for what he believed was right and what a lot of Puerto Ricans felt was right, if not necessarily—and this is a tricky thing to say—if not necessarily outright independence, then outright respect and outright dignity and understanding that we’re a colony. And I believe that a lot of people who may not support independence act and demand from Washington based on his desire to act and demand from Washington. He asked for independence. Others ask for statehood. Others ask for an enhanced commonwealth. But I think it all stems from the fact that there was this Puerto Rican who dared challenge the system. So now it’s easier to challenge Washington, because he dared do it such a long time ago. And so, I, as a person who came here when I was very young, grew up in New York, living in the state, being born in Puerto Rico, I have the highest respect for him. And I’ve said it forever. And some people criticize you for that. But he stood up when people would not stand up, and he paid a big price.
We’re still trying to find out—when we got those FBI files—and Juan González was the first person I called to look at the files, because I don’t know how to read that kind of stuff, he does—you know, we found a lot of things we didn’t know. And there are still things we don’t know. We don’t know how much he was tortured in prison. We don’t know other people that were killed during that period of time. And we also, sadly, found something out, and I’ll close with this, that a lot of names were crossed out, because a lot of people we thought, or they thought, were with them were actually not with them, and those names are of people who at that time were still alive. But the FBI gave to me over a million documents, of which my—two sets. One set I sent to Hunter College, which has done great work with, and one set I sent to Senate of Puerto Rico, which I understand has sitting somewhere in a basement, doing nothing with it.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Congressman Serrano, I’d like to ask you about how those files got released, if you could tell the story. You, at the time, were the head of the House committee that oversaw the FBI budget. Exactly how did you come upon those files?
REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: Well, I was a member of the Appropriations Committee, and I was what’s called a ranking member. I was the top Democrat. We were not in the majority, so the Republican was the chairman. And I was asked by my friends from the Independence Party—Manuel Rodríguez Orellana, a dear friend of mine, said, “Why don’t you ask him about the behavior towards Puerto Rico?” We both thought that we would get a hemming and hawing from the director of the FBI. Instead—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Who at that time was?
REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: Louis Freeh. Louis Freeh shocked me off my chair and left me, the first time in a long time in politics, without a follow-up question, because I said, “About the belief that the Puerto Ricans have been persecuted for years and the independence movement persecuted, is there anything you can tell us?” He says, “It was true, and I’ll release the documents to you.” And that shocked me. And that started that whole thing that led to your investigation, to your reporting. And I understand Nelson has been kind enough to say that some of that research went into his books also.
AMY GOODMAN: Nelson Denis, for people who don’t know who Pedro Albizu Campos is, can you give us a thumbnail sketch of his life?
NELSON DENIS: Well, Albizu Campos was the greatest patriot in Puerto Rican history. He was a series of firsts. He was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard, first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard—
AMY GOODMAN: But he didn’t give the valedictory address, did he, even though he was the valedictorian—
NELSON DENIS: From the law school.
AMY GOODMAN: —from the law school?
NELSON DENIS: He was the valedictorian of the law school. And there was just a prevailing—and it wasn’t even perceived as racism; it was just the modus operandi of the time. I was just almost considered a given that we’re not going to have a person of color delivering the valedictorian speech. And so, that was sort of a defining moment for him, when he could see, you know, basically how things were run.
He started—he refused all sorts of corporate sinecures and very, very elegant offers to open up a one-man office in Ponce. He basically practiced poverty law, but he also became the head of the Nationalist Party. He advocated, organized, editorialized, but he was ignored. It’s like he didn’t exist, until in 1935 he led an islandwide agricultural strike that ended up doubling the sugarcane workers’ wages. And then the United States took very serious attention.
It was at that point that they completely militarized the island police force. They sent in a new governor, General Blanton—an Army general, Blanton Winship, a policeman named E. Francis Riggs, whose father was the president of the Riggs National Bank, which had colonial investments all over South and Central America. This—and just very quickly, to get to the title of the book, the violence started immediately thereafter. In 1935, they shot—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Before you go into the actual violence, I found fascinating in your book the story of the Riggs Bank that you talked about and its role. Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
NELSON DENIS: The Riggs Bank was finally defunded, and it was terminated, when it got caught laundering money for Augusto Pinochet in Chile. It was—there was a term called filibustering. The word “filibuster,” which you’ll appreciate, Congressman, meant to go down to South America and start a fake revolution, which was actually a disguised right-wing takeover. Those revolutions had to be financed. An the Riggs Bank was one of the principal sources of money exchange to finance these revolutions, so places like the United Fruit Company could come in and take over a government.
So, E. Francis Riggs comes to basically oversee the colonial investments in Puerto Rico. And when his police force shot, assassinated three Nationalists in broad daylight in Río Piedras—it became known as the Río Piedras massacre—he had an immediate press conference to explain and contextualize to the island what this was all about. And he said, nakedly, bluntly, to everybody, this was his intent. He told the entire island that if Albizu Campos continued to, quote-unquote, “agitate” the sugarcane workers, there would be war to the death against all Puerto Ricans.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And you also note, though, that he also tried to buy Albizu Campos—
NELSON DENIS: Yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —in a luncheon at the most—the wealthiest club in San Juan. Could you talk about that?
NELSON DENIS: Yeah. It was the equivalent of Mount Quarantania, where the devil takes you to the top of the mountain and says, “All this shall be yours, if you will just come with me.” And they took him to El Escambrón, this very famous, as you said, a very elaborate casino in San Juan, and E. Francis Riggs, the police chief, offered Albizu Campos $150,000. And this is not apocryphal, it’s not fringe journalism. It was reported in the pages of El Imparcial and El Mundo the next day, and there were multiple witnesses there. It was written in his wife’s autobiography. A hundred and fifty thousand dollars if he would basically back off of the sugarcane strike and sort of soften his nationalist demands. Albizu Campos rightfully and politely refused the offer and said that his island wasn’t for sale. That offer was repeated to Luis Muñoz Marín, and he took it. He became the governor of Puerto Rico.
REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: You know, very—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Joe Serrano?
REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: Just very briefly, when we looked at those documents, that you looked at with me, the first page is unique and shows the sickness of the people they were dealing with at the FBI at that time. It’s a gentleman, whose name I forget, writing to Herbert Hoover and saying, “Keep an eye on Albizu Campos. This man speaks many languages. He’s very intelligent. He could win the next election. He was in—he knows about Army intelligence.” In other words, if you take all that today and present it for a candidate running for president, he’ll get elected. So, the first question is: So where was the problem? The problem obviously was that he was intelligent enough to alert people. And that was considered making trouble, when in fact they were simply alerting people to the suffering and the mistreatment of Puerto Rico as a colony.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We’re also joined by Hugo Rodríguez in Puerto Rico of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. Now, Albizu Campos is generally regarded as a terrorist in the United States, and the war of the Nationalists for independence is considered part of the terrorist movement here in the United States. But yet you’ve got a high school in Toa Baja named after Albizu Campos. You have an elementary school in Ponce named after Albizu Campos. You’ve got a high school in Chicago named after Albizu Campos. You have a middle school right here in New York City named after Albizu Campos. You have a public housing project in the Lower East Side named after Albizu Campos. So, what is the significance of Campos still, of Albizu, on the island?
HUGO RODRÍGUEZ: Yes, Pedro Albizu Campos is very important in Puerto Rico because he, Pedro Albizu Campos, gave us back our worth for the identity. Remember that when the United States invaded us, they tried to colonize us not only through the economics, but as well in the education process. They tried to press on us American values and to erase all Puerto Rican and Spanish inheritance from us. The tried to take our Spanish language. And in that point in time, Don Pedro Albizu Campos gave us back that pride of being a different identity, of being a different nationality. And the politics in Puerto Rico, not only for the advocates of independence, but for all the politics in Puerto Rico, are to be written before and after Pedro Albizu Campos, because no one, even the advocates for statehood, will deny the value of our identity, will deny the value of our cultural values and our language. And that is one of the most important contributions that Pedro Albizu Campos did to Puerto Rico.
I believe it is important, as well, that in order to understand Pedro Albizu Campos and those characterizations of terrorism that have surrounded some media around him, you have to understand the time in which he lived. The 1950 event, the insurrection of 1950, and the attack to the Congress in 1954 was in the context of the establishment in that decade of the Estado Libre Asociado. That was not another thing that—a disguise of the colony. And let me tell you something, to accentuate the farce, they gave a name in Puerto Rico for the colony, Estado Libre Asociado. But the proper translation to that name, that would be Free Associated State. They didn’t give that name in English; they put commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And together with that effort, the United States were trying to take out Puerto Rico from their list of territories and colonies of the United Nations. And in that context, and in the context of a cruel persecution of the independence movement, is that Don Pedro Albizu Campos made the insurrection of 1950 and that happened the events of the attack to the Congress in 1954. Of course, Don Pedro knew that he would not defeat the United States by sending four people to the Congress, revolvers at hands, and open fire once inside the building. But what he wanted was to focus the attention of the world on the farce, on the deceit that was happening in Puerto Rico, and to demonstrate before the world, and to show before the whole world, the colonial regime of Puerto Rico.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back a step to Nelson Denis, talking about the attack on Congress, also on Vice President Truman. Can you talk about the actions of Pedro Albizu Campos, why he did what he did, for those who are not at all familiar with this history?
NELSON DENIS: Well, there was—at that time, you have to—if you make an empathic leap to the '50s and earlier, you have to realize that Puerto Rico was—let's call it a nation. It was a nation separated by an ocean, a language, a culture, 400 years of Ibero-American history. If you say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happened in Puerto Rico never happened at all. You could literally shoot 17 people during the Ponce massacre and then deceive the mainland, claiming that the police had acted in self-defense. They even rearranged the corpses. They choreographed the setting, à la Leni Riefenstahl, and created a different reality and told—and somehow created the reality that the Puerto Ricans were shooting themselves. Similarly, in the 1950s context, President Truman said that this was—dismissed everything, even though there had been an assassination attempt against him, as a incident between Puerto Ricans.
Well, this incident involved the deployment of 5,000 National Guard troops, the arrest of 3,000 Puerto Ricans and the bombing, in broad daylight, of two towns. The New York Times reported it as—that Jayuya looked like an earthquake had hit it. Yeah, the earthquake was a bombing. But The New York Times said that the Nationalists had burned their own town. Within this context of repression, there was an additional law, La Ley de La Mordaza, Law 53, which made it, from 1948 to 1957, illegal to utter a word, sing a song, whistle a tune, say anything with respect to the independence of Puerto Rico. Even if you had a flag in your own home, that was a felony, and you could be arrested for 10 years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: A Puerto Rican flag.
NELSON DENIS: A Puerto Rican flag. You had carpetas. Over 100,000 Puerto Ricans had secret FBI files open on them. They’re the ones that Congressman Serrano had released, 1.8 million pages of secret police surveillance. Under these conditions, you couldn’t even get word off the island. The information was controlled by, say, half a dozen AP and UPI wire service reporters.
So, within that context, Albizu Campos realized—he had FBI agents following him all over the island, about a series of 25 of them, in platoons, so at any given time there were six FBI agents. They had to do something very striking. They had to engage in some dramatic gesture to galvanize the world’s attention. It was modeled, actually, after the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916. So the idea wasn’t to defeat the most powerful empire on Earth; it was just to confront that reality and have especially the U.N. decolonization committee realize that there was a serious problem in Puerto Rico, because there was a referendum vote coming up to create the commonwealth. So there was a great urgency that kicked in. It wasn’t fanaticism. It wasn’t Reds. It wasn’t the way that even we heard it on this newscast. It was a very specific and necessary action to let the world know the seriousness of the conditions in Puerto Rico.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain what they did.
NELSON DENIS: They had an islandwide—islandwide, I’d say eight towns. They tried to secure guns by attacking police precincts. It started with a prison breakout, led by Correa Cotto, a somewhat famous criminal. As the police were then chasing these fugitives, 110 fugitives, around the island, they attacked in these eight towns, particularly in Utuado and Jayuya. The idea was to attack the police precincts and then retreat to Utuado, which is a very centrally located town nestled in some mountains, and hold out for a period of a week or two, so that they could get word out during that period of time to the world. It was more of a symbolic act. It wasn’t really a military act. So, the point was to get that word out. And it was for that reason that the United States suppressed it immediately. The reprisals were across the board. Three thousand Puerto Ricans were arrested. Two towns were bombed in broad daylight. And the only word that you heard in the United States was that they were these fanatics in Puerto Rico and that it was an incident between these fanatics.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, not only that, but that was in that context that the attack of the Nationalists on Blair House occurred. It was during that same—
NELSON DENIS: Exactly
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —the same uprising.
NELSON DENIS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Juan, what happened there, the Blair House attack?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: When Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, two Nationalists, because communication had been cut from the island to the United States about what was happening, they figured they would go to Washington and attempt to assassinate President Truman, who at that time was staying at the Blair House, because the White House was under reconstruction. And they had a shootout right outside of the Blair House with a couple—and actually killed one officer and wounded another.
NELSON DENIS: Yeah, the ironic context of this is that George Orwell’s 1984 had been published just in 1949, and it was a huge, best-selling hit in both the United States and Great Britain in 1949. And yet, in 1950, we have this Orwellian circumstance in Puerto Rico, where you have this islandwide revolution, and you have President Truman napping in his underwear up in Washington, and people try to come—try and shoot him. And yet they dismiss it as an incident between Puerto Ricans, as if nothing was wrong in Puerto Rico. It was an Orwellian situation on the island, and people didn’t even realize it.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about Pedro Albizu Campos. It is the 50th anniversary of his death today. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Roy Brown’s “Canción a Pedro.” That’s “Song for Pedro.” That’s right, song for the Puerto Rican independence leader, Don Pedro, who is being honored today throughout Puerto Rico and other places in the United States. Our guests are Nelson Denis—a new book, War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony. Hugo Rodríguez joins us from Puerto Rican Independence Party headquarters. He’s about to head off to a commemoration in San Juan. And we’re joined by New York Congressmember José Serrano. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Hugo Rodríguez, I’d like to ask you about those commemorations and also what the legacy is today of Albizu Campos and the Nationalists, who are basically virtually forgotten these days, even in Puerto Rico.
HUGO RODRÍGUEZ: Today, the Puerto Rican Independence Party will unveil a plate in a building that is located at Old San Juan, in the streets—in the corner of the streets Sol and Luna. That building was the headquarters of the Nationalist Party in the decade of 1950s. Afterwards, there will be a mass in the cathedral in honor of Don Pedro Albizu Campos.
I believe that Pedro Albizu Campos is not forgotten here. We have him very present, because Don Pedro is a symbol for all of us. His lessons, enriched by a life full of sacrifice, is an inspiration and is an example for all of us, the advocates for independence. He suffered jail. He suffered torture in jail. The body of evidence demonstrates that he was burned with radiation in jail. And he never took a step back in his struggle in favor of independence. So that example of perseverance is an inspiration for all of us in Puerto Rico.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, that is a key point, and we want to go to an excerpt of an interview with then Puerto Rico Governor Luis Muñoz Marín, an interview he gave on U.S. television in the '50s. He was interviewed by Drew Pearson. The governor called into question Pedro Albizu Campos's sanity. Let’s go to a clip.
GOV. LUIS MUÑOZ MARÍN: His mental state was—was not good. He spent all the time wrapped in cold towels, saying that some mysterious machines were throwing nuclear rays at him from a great distance. And since it would be unbelievable that anybody believe that, if he were locked up and nobody could see him, I thought that if he were outside of the jail, people would realize how his mind was operating, and he would be able to get less young people—
DREW PEARSON: Does he still—
GOV. LUIS MUÑOZ MARÍN: —even less than he has in this terrible state of mind that we observed here recently.
DREW PEARSON: Does he still wear the cold towels now that he’s out of jail?
GOV. LUIS MUÑOZ MARÍN: He lives in a house about four or five blocks from where I live. And all my information is that he continues to wear the cold towels.
DREW PEARSON: He wears the cold towels to prevent the atomic rays from coming from the United States to kill him.
GOV. LUIS MUÑOZ MARÍN: That’s right. And you can see—you can see how fantastic this whole thing is, when you think of a government that would prepare such an incredible machine to burn up this important personage. They never thought of applying it to Joe Stalin, and also they never thought of taking the cold towels away from him when he was in jail.
DREW PEARSON: So now that he’s out of jail, he still wears the cold towels.
AMY GOODMAN: That was U.S. journalist Drew Pearson joking with the then-governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Muñoz Marín, talking about Pedro Albizu Campos’s claim that when he was in jail he was irradiated. He didn’t quite understand what they were doing, but, Nelson Denis, you write very vividly about this in War Against All Puerto Ricans, your new book. What happened to Pedro Albizu Campos in jail?
NELSON DENIS: Well, as you can see from that clip, George Orwell was alive and well in Puerto Rico. You have a situation where a man is in jail for 25 years and followed by FBI agents. His body was so stripped with or striped with burns that he looked like he had been flipped over on a barbecue grill. You had Orlando Damuy, the head of the Cuban radiology—Cuban Cancer Association, a world-renowned radiologist, who went and diagnosed him as having been undergoing radiation. You had a Geiger counter that broke when it was approached—when it was put in proximity to his body. You had an X-ray film with a paper clip on it, that when it was placed on his skin, the paperclip irradiated on—the image, onto the X-ray film. It was incredible.
AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, what happened in the jail cell? He described what it was like with lights flashing, and this would be at night, he thought.
NELSON DENIS: Well, there’s a woman named Eileen Welsome, who won the Pulitzer Prize for a book called The Plutonium Files. She found, and the United States government disclosed, and they agreed, that there had been undisclosed experiments conducted for about 40 years, from the 1940s—or 30 years, to the '70s, of 16,000, that were found, 16,000 unwitting subjects, including many prisoners, of, specifically, radiation studies. It was called TBI, total body irradiation. And Albizu Campos apparently was one of those subjects. And you see how cravenly, how the governor of Puerto Rico—who, by the way, La Princesa, the prison where he was at, is almost directly contiguous with the governor's mansion. They’re within a hundred feet of each other. This was happening in full knowledge and complicity of the United States government.
I read the FBI files, where you had a Chinese wall around Albizu Campos so that nobody can get through it, so no doctor could come and confirm what everyone knew, which was that he was being slowly killed in this island. And they wanted to do it under conditions where it wouldn’t be known, because they didn’t want to create a martyr. This is how they treated—they figured if they could declare Albizu “the King of the Towels,” “El Rey de las Toallas,” and treat him like a madman, then, by inference, the Nationalists were also crazy. But now the truth is very evident, that there was a widespread—it was a—unfortunately, it was a conspiracy. And this is not a conspiracy theory. It is now known that this was the attitude and the way that they treated our leadership in Puerto Rico.
REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: You know, and one of the things that’s painful there, when you see, is no one can deny the importance of Luis Muñoz Marín in Puerto Rican history and in economic issues and so on, but there you see what the FBI was able to do—and it was the FBI more than anyone else—to divide Puerto Ricans, to where Albizu could have been a natural ally for the very liberal Muñoz Marín, yet it didn’t turn out that way. It turned out that Muñoz Marín basically snitched on him and told on him and sort of hurt him in so many ways.
And the other thing, too, which is interesting, is, for good or for bad—and I think for good—how much we’ve grown. In those days, to say anything positive about the flag or Albizu Campos would have gotten you into a lot of trouble. Here we are discussing it today. Here there are commemorations in the Bronx, you know, in Washington, in Puerto Rico, and it’s not seen as anything. And lastly, Albizu’s legacy allows for people then to go to Congress and to the president and get political prisoners out of jail—the first group that Bobby García worked on; the second group that Nydia, Luis Gutiérrez and I worked on, the Oscar López situation, Rivera López situation. All those things would have not have happened—
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
REP. JOSÉ SERRANO: —if he had not set that kind of mode and that kind of tune.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us. We’re going to continue this conversation after the show and post it at democracynow.org. New York Congressmember José Serrano; Nelson Denis, author of War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony; Hugo Rodríguez, joining us from Puerto Rico from the Puerto Rican Independence Party.