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Five Years of Tyranny

By Congressman Vito Marcantonio


August 14, 1939. In this speech, Congressman Marcantonio outlined his charges against Governor Winship's administration, which he described as "Five Years of Tyranny in Puerto Rico." He had presented these charges to President Roosevely and Secretary of the Interior Ickes several months earlier. As Mr. Marcantonio announced on the floor of the House on August 5, 1939, "Blanton Winship was dismissed by the President of the United States."

The speech Mr. Marcantonio then made has become a classic document in Puerto Rican history. It consists of an introduction and three numbered sections. Substantial excerpts from the introduction and the first section, "Civil Rights and Murder, " are given below. The last two sections, which are omitted here for lack of space, are entitled "Misrule is the Twin Brother of Tyranny " and "Suppression and Distortion of the News of Conditions in Puerto Rico. "

The entire speech is contained in the Congressional Record of August 14, 1939.



Ex-Governor Blanton Winship, of Puerto Rico, was summarily removed by the President of the United States on May 12, 1939. I had filed charges against Mr. Winship with the President during two visits that I had with him, and subsequently, on April 27, 1939, I wrote a letter to the President filing additional charges in support of my request for the removal of Mr. Winship. During my visits at the Executive Office of the President of the United States I informed him of many acts of misfeasance as well as nonfeasance, among which were the tyrannical acts of the Governor in depriving the people of Puerto Rico of their civil rights, the corruption and rackets that existed, and were made possible only by the indulgence of the governor, and the extraordinary waste of the people's money.... My written, as well as oral, charges were transmitted by the President to Secretary Ickes, of the Department of the Interior.

The Secretary of the Interior, by code, wired Mr. Blanton Winship to return to the United States. In response to this wire, Mr. Winship came here and visited the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior demanded that Mr. Winship resign. Mr. Winship flatly refused to resign, and stated that inasmuch as he was a Presidential appointee, he would not resign until he had had an opportunity to appeal to the President. After various unsuccessful efforts, Mr. Winship finally saw the President, and pleaded that he be permitted to remain Governor of Puerto Rico on the ground that his resigning while he was under fire might be misinterpreted. What the President told Mr. Winship I do not know. I do know, however, that he made a very unfavorable impression on the President. When Mr. Winship left the White House with the bravado which is characteristic of a swivelchair general, he invited friends of his and newspapermen to visit him in Puerto Rico in September of 1939, thereby giving the impression that he would remain as Governor.

On May 11, 1939, I took the floor in the House of Representatives, objecting to exempting Puerto Rico from the provisions of the wage-and-hour amendment, and in that speech I made an attack on Mr. Winship, and revealed that I had made charges against him, and stated specifically that the charges were being investigated by the Department of the Interior at the request of the President of the United States. The following day the President made the announcement that Admiral William D. Leahy would succeed Mr. Winship as Governor of Puerto Rico. Up to and including the time that this terse announcement was made, Mr. Winship had not resigned. Even a school child knows that the announcement of one's successor before one has resigned is tantamount to dismissal. Blanton Winship was dismissed by the President of the United States.

He devoted all of his time since he was kicked out as Governor to two tasks: first, to that of selfglorification; and second, to further damage the best interests of the people of Puerto Rico.

In the second category, his activities were in keeping with his 5 years of terror in Puerto Rico. He acted the part of a slimy lobbyist, and fought by means fair and foul to have the wageand hour law amended so that the sugar companies could continue to pay 12 1/2 cents an hour instead of 25 cents an hour, and thereby gain $5,000,000 a year; so that the exploiters of labor in Puerto Rico could continue to pay the intolerable wages they have been paying, a wage system which was made possible under his regime; so that the system of abysmal wage slavery could be perpetuated in Puerto Rico. Up to the very closing days of Congress this kickedout governor fought to have Puerto Rican workers removed from the protection of the wage-and-hour law. He made a frantic appeal to the Speaker, Hon. William Bankhead, to suspend the rules and recognize someone who would offer the amendment which would have removed Puerto Rico from the provisions of the wageandhour law. This was done after he, together with his stooge and personal lobbyist, James J. Lanzetta, had made all efforts and failed to have the Barden and other amendments considered by the House, which not only would have affected the workers of Puerto Rico but would have also exempted 2,000,000 workers in the United States from the protection of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The welfare of 2,000,000 workers in the United States meant nothing to Blanton Winship or his appointee.

The sacrificing of 2,000,000 workers in the States and the sacrificing of labor's welfare in the States, as well as in Puerto Rico, meant nothing to these gentlemen who were hellbent on doing the bidding of the financial and industrial corporations of Wall Street that have kept the workers of Puerto Rico in the tentacles of imperialism and wage peonage. I take this occasion to praise the patriotism and statesmanship of our Speaker, Hon. William Bankhead, who treated the dismissed and disgraced axGovernor of Puerto Rico with a flat and patriotic "no." This "no" was given after I had spoken to the Speaker, who had promised me that there would be no suspension of the rules, or the considering of any legislation that would exempt Puerto Rico from the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, at this session of Congress.

In the face of these activities, treacherous and detrimental to the people of Puerto Rico, I felt that I should no longer remain silent. I felt that I should not permit this axGovernor or his stooges to any longer use the prestige of his office which he so disgraced, to the benefit of the exploiters of the Puerto Rican people. I would be derelict if I did not tear off the cloak of virtue in which this destroyer of liberty, protector of grafters, and exploiter of the people of Puerto Rico had enshrouded himself. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, here is his record:

In his 5 years as Governor of Puerto Rico, Mr. Blanton Winship destroyed the last vestige of civil rights in Puerto Rico. Patriots were framed in the very executive mansion and railroaded to prison. Men, women, and children were massacred in the streets of the island simply because they dared to express their opinion or attempted to meet in free assemblage.

Citizens were terrorized. The courts became devoid of any prestige because of the evil influence exerted upon them by politicians who acted with the connivance and consent of Mr. Winship. American workers were persecuted and shot down whenever they sought to exercise their right to strike, or to organize and protest against the abominable wages that were paid to them by Mr. Winship's pals. The insular police was militarized and transformed from an honest police organization to an organization of provocateurs and murderers, such as existed in the darkest days of czaristic Russia. Nero played the fiddle while Christians were massacred in the days of ancient Rome. Winship drank cocktails and danced in the Governor's palace while the police ruthlessly killed and persecuted Puerto Rican citizens. The following are just a few cases illustrative of Winship's Neroism. Neither time nor space permits me to give a full history, or the list of victims, of which the American people know very little or nothing at all.

On Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937, in Ponce, the second largest city in Puerto Rico, the police forces fired with machine guns, rifles, and pistols into a crowd of marching Nationalists. Seventeen were killed, more than 200 wounded. The Nationalists were going to hold a meeting and a parade in Ponce on March 21. The mayor, Tormes, issued a permit. One hour before the time set for the parade, and when the demonstrators were ready to march, the mayor canceled the permit on frivolous grounds. As Winship pointed out in a statement issued after the massacre, the parade was called off by the mayor at the request of Governor Blanton Winship and Police Chief Colonel Orbeta.

Governor Winship went out of San Juan. Colonel Orbeta went to Ponce and concentrated there a heavy police force, among which he included all the machine gunners. For many days the government had been planning action in Ponce.

Chief of Police Guillermo Soldevilla, with 14 policemen, placed himself in front of the paraders; Chief Perez Segarra and Sgt. Rafael Molina, commanding 9 men, armed with Thompson machine guns and teargas bombs, stood in the back; Chief of Police Antonio Bernardi, heading 11 policemen, armed with machine guns, stood in the east; and another police group of 12 men, armed with rifles, placed itself in the west.

The demonstrators, at the order of their leader, and while La Borinquena, the national song, was being played, began to march. Immediately they were fired upon for 15 minutes by the police from the four flanks. The victims fell down without an opportunity to defend themselves. Even after the street was covered with dead bodies policemen continued firing. More than 200 were wounded; several were killed. Men, women, and children, Nationalists and nonNationalists, demonstrators, and people passing by, as well as the people who ran away, were shot. They were chased by the police and shot or clubbed at the entrance of the houses. Others were taken from their hiding places and killed. Leopold Tormes, a member of the legislature, told the reporters how a Nationalist was murdered in cold blood by a policeman, after the shooting, in his own arms.

A 7-year-old girl, Georgina Maldonado, while running to a nearby church, was shot through the back. A woman, Maria Hernandez, was also killed. Carmen Fernandez, aged 33, was severely wounded. After she fell down a policeman struck her with his rifle, saying, "Take this; be a Nationalist." Marie Hernandez was a member of the Republican Party, and while running away was clubbed twice on her head by a policeman. 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 through the back. Don Luis Sanchez Frasquieri, former president of the Rotary Club in Ponce, said that he had witnessed the most horrible slaughter made by police on defenseless youth. 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, several of them being women. All the Nationalist leaders were also arrested. They were a released on bail. More than 15,000, as was reported by El Mundo, a Puerto Rican newspaper, attended the funerals at Ponce, and more than 5,000 at Mayaguez.

The above is not a description of the Ponce events by a Puerto Rican Nationalist. It is from a speech of Representative John T. Bernard, of Minnesota, in Congress and appeared in the Congressional Record of April 14, 1937. Does not this bring to mind the Boston Massacre in 1770 and the shooting of Russian peasants by the czar in 1905? Remembering the events of Easter Week in Dublin, 1916, do not you agree with Jay Franklin, Washington commentator for the Stern papers, that Puerto Rico is the Ireland of the Caribbean?

April 16 is a legal holiday in Puerto Rico. It is the anniversary of the birthday of Jose de Diego, former speaker of the House of Delegates, noted orator, poet, jurist, and outstanding advocate of independence. Every year the Nationalist Party celebrates a mass, a demonstration, and a meeting in his honor. Wreaths of flowers are deposited on his tomb. Another demonstration and a meeting are held to honor Manuel Rafael Suarez Diaz, a martyr to the cause of independence. Flowers are deposited on his tomb also.

In 1937, a few weeks after the Palm Sunday massacre, the city manager of San Juan, under Winship's pressure, denied permits for these meetings and demonstrations. As was even reported in the New York newspapers, although the ecclesiastical authorities gave authorization to hold the mass on the 16th, the Cathedral was closed, and policemen posted at its doors. The cemeteries were closed and the Puerto Rican people forbidden to go in groups larger than two to deposit flowers on the graves of the patriots. General Winship again mobilized the Regular Army and National Guard, subject to call.

Arthur Garfield Hays, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, went to Puerto Rico and investigated the Palm Sunday massacre, and his conclusion as reported in the report of the American Civil Liberties Union was as follows:

"The facts show that the affair of March 21 in Ponce was a massacre. "

Governor Winship tried to cover up this massacre by filing a mendacious report. .. However, the photographs that were brought to Secretary Ickes by a committee consisting, among others, of former Congressman Bernard, of Minnesota, and myself, photographs of children shot in the back and of police wantonly firing on unarmed people from four sides, could not be ignored. What did the tyrant do? Instead of ceasing the terror, he continued it; and immediately had arrested the friends of people who had been killed, on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. Two trials were held. The first trial resulted in a mistrial, and in the second trial the defendants were acquitted.

In the meantime the reign of terror continued. While the victims of the Ponce massacre were being tried for murder, the police forces were given a free hand to continue the orgy of murder....

(Here, as well as in the next omission indicated below, Congressman Marcantonio described in detail a number of killings by the police.)

An indignant public opinion forced the Government to convene the grand jury, which... bitterly assailed the practices of the police and tried to determine the responsibility, if any, of the Governor....They left the door open for further inquiries. Governor Winship got the law (providing for investigation and indictment of public officers, including the Governor, by a grand jury) repealed soon afterward. So that at the time of the Ponce massacre, denounced in this House by Congressman John T. Bernard on April 14, 1937, in the brilliant and moving speech which appears in the Congressional Record of that date, page 4499, and to which I referred above, the district judges of Ponce denied a petition made by prominent citizens of that community, who represented every sector of public life, when they asked for the convening of a grand jury to investigate the case. As the law now stands, the citizens are helpless when the aggression originates with the top public officials, because the prosecutors are appointed by and are to a great extent responsible to the Governor....

. . . A frameup "a la Medici" was something at which Mr. Winship would not stop. Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, a Harvard graduate and leader of the Nationalists, together with several of his followers, were indicted under a post Civil War statute of a conspiracy to insurrect against the Government of the United States. They were framed at the Governor's palace. Mr. Rockwell Kent, famous American artist, describes what took place at a cocktail party in the Governor's palace immediately after the first trial, and I quote from his letter to Senator Henry F. Ashurst, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, dated May2l, 1939:

I was present in San Juan during the progress of the first trial of Albizu Campos for treason, and I was a guest of Governor Winship's at a cocktail party on the terrace of his residence a few hours after the conclusion of that first trial through a disagreement of the jury. The party was a large one and the guests were mainly Americans— tourists and residents of San Juan—and upper class Puerto Ricans. there was naturally a great deal of talk about the trial, and much of this talk centered about Judge Cooper, who had presided. The comments were heatedly progovernment; and in my hearing condolences upon the miscarriage of justice were repeatedly voiced to the judge. These were received without rebuke. At that party a Puerto Rican friend of mine introduced me to a Mr. Cecil Snyder as the prosecuting attorney in the Campos case. We three withdrew for conversation to a corner of the terrace. My friend complimented Mr. Snyder upon his brilliant summing up and deplored the judge's failure to bring in a conviction. Mr. Snyder assured him that he had already received a dispatch from Washington telling him to go ahead with a new trial and that the Department of Justice would back him until he did get a conviction.

Mr. Snyder drew a paper from his pocket and handed it to my friend, saying "This is to be my next jury. What do you think of them?" I recall that my friend was familiar with the name and position of all but one of those listed, and that he assured Mr. Snyder that they could be counted upon for a conviction. This appeared to agree with Mr. Snyder's own knowledge. The jury of the second trial of Albizu Campos contained several men whose connections were identical with those in the list submitted to my friend by Mr. Snyder. How the prosecuting attorney could determine in advance who would compose his next jury, I don't know. I do state as a fact that Mr. Snyder said, "This is to be my next jury." I have subsequently given this information all possible publicity. The defense counsel at the Ponce trials asked me to come to Ponce to testify to what I knew about Federal prejudice. I was accompanied on the plane by the Federal marshal of San Juan. He spent literally hours of the trip attempting to persuade me not to go to Ponce, not even to leave San Juan. He urged me to put myself under his protection, to stay with him at the Condado Hotel, to meet his friends, who, he said, were the people I ought to know in Puerto Rico, and to avoid association with friends of the defendants. He warned me that my life would be in danger from the moment I set foot in Puerto Rico. From the moment of my arrival in Puerto Rico I was viciously attacked in the governmentcontrolled evening paper. Before my appearance on the witness stand, it was published that Cecil Snyder and the prosecuting attorney of Ponce, after a session together of some hours the night before, had agreed that I should not be permitted to testify. It was rumored in Puerto Rico that if I did testify, I would be immediately arrested.

A suggestion as to the origin of these rumors is contained in a statement attributed to Cecil Snyder and published in a recent issue of Ken. I was not permitted to testify, although the entire matter of my testimony was put into the record by the defense counsel. You will recall that the Ponce trials resulted in the acquittal of all the defendants. As a result of these experiences my own feeling is, naturally enough, one of serious distrust of Federal Law enforcement in Puerto Rico....

Sincerely yours,
Rockwell Kent

The trial took place, and by a prejudiced jury, by jurors who had expressed publicly bias and hatred for the defendants, Campos and his colleagues were railroaded to jail. Mr. Speaker, these innocent men languish in Atlanta Penitentiary today because they were convicted by a fixed jury, a jury representing the economic interests of Wall Street in Puerto Rico. They did the bidding of Blanton Winship. An idea of what took place in the jury room is contained in the following letter to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Elmer Ellsworth, one of the jurors who convicted Campos:

(The letter, written in support of a petition for clemency, concludes)

I cannot refrain from saying that my associates on the jury seemed to be motivated by strong, if not violent, prejudice against the Nationalists and were prepared to convict them, regardless of the evidence. Ten of the jurors were American residents in Puerto Rico and the two Puerto Ricans were closely associated with American business interests. It was evident from the composition of the jury that the Nationalists did not and could not get a fair trial.

Very sincerely yours,
Elmer Ellsworth.

This frame-up is one of the blackest pages in the history of American jurisprudence. The continuance of this incarceration is repugnant to our democratic form of government; it is repugnant to our Bill of Rights and out of harmony with our goodneighbor policy. There is no place in America for political prisoners. As long as Puerto Rico remains part of the United States, Puerto Rico must have the same freedom, the same civil liberties, and the same justice which our forefathers laid down for us. Only a complete and immediate unconditional pardon will, in a very small measure, right this historical wrong.

When we ask ourselves, "Can it happen here?" the Puerto Rican people can answer, "It has happened in Puerto Rico."