Pedro Albizu Campos

Pedro Albizu Campos

[ahl-bee-soo kahm-paws]
Albizu Campos, Pedro, 1891-1965, Puerto Rican political leader. After service in an African-American unit during World War I he developed a lasting enmity for the United States and became the fiery champion of Puerto Rican independence. His Nationalist party, however, failed to receive popular support in the Puerto Rican elections of 1932. Convicted of seeking to overthrow the U.S. government, he was imprisoned (1937-43) before returning to Puerto Rico in 1947. His party made a poor showing in the 1948 election, and in 1950 Nationalists attacked the governor's mansion in Puerto Rico and Blair House in Washington. Charged with inciting to murder, Albizu Campos was again imprisoned. He was pardoned (1953) because of failing health, but the next year he was implicated in the Nationalist armed attack on the U.S. House of Representatives, and his pardon was revoked. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. He suffered a stroke in 1956 and was again pardoned in 1964.

Pedro Albizu Campos (June 29, 1893 or September 12, 1891 – April 21, 1965) was a Puerto Rican politician and advocate of Puerto Rican independence from the United States, and leader and president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party from 1930 until his death. Because of his oratorical skills he was known as El Maestro ("The Teacher").


Early Years

Albizu Campos was born in Tenerías Village in Ponce, Puerto Rico to Alejandro Albizu and Juana Campos. He was the nephew of danza composer Juan Morel Campos and cousin of Puerto Rican educator Dr. Carlos Albizu Miranda.


In 1912, Albizu was awarded a scholarship to study Engineering, specializing in Chemistry at the University of Vermont. In 1913 he continued his studies at Harvard University.

At the outbreak of World War I, he volunteered in the United States Infantry. Albizu was trained by the French Military mission and served under General Frank McIntyre where he was assigned to an African-American unit and was discharged as a First Lieutenant. During this time he was exposed to the racism of the day which left a mark in his beliefs towards the relationship of Puerto Ricans and the United States.

In 1919, Albizu returned to Harvard University and was elected president of Harvard's Cosmopolitan Club. He met with foreign students and lecturers, like Subhas Chandra Bose (Indian Nationalist leader with Mahatma Gandhi) and the Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore. He became interested in the cause of Indian independence and also helped to establish several centers in Boston for Irish independence.

Albizu met Éamon de Valera and later became a consultant in the drafting of the constitution of the Irish Free State. He graduated from Harvard University obtaining a Law degree while studying Literature, Philosophy, Chemical Engineering and Military Science. He was fluent in English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, Latin and Greek. At the time he received job offers as Hispanic representative for a Protestant church and in the U.S. State Department's diplomatic corps in Mexico, yet Albizu opted to return to Puerto Rico.

Nationalist campaign

In 1922, Albizu married Dr. Laura Meneses, a Peruvian whom he had met at Harvard University. Two years later in 1924 he joined the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and was elected vice president. In 1927, Albizu traveled to Santo Domingo, Haiti, Cuba, Mexico, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela, seeking solidarity for the Puerto Rican Independence movement.

In 1930, there were some disagreements between Albizu and José Coll y Cuchí, president of the Party, as to how it should be run. As a result Coll y Cuchí abandoned the party and some of his followers returned to the Union Party. On May 11, 1930, Albizu Campos was elected president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party and formed the first Women's Nationalist Committee, in the island municipality of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

In 1932, Albizu published a manuscript in which he accused Doctor Cornelius P. Rhoades of killing Puerto Rican patients as part of medical experiments conducted in San Juan's Presbyterian Hospital for the Rockefeller Institute. Albizu quotes as his source a letter, received from a third party, in which the doctor purportedly admitted to injecting patients with live cancer cells. The letter also included inflammatory racist comments denigrating Puerto Ricans for their bad character. Investigations at the time did not publicly reveal evidence of malicious activity to support the claim and Dr. Rhoades was vindicated while Albizu was discredited. Dr. Rhoades went on to head two large chemical warfare projects in the 1940s and later served with the United States Atomic Energy Commission. He was later awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit.

Years later, in 2003, after an independent investigation, the American Association for Cancer Research would remove Dr. Rhoades' name from their annual award intended for an "individual on the basis of meritorious achievement in cancer research".

The Nationalist Party obtained poor results in the 1932 election, but continued with their campaign to unite the people behind an independent Puerto Rico. At the same time, continued repression from the United States against Puerto Rican independence was now met with armed resistance.

In 1933, Albizu led a strike against the Puerto Rico Railway and Light and Power Company for alleged monopoly on the island. The following year, he represented sugar cane workers as a lawyer against the U.S. sugar industry.

First Arrest

In 1935, four Nationalists were killed by the police under the command of Colonel E. Francis Riggs. The incident became known as the Río Piedras massacre. The following year in 1936, nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp assassinated Colonel Riggs. They were arrested, and summarily executed without a trial at the police headquarters in San Juan.

After these events, the San Juan Federal Court ordered the arrest of Albizu Campos and several other Nationalists for "seditious conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. Government in Puerto Rico." A jury of seven Puerto Ricans and five Americans voted 7 to 5 not guilty. However, Judge Cooper called for a new jury, this time composed of ten Americans and two Puerto Ricans and a guilty verdict was achieved.

In 1937, a group of lawyers, including a young Gilberto Concepción de Gracia tried in vain to defend the Nationalists, but the Boston Court of Appeals, which holds jurisdiction over federal matters in Puerto Rico, upheld the verdict. Albizu Campos and the other Nationalist leaders were sent to the Federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1943, Albizu got seriously ill and had to be interned at the Columbus Hospital of New York. He stayed there almost until the end of his sentence. After ten years of imprisonment, in 1947 Albizu returned to Puerto Rico and it was believed that he began preparing, along with other members of the Nationalist Party, an armed struggle against the proposed plans to change Puerto Rico's political status into a commonwealth of the United States.

Second Arrest

Pedro Albizu Campos would be jailed again after two events: 1) the revolt of 1950 when a group of Puerto Rican nationalists staged a revolt in the town of Jayuya (known as the Jayuya Uprising) and 2) an attack on La Fortaleza (the Puerto Rican governor's mansion) and Blair House, by nationalist Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola, where president Harry S. Truman was staying while the White House was being renovated.

During the attack on the president, Torresola and policeman, Private Leslie Coffelt, were killed. Albizu Campos was arrested at his home after a brief shoot out with the police. Subsequently 3,000 independence supporters were arrested. In 1951 Pedro Albizu Campos was jailed again and sentenced to 80 years in prison.

Albizu was pardoned in 1953 by then governor Luis Muñoz Marín but the pardon was revoked the following year after the 1954 nationalist attack of the United States House of Representatives, when four Puerto Rican Nationalists, led by Lolita Lebrón opened fire from the gallery of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C..

Later years and death

While in prison, Albizu Campos' health deteriorated. In 1956, he suffered a stroke in prison and was transferred to San Juan's Presbyterian Hospital under police guard. He alleged that he was the subject of human radiation experiments in prison. Officials suggested that Albizu was insane although many doctors were able to examine Albizu and test for signs of radiation. The President of the Cuban Cancer Association, Dr. Orlando Damuy, traveled to PR to examine him. The burns on his body were reported by Dr. Damuy, where he diagnosed that they were the cause of intense radiation. It is said when they placed a metal paper clip with a film on Albizu's skin, the clip was radiated into the film. It is also said he did not receive any medical attention for 5 days and instead suffered.

Albizu was pardoned in 1953 by Luis Muñoz Marin, governor of Puerto Rico, but the pardon was revoked due another attempt against the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954. On November 15, 1964 Albizu was agained pardoned by Muñoz Marin. He finally died on April 21, 1965.

In 1994, under the administration of President Bill Clinton, the United States Department of Energy disclosed that human radiation "experiments" were conducted without consent on prisoners during the 1950s and 1970s. Pedro Albizu Campos was among the subjects of such experimentation.

Relationship with Prominent Latin American Figures

Pedro Albizu Campos had very good relationships with many prominent figures of Latin American politics. Nobel Prize laureate and admirer of Albizu Campos, Gabriela Mistral, presented a tamarind tree to Albizu Campos as a symbol of her support for the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. She obtained the tamarind tree from the world-known Venezuelan leader Simón Bolivar's estate in Venezuela. The tree was planted at the Lares, Puerto Rico Plaza de la Revolución with soil taken from the eighteen other Spanish-speaking Latin American countries of the Hemisphere.

As inspired by Gabriela Mistral, Albizu Campos meant to give the Plaza a living symbol of solidarity with the struggle for freedom and independence initiated by Bolivar (who, while visiting Vieques, Puerto Rico, promised to assist the Puerto Rico independence movement, albeit said promise never materialized due to the power struggles surrounding him), as well as a symbol of the bittersweet (as the trees' flavor) hardships needed to reach Puerto Rico's independence. As such, the Tamarindo de Gabriela was meant to evoke the symbolism and significance afforded to the Gernikako Arbola hailing from the Basque Country, found between Spain and France.


The extent of Albizu's legacy is generally the subject of passionate discussion by both followers and detractors. His followers state that Albizu's political and military actions served (even unintentionally) as a primer for positive change in Puerto Rico, these being:

  • the improvement of labor conditions for peasants and workers
  • a belated yet more accurate assessment of the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States by the political establishment in Washington
  • and a set of social and political conditions that led to positive change in the political - and eventually economic - environment prevailing in the country.

Detractors denounce Albizu as a radical fascist, whose actions only brought turmoil to Puerto Rico. Some claim that the weak following of the Puerto Rican independence movement in the present day can be traced, if not to Albizu, to the repression that his actions brought upon the movement.

Albizu can be definitely credited, however, with preserving and promoting Puerto Rican nationalism and national symbols, at a time where they were virtually a taboo in the country. The formal adoption of the Puerto Rican flag as a national emblem by the Puerto Rican government can be traced to Albizu (even while he denounced this adoption as the "watering-down" of an otherwise sacred symbol into a "colonial flag"); the revival of public observance of the Grito de Lares and its significant icons was a direct mandate from him as leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.

Albizu was the most vocal and visible Puerto Rican of African descent of his generation; Afro-Puerto Rican leaders of other political extractions (such as Ernesto Ramos Antonini and Jose Celso Barbosa) attained similar status only after facing (and enduring) considerable bouts with racism. Albizu, while not exempt from it, confronted it and denounced it publicly.

Albizu's diagnosis of the colonial relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States earned him prison time, yet modern scholars take surprise at how accurate the diagnosis is, even years after Albizu's death. Finally, his political philosophy persists to this day, synthesized in quotes and verbal images.

An alternative high school in Chicago, called the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School, is located in the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. There, students learn about Puerto Rican history and culture, in the context of local community development. Archives there include original letters, representations of Albizu Campos in sculpture and art, as well as other material related to his life.

Additionally, five public schools in Puerto Rico are named after him, as well as numerous streets in most of Puerto Rico's municipalities. In 1976, Public School 161 in Harlem in New York City was named after him as well.


  • Acosta, Ivonne, La Mordaza/Puerto Rico 1948-1957. Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, 1987
  • Connerly, Charles, ed. Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, Vieques Times, Puerto Rico, 1995
  • Corretjer, Juan Antonio, El Lider De La Desesperación, Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, 1978
  • Davila, Arlene M., Sponsored Identities, Cultural Politics in Puerto Rico, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1997
  • Garcia, Marvin, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, National Louis University
  • Torres Santiago, Jose M., 100 Years of Don Pedro Albizu Campos

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