Amílcar Cabral and Pedro Albizu Campos were two men separated by geography but united by something much deeper, their comprehension of the evil exercise of colonialism and their dedication to the liberation of their nation and land from it. Both were highly educated men who were able to understand the true nature of the societies they lived in and sought to transform. From this understanding both embarked on paths that would secure both their death and more importantly their immortality. This paper seeks to explore and explain the similarities and differences of Cabral and Albizu. We focus this paper on the role of culture. This paper by no means is capable of securing a complete analysis; I hope however, this paper is capable of giving some justice to these two grand and complex men.
Culture as a Weapon
“The value of culture as an element of resistance to foreign domination lies in the fact that culture is the vigorous manifestation on the ideological or idealist plane of the physical and historical reality of the society that is dominated or to be dominated. Culture is simultaneously the fruit of a people’s history and a determinant of history, by the positive or negative influence which it exerts on the evolution of relationships between man and his environment, among men or groups of men within a society, as well as among different societies. Ignorance of this fact may explain the failure of several attempts at foreign domination—as well as the failure of some international liberation movements.”
-Amílcar Cabral, 1970
Culture serves as one of if not the most powerful tools that we can utilize to defeat colonialism. Colonialism’s strength lies in its ability to destroy the unique characteristic and nature of the people it wishes to control. The colonizer knows and understands that in order to be successful he must break the individual and their culture in order to implement in its place the culture and attitudes of the colonizer. This allows the notions of superiority of the colonizer to be cemented into the colonized. He, the colonizer, realizes that if the colonized maintain their culture and value system they will never be fully entrenched into the oppressive and inhumane conditioning of colonialism. So long as people are conscious of their uniqueness and identify themselves with it they will fight to liberate themselves.
The same way that the colonizer understands their mechanism’s importance, so should we who are conscious of their attempts to utilize it be to utilize our weapon of cultural reaffirmation. When we become conscious of who we are we break the limitations and cleanse ourselves of the conditioning of colonialism. By seeking knowledge of self we seek to be liberated. We enable ourselves to see and strive to go beyond the limited and weak position that colonialism places us in.
Both Cabral and Albizu understood this. Albizu in Puerto Rico fought against Americanization intending to eradicate Puerto Rican culture and the cultural nationalism campaign of the Commonwealth (read pro-colonialism) Party intended to neutralize the Nationalist party seeking independence. This is an important often-neglected point of analysis with respect to the pro-independence movement of Puerto Rico. What I intend to do here is introduce both Albizu and the Nationalist movement while discussing the role of culture in this movement. Better stated cultural nationalism versus political nationalism. I will divide this into two parts beginning with cultural nationalism then discussing political nationalism.
Paraphrasing Jorge Duany in defining cultural nationalism he describes it as a movement that highlights or emphasizes a distinct and unique history, culture, language, and geography as the essence of the nation, however this movement stops short at sovereignty being necessary. Cultural nationalist respond to the onslaught of foreign influences by educating the masses and ensuring that the native traditions and heritage remain and continue. These movements, which tend to be authored and led by scholars, historians, writers, poets, singers, etc., for the most part are small scale (Duany 2002). In Puerto Rico however, cultural nationalism has become a national phenomena.
Cultural nationalism became policy under Luis Muñoz Marín. Marín’s cultural nationalism was meant to directly battle the Americanization of Puerto Rico due to its relationship with the United States. Marín feared that as time continued Puerto Rico would loose its soul and the traditions that made it distinct. Under his charismatic leadership and with the assistance of scholars from the island, including the great Don Ricardo Alegría, Munoz preached and enacted a number of initiatives and policies that would insure the survival of the Puerto Rican spirit and the culture which it birthed. From securing Spanish as the official language to the creation of the Instituto Cultural Puertorriqueño, to the reemergence of Puerto Rico’s greatest symbol, its flag, Muñoz and Alegría, in addition to other great scholars created for the first time in Puerto Rico a real understanding, through research and preservation of Puertorriqueñidad. This created a strong sense of self-pride amongst the masses of Puerto Ricans who in return supported the Popular party and its baby, commonwealth. This pride in many ways satisfied and entertained the patriotic senses of the masses keeping them occupied and away from seeking independence. Essentially Muñoz tuned nationalist sentiment to where it could be maintained and controlled. “Operation Serenity” as this movement was called was to be the counter balance to the sell everything spirit of “Operation Bootstrap”.
The cultural nationalism effort was successful in many ways. One, the overwhelming majority of Puerto Ricans have a sense of self-pride and understanding about their nationality. Furthermore Spanish remains the vernacular on the island. It was successful in the revival of many folk traditions that would have been lost and the institutionalizing of the understanding and acceptance of the African, Taíno and Spanish ancestral heritage. This movement, which emphasized the uniqueness of Puerto Rican culture and history, enabled Puerto Ricans to understand the beauty and historic value of themselves that in turn created that famous pride which is associated with Puerto Ricans.
Commonwealth is in fact a pretty word for colony, and Puerto Rico is in fact a colony. Puerto Rico’s nationalist movement however has seemingly not been the tool to end this colonialism. The zenith of the nationalist movement in Puerto Rico came about in the 1930’ s-1950 headed by Pedro Albizu Campos, the Harvard educated leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Albizu sought to unify all of Puerto Rico under nationalistic sediments to combat the American colonialism and all of its dehumanizing effects in Puerto Rico. At the time Puerto Rico was being transformed from a colonial property used solely as a military outpost for the United States into an economic colony. The effects of the neglect on the part of the United States to the Puerto Ricans, their health, education, and their economy were extremely evident. The United States, which just 122 years prior had gained independence from the colonial government of Great Britain was now acting like the red coats. It was this reality that the nationalist movement sought to destroy. It is important to note that prior to becoming a colony of the United States, Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain for 405 years. So as one can imagine, the colonial mind, which is harder to defeat then the actual colonial government, was quite strong within the majority of Puerto Ricans. The nationalist movement began to directly attack that mentality by doing away with an important aspect of colonialism and that is symbolism. To most Puerto Ricans, as is the case with most people throughout the world the United States symbolizes freedom. In fact no scholars argue that the reason Puerto Ricans seemingly allowed the United States to colonize them in the first place because they taught the United States had come to set them free from the colonial rule of Spain and to grant them their independence. The United States of course had other plans. So Albizu and nationalist movement began trying to destroy the myth of the wielder’s of democracy and began to go out and show the Puerto Ricans what the reality was. And began to replace that myth with pride in themselves and their country. The nationalist movement in Puerto Rico was a large and diverse movement, in that it was evident in everything from poems to songs to the resurfacing of the Puerto Rican flag, which was outlawed under Spanish rule, as well as under American rule. The nationalist movement in Puerto Rico stood in complete contrast of the colonial reality of the island. What that means is that the nationalists created a new society. The nationalist movement had its own doctors, lawyers, writers, and musicians. It even had it’s own army (Seijo Bruno 1997). Nevertheless, it also had its own enemy-the colonial government of the United States. The nationalist movement was causing the United States problems, because people began to not only question the United States but they began to stand up against it. So the repression of the nationalist movement began. It must be made clear that everything in Puerto Rico was under the control of the colonial government of the United States, including the police. An unconstitutional gag law was passed in Puerto Rico in 1940 that made any and all pro-independence activities illegal. Those favoring independence were arrested and denied jobs (Fernandez 1995). Creating a fear of independence. The effects of this gag law are still felt today on Puerto Rico.
The 1950’s saw the nationalist movement turn into an armed struggle. On October 30, 1950 two nationalist; Oscar Collazo and Grisello Toresola attacked Blair House in Washington DC, which was the temporary residence of President Truman. Truman was not injured, but Toresola was killed and Oscar was injured in a shoot-out with the secret service. This followed the Jayuya Uprising, during which the Nationalist Party was able to liberate the town of Jayuya for three days. They were defeated only when the United States sent in the National Guard and bombarded the town (Seijo Bruno 1997). Four years later, the Nationalist returned to Washington. This time there were four members, Irving Flores, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Lolita Lebrón and Andrés Figueroa Cordero. Inside of the U.S. Congress building the four nationalists opened fire. Again no one was injured. All five of these nationalists would go on to serve more than a quarter century in U.S. prisons for their pro-independence actions. On September 6, 1979 all were given unconditional pardons by President Carter sighting humanitarian reasons- a broad international campaign for the release of the five nationalists was able to put enough pressure on him. Upon their release the nationalist returned to Puerto Rico as heroes in the fight to end colonialism.
The PN has not participated in the electoral process since the 1930’s. They believe that by participating in the process they give legitimacy to the colonial government. The stance is important to note for two main reasons. One, although it is arguably not unique to them on the island, amongst the independentista movements theirs is the largest group that follows this philosophy. Secondly, this refusal to participate in both local elections as well as in status referendums should be noted and taking into account when discussing the outcome. The Nationalist, understanding the realities of colonialism believe that revolution is the only way to free themselves and Puerto Rico.
Cabral understood the relationship between colonialism and culture better than any other person. In “National Liberation and Culture”, Cabral makes clear the relationship. Cabral defines two ideal ways for foreign domination. One, physical liquidation of all the population thereby removing the possibility of resistance. This would create a problem for the foreign domination for genocide removes the purpose of domination, which is the people. Cabral describes the second way is to harmonize the economic and political domination of the people with their cultural personality. As Cabral pointed out, history has failed that possibility.
Cabral views culture as a product of history. Contrary to other Marxists, Cabral saw production, the level of and the means of, as the stimulant for history (McCulloch 1981). Because imperialist and colonial domination removes from the people the control of production it destroys the historical development of people thereby destroying their cultural evolution. In Guinea-Bissau the Portuguese created a system of dependency via the development, which led to the underdevelopment of the state, of groundnut production. Cabral’s studies of production in Guinea-Bissau undertaken during his work as an agronomist allowed him to see the creation of dependency in the country. This transformation to cash crop production led to Cabral’s early criticism of the Portuguese’s intentions in Guinea-Bissau (McCulloch 1981).
As Cabral said, culture is a product of history as the flower is the product of a plant. Further building on this notion, Cabral continues by saying that just as with the flower with the plant, in culture there lies the capacity and responsibility for forming and fertilizing the seedling which will assure the continuity of history, assuring along with it the continuation and prosperity of the society in question. For this reason, Cabral continues, that the oppressive forces of domination for their security seek to liquidate cultural expression.
Cabral touched on the need of the leadership to have an understanding of the society it sought to liberate. This is something that seems obvious but in many examples doesn’t exist. How can you liberate a people that you don’t understand? How can you liberate a people who don’t understand you? As Cabral said all that glitter is not necessarily gold, even the most famous of political leaders may be culturally alienated people. Leadership in many examples has the tendency to separate itself from the people it wishes to organize or liberate. By doing so it fails to include them in the process and succeeds to ensure the continuation of the existing reality. Cabral also talked about the importance of the leadership to have a clear understanding of the role of culture in the national liberation movement. The national liberation movement being a cultural movement, as Cabral saw it, the failure of the leadership to appreciate the importance of culture would fail their ability to achieve the success they sought.
Participation of the entire society was necessary. The rural and urban masses along with the revolutionary fraction of the petite bourgeoisie needed to be accounted for in the liberation movement (Chilcote 1984). The inclusion of the positive cultural values of each well defined group within the society within a national context allowed the creation of a common objective, thus creating a united front.
Amílcar Cabral is rightfully credited as the author of the successful national liberation movement in Guinea-Bissau. Pedro Albizu Campos is viewed as the father of the modern national liberation movement in Puerto Rico. A movement that has yet to actualize its intentions. I believe that Albizu’s failure lied in Cabral’s success. Where Albizu sought to unite the nation under the guidance of a collective history and culture, he failed to base that in the reality of the people. His Hispanophile based explanation of Puerto Rican culture and society which was meant to emphasize the differences between Puerto Ricans and the Americans alienated a large portion of the society. Albizu, a man that Americans would define as Black, alienated others of his complexion and social standing by glorifying the times of Spanish colonialism. Had Albizu been capable, as Cabral, in incorporating the entire society in his definition; that is to say the African, Creole and Spanish elements along with the rich and poor, he would have created a united front.
Duany, Jorge. The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States. Chapel Hill. The University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Fernandez, Ronald. Prisoners of Colonialism: The Struggle for Justice in Puerto Rico. Monroe, Me. Common Courage Press, 1994
McCulloch, Jock. 1981. Amílcar Cabral: A Theory of Imperialism. The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 19, No. 3: 503-511.
Chilcote, Ronald. H. 1984. The Theory and Practice of Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Implications for the Third World. Latin American Perspectives, Vol. 11, No. 2, Unity and Struggle: Reassessing the Thought of Amílcar Cabral. 3-14.