SOBRE EL AUTOR
Author Nelson Denis says his book “has a responsibility to represent people and events fairly and accurately” (p. 265). Yet it is evident that the quality of being rigorous in the presentation of the facts and events that shaped Puerto Rican history is mostly absent from his book. In fact,Denis fabricates evidence, exaggerates figures and distorts already well-documented events in order to construct a fictional story under the guise of historical analysis.
1) On p. xii:
“…all Puerto Rican flags were illegal on the island from 1948 until 1957.”
Its obvious that Denis missed the 1952 newsreel clip (available on Youtube) that shows Governor Muñoz raising the Puerto Rican flag in the July 25, 1952 Commonwealth ceremony. How could the flag be illegal “until 1957” when the governor himself raises it in 1952?
2) On p. 9:
“He [Pedro Albizu Campos] was the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard College and Harvard Law School and spoke six languages.”
A similar claim is made on p. 111:
“In 1913, Pedro Albizu Campos became the first Puerto Rican to be admitted to Harvard College”.
In his effort to portrait Albizu as the “principal figure in Puerto Rican political history” Denis spares no effort in deleting the achievements of other persons. Before Albizu six other Puerto Ricans received diplomas from this Ivy League university: Manuel Arturo Saldaña (Class of 1896), Eduardo Egberto Saldaña (Class of 1897), José Camprubi (Class of 1902), Francisco Vizcarrondo Morell (Class of 1905), Carlos Gallardo (Class of 1909) and Pedro Quiñones Carrasquillo (Harvard Law School Class of 1919). Their names and year of graduation can all be found at Harvard University. Quinquennial Catalogue of the Officers and Graduates 1636-1930 (Cambridge: The University, 1930), 1216, 1241, 1247, 1294 y 14359.
3) On p. 13:
Describing how the Spanish Conquistadores put an end to Puerto Rico’s 1511 native Taíno rebellion Denis states:
“…Ponce de León shot 6,000 Taínos in order to maintain public order and respect for the queen”
None of the Spanish chroniclers that wrote about the conquest and colonization of Puerto Rico ever mentions such an exaggerated and ridiculous figure. In chronicler Fernández de Oviedo’s 1535 account one hundred-fifty Indians killed in one of the battles, is the highest figure mentioned [Crónicas de Puerto Rico, de Eugenio Fernández Méndez, 1981, pág. 58]. Where did Denis get the figure of 6,000 Taínos shot? He quotes Irving Rouse The Tainos: The Rise and Decline of the People who Greeted Columbus without mentioning a specific page. Yet in no part of his book does Rouse mention Ponce de León shooting “6,000 Taínos”. This is an invented figure by Denis.
4) On p. 13:
“…the charter [Charter of Autonomy or Carta Autonómica of 1897] created the free Republic of Puerto Rico.”
The ephemeral Charter of Autonomy did not create a “free Republic of Puerto Rico”. Under the Royal Regency of Queen María Cristina, Spain was not in the business of creating any overseas free republics; instead the Charter was bestowed upon Cuba and Puerto Rico more to placate the Cuban’s armed independence insurrection by granting a modest quota of home rule. Denis is simply following Albizu’s own exaggerated and incorrect version of Puerto Rico’s history when in 1936 he said: “La Madre Patria España […] concedió a Puerto Rico la Magna Carta Autonómica, […] así reconociendo a nuestro país como una nación soberana, libre e independiente” [Pedro Albizu Campos, La conciencia nacional puertorriqueña, 1979, p. 59].
5) On p. 29:
Describing the US Congress approved currency substitution that took place in 1900, at a rate of .60 US Dollar for every 1.00 Puerto Rican provincial peso rendered, Denis claims that:
“Every Puerto Rican lost 40 percent of his or her savings overnight.”
That was not true. Historians have demonstrated that in Puerto Rico’s turn-of-the-century coffee haciendas and sugar mills workers were paid in tokens or vouchers redeemable only in their own stores. Therefore peasants and sugar field laborers (the majority of them illiterate) held very little hard cash, accumulated scarce savings, and very few held bank accounts. Currency was a commodity that not everybody carried on in those days. That is why when early in 1899 the American military government allotted more than a million dollars for public works, hundreds of workers left the haciendas preferring to earn dollars in American sponsored road construction rather than tokens in sugar fields [Informe sobre el censo de Puerto Rico 1899, publicado en el 1900, p. 149; Santiago Iglesias Pantín, Luchas emancipadoras, Tomo I, 1929, p. 126]. This, and the arrival of scores of carpetbaggers willing to buy or invest on the new American territory, created a bewildering situation where two types of currencies circulated side by side from 1899 till 1900. The fact is that when the currency substitution occurred in August of 1900 a considerable amount of Puerto Rican public workers, contractors and even merchants had earned their fair share of dollars and therefore were not affected by the substitution of the local peso.
6) On p. 34:
Describing the sterilization of Puerto Rican women Dennis states:
“This campaign of sterilization stemmed from a growing concern in the United States about ‘inferior races’ and the declining ‘purity’ of Anglo-Saxon bloodlines.
In 1927 the US Supreme Court ruled that the state of Virginia could sterilize those it thought unfit, particularly whenthe mother was ‘feeble-minded’ and ‘promiscuos’. Ten years later , US Public Law 136 legalized all sterilization in Puerto Rico, even for ‘non-medical’ reasons.”
What Denis erroneously and misleadingly calls “US Public Law 136” is actually the 1937 Puerto Rican Legislature Law 136. Moreover, this locally approved bill did not “legalize all sterilization in Puerto Rico”, as Denis pretends readers to belief. Actually PR Law 136 banned abortions, but at the same time legalized the use of contraceptives under certain circumstances [Emilio Cofresí, Maltusianismo o neomaltusianismo: nuestro gran dilemma, 1968, p.169, 209-211].
Denis’ blame-American-imperialism-for-all-Puerto Rican-woes approach insists on holding the US government responsible for the women sterilization programs that were applied on the island. Yet he fails to acknowledge that, US presence notwithstanding, a great number of Puerto Rican men and women (doctors, social workers, chemists) had been actively promoting birth control measures and local neo-Malthusian laws since the 1920’s. These Puerto Ricans were responsible for the creation in 1953 of the Asociación Puertorriqueña Pro Bienestar de la Familia. It was this local family planning association (funded by Planned Parenthood Federation and Joseph Sunnen) who sponsored the first sterilization operations in Puerto Rico [Ibid. 171-173.]. Curiously enough the operations were conducted first on males, and only later on females.
7) On p. 38:
“The Cadet Corps was the official youth branch of the Nationalist Party, created in a public assembly on December 17, 1932 in the Victoria Theater in the town of Humacao.”
And on p. 39:
“The Cadets of the Republic and their mission were modeled on the six-day Easter Rising of 1916 in Ireland”
The first appearance of the Cadets of the Republic with its characteristic black shirts, as recorded by the local press, was on May 23, 1932 [El Mundo, May 28, 1932]; which means that they were in public display and marching before the date given by Denis. Moreover, on December 26, 1931 the nationalist weekly La Nación published the “Decalogue of the Young Fascist”, this proves that, more than the Irish Volunteers, it was the Italian Fasci the role model for the Puerto Rican Cadetes de la República. In my May 29, 1989 taped interview with Cadets’ founder José A. Buitrago, he admitted that their black shirts was adopted from Mussolini’s.
8) On p. 43:
Denis falsely identifies Nationalist Party member Ramón Pagán as the“party’s treasurer”.
In 1935 Águedo Ramos Medina was the Nationalist Party treasurer while Pagán was comptroller.
9) On p. 63:
“[Governor] Gore … demanded that the FBI investigate all his detractors, including senators, editors, students labor leaders, sugar cane workers and the chef in the governor’s mansion.”
This petition by the despairing governor was made in 1933, but the fact is that the agency known by the name of FBI was created in 1935; an anachronism on the part of the author that attest lack of editorial proofreading. Even more significant is the fact that in a later page Dennis acknowledges that FBI indeed opened in 1935.
10) On p. 66:
“Four days after the [Río Piedras] massacre, Police chief Riggs stated in several major newspapers that he was ready to wage ‘war to the death against all Puerto Ricans’ “.
This lie was discussed and refuted earlier on.
11) On p. 76:
“…the passage in 1948 of Public Law 53, otherwise known as La Ley de la Mordaza (the Law of the Muzzzle of Gag Law), which outlawed any mention of independence, the whistling of ‘La Borinqueña’ or ownership of a Puerto Rican flag”.
Anyone who reads Law 53 will find no mention of “La Borinqueña” or the Puerto Rican Flag in it, much less any prohibition on whistling it or possession of it.
12) On p. 85:
Dennis distorts facts, figures and even names. Talking about Muñoz’ childhood excursions to the mountain town of Barranquitas, Dennis recounts how the young Muñoz heard a story about “a mail carrier named Salto Padilla who fell down a waterfall.” But when you check into Muñoz’s memoirs, from where Dennis lifted the aforementioned story, it turns out that the mail carrier is not mentioned by any name but that he fell over the Salto Padilla (that would be the Padilla waterfall or Padilla fault in English). A case of lost in translation.
13) On p. 87:
Describing Muñoz’s academic performance at Georgetown Prep School:
“He [Muñoz] flunked every class except modern literature and had to repeat the entire tenth grade [this at Georgetown Prep School]”.
As we said before, this can’t be substantiated by the source he quotes.
14) On p. 93:
Quoting an FBI report Denis says:
“In 1923, Luis [Muñoz Marín] left his wife and children (aged two and three) behind and headed for Puerto Rico to assemble his father’s writings into a book titled Political Campaigns. He solicited $5,000 ‘donations’ from his father’s friends, spent all the money, and never published the collection.”
This is a monumental lie. The three-volume 1925 edition of Luis Muñoz Rivera Campañas Políticas, was published in Madrid by Muñoz Jr. with his acknowledgement to the men who lent the money. The books are available in the University of Puerto Rico library (Call No. 329.972/M972c).
15) On p. 110:
Denis describes Albizu’s father, Alejandro Albizu Romero, as a:
“wealthy Basque merchant who refused to acknowledge his dark-skinned son…”
Denis repeats erroneous information originated in Federico Ribes Tovar’s sketchy 1971 book on Albizu, without taking into account the many more elaborated and documented works on the Albizu family that have been published. First of all, Alejandro Albizu was not Basque, he was Puerto Rican born and raised. The surname Albizu is certainly Basque, but that does not make its bearer a Basque. Second, he worked as a US Custom collector almost from the beginning of American arrival on the island, not as a merchant. As for his refusal to acknowledge his son, it is known that Alejandro was married to Cristina Antonsanti and had at least three kids with her (Vicente, Ana and Isabel) before Pedro was born out of wedlock. Very presumably, while Mrs. Albizu was alive the possibility of her husband acknowledging his illegitimate mulatto son was completely out of question. But once he became a widow, he did recognized Pedro as his son in 1914 in a sworn statement that has been published [Socorro Girón, “Nacimiento y matrimonio de Pedro Albizu Campos”, Revista del Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 90, octubre-diciembre 1985, p. 55-60].
16) On p. 101:
Denis accepts and repeats as his own the FBI lie that Ruby Black, Muñoz liaison and “prominent Washington journalist was his ‘illegitimate half-sister “.
Ruby Aurora Black was born in Texas, on September 11 1896. In order for her to be Muñoz’ half sister, Luis Muñoz Sr. must have bedded her mother Cornelia Long sometime during January or February of 1896 in the Lone Star State or nearby. Yet the evidence shows that Muñoz Sr. was in Spain in December of 1895, arrived in San Juan on January 11, 1896, and stayed on the island till September 15 of 1896, when he again departed for Spain. While in San Juan, he worked as publisher and journalist, as his articles published on La Democracia during 1896 show [Luis Muñoz Rivera, Obras completas, enero-diciembre 1896 ; 15, 223]. No evidence suggests that Muñoz Sr. left San Juan in January or February 1896, traveled to the Midwest USA and had sexual intercourse with Ms. Long, all while being married.
17) On p. 111
“He [Albizu] graduated in two years from Ponce High School with a 96 percent average. He was the class valedictorian and captain of the debate team and received a scholarship to the University of Vermont.”
Once again, Albizu’s academic achievements are exaggerated. The truth is he was neither the Valedictorian (that was Augusto R. Soltero) nor the Salutatorian (Carmen Ana Amadeo) [Carmelo Rosario Natal, Pedro Albizu Campos estudiante en Ponce, nuevas revelaciones , 2003, p. 31]. According to a recent detailed study of his school years, Albizu entered Ponce High School in September 1909 and graduated in June 1912; thus it took him three years and not two as Denis wrongly states [Ibid. 15, 17].
18) On p. 114
“In 1921, Albizu graduated from law school as class valedictorian…”
No evidence sustains that Albizu was his Law Class Valedictorian. In fact, according to one study, he didn’t graduate on time and had to take two tests subsequent to the end of his last school year. Maybe that is the reason he is absent from the Harvard Law Class of 1921 group picture [Carmelo Delgado Cintrón, “El derecho en Pedro Albizu Campos y la formación jurídica y la propuesta de convención constituyente”, Homines, Tomo 10, 1993, 70].
19) On p. 117:
Describing Albizu’s presence in the town of Guayama, on the southern part of the island, Denis shows his lack of geographical knowledge when he states:
“A breeze from the nearby Atlantic barely stirred the palm trees of the Guayama town square…”
A simple look at a map of Puerto Rico will prove that the only breeze coming from the southern side of the island must originate in the Caribbean Sea; the Atlantic Ocean only bathes its northern shores.
20) On p. 117:
In this same page Dennis states that Albizu, addressing some 6,000 disgruntled sugar cane workers in a hot 1934 night, recited the poem “Puerto Rico, Puerto Pobre” by future Nobel laureate Chilean Pablo Neruda. If reading poetry to a mad-as-hell crowd of men that have not only clashed with the police and their own leaders, but declared a massive island-wide strike over salary increases and harsh working conditions, sounds unsuitable enough, the fact that the aforementioned poem was first published in 1960 makes Denis’ statement more hilarious than historical [Pablo Neruda, Canción de gesta, 1960); also “Poesía y libertad: Canción de gesta, poemas, por Pablo Neruda” by Juan L. Araya].
21) On page 119:
Denis describes Albizu’s meeting with recently designated Chief of Police Elisha F. Riggs at the exclusive San Juan Escambrón Beach Club on January 18, 1934. With both men seated at a corner table, Denis lets his imagination get the better of him when he describes the following scene:
“In a flurry of busboys, waiters and sommeliers, they ate a splendid lunch and discussed the Golden Gate Bridge, the Spanish Civil War, Noel Cowards Design for Living, and Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak—everything but the sugar strike.”
This has to be a joke! In January 1934 Albizu and Riggs sat down and talked about the Spanish Civil War that was set to begin in July 1936 and the Yankee Clipper’s Major League record hitting streak determined to take place in 1941!
22) On p. 121:
“On October 24, 1934, an army of policemen raided a student rally, shooting and killing one cadet an three members of the Nationalist Party, in what became known as the Río Piedras Massacre.”
Police did not raid a student rally. According to all accounts, including the one from La Democracia quoted above, the car carrying the four nationalists (none of which were students) was on Brumbaugh Street in the town of Río Piedras, far and heading away from the University campus.
23) On p. 163-164
Describing the encounter between José Maldonado and nationalist Santiago Vidal, the former alleged owner by 1930 of the El Salón Boricua, a barbershop in Santurce, and the latter a barber himself who worked at the Salón and would gain notoriety for his participation in the 1950 Nationalist revolt, Denis states the following:
“The day after Albizu’s visit José called Vidal into the next-door apartment, with the shades drawn an everything in shadow. […] He fished out a picture frame with a yellowing portrait. It showed José on a white horse, waving a machete and leading the Intentona de Yauco, a revolt against Spain 1n 1897. The revolt had failed, but José’s role had earned him an island-wide reputation as El Aguila Blanca.”
José Maldonado’s pretended participation in the 1897 “Intentona de Yauco” (a failed armed attempt to declare Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain in the town of Yauco), cannot be substantiated. No evidence of him being there is provided in two of the most serious studies available. One source has him hurriedly heading for Cuba after escaping prison on March 14, 1897 (The Intentona occurred on March 24); and in the list of participants of the Yauco revolt given by its leader Maldonado’s name is not mentioned [Fernando Picó, Contra la corriente, seis microbiografías de los tiempos de España, 1995, pág. 158; Germán Delgado Pasapera, Puerto Rico: sus luchas emancipadoras, 1984, p. 535].
24) On p.164:
As if the above discrepancies weren’t enough, Denis adds that Maldonado became a patient of the infamous Doctor Cornelius Rhoads at the San Juan Presbyterian Hospital in September 1930, was given injections by him, developed throat cancer by January of 1931 and died in February of that same year in the Salón Boricua bathroom. Before dying, Maldonado, all according to Denis, left the Barbershop to Santiago Vidal in his will. The attorney bearer of this will was, of course, Albizu Campos himself.
Historian Pedro Aponte Vázquez has stated that Rhoads arrived at San Juan in 1931, so there’s no way Maldonado could have been his patient in 1930 [Pedro Aponte Vázquez, “Guerra contra quién”, Claridad, July 16-22, 2015, 15 (En Rojo supplement)]. On the other hand, Margarita Maldonado Colón, Maldonado’s granddaughter, in a July 19, 2015 post on her Facebook page declared that her grandfather did not die in San Juan, had no barbershop that they knew of and left no inheritance.
25) On p. 167:
Denis has Santiago Vidal and Juan Emilio Viguié dining “at La Casita Blanca on Calle Tapia”, in the Santurce district of San Juan sometime in 1947. The diner known as La Casita Blanca located on Tapia street, opened in the 1980’s, so there’s no way it could have served as venue of the aforementioned meeting.
26) On p. 187:
Describing a car driven in 1950 by FBI agents with a detained nationalist in it:
“As they passed Vega Alta on PR 22 and came within twenty miles of San Juan…”
In 1950 there was no PR-22 road, only the PR-2, known then as the Military Road. PR-22 is the current Highway that goes from San Juan to Hatillo, and it was inaugurated in the 1980’s. Another anachronism.
27) On p. 188:
“General Antonio Valero de Bernabé, a nineteenth-century hero of Puerto Rican independence.”
Valero could not possibly have been a nineteenth-century hero of Puerto Rican independence for there was no such independence. In any case Valero (1790-1863) can be identified as an officer of the Spanish Army who fought for Spain’s independence against Napoleon’s invading army (1808-1814); and later in his career took part in various campaigns to secure the liberation from Spain of various Hispanic-American countries.
28) On p. 194:
“…on November 1, the United States scrambled ten P-47 Thunderbolt fighters planes out of Ramey Air Force base and bombed the town.”
No US Air Force planes were used during the October 1950 revolt. Governor Muñoz relied exclusively on Air National Guard planes.
29) On p. 292, endnote 26:
Denis presents José Trías Monge as “president of the Puerto Rican Senate (1969-1972)” when in fact Rafael Hernández Colón was senate president during that time and Trías never served in that legislative body.
Para ver el primer artículo pulse aquí.
Para ver el segundo artículo pulse aquí.
El autor es catedrático de Ciencias Sociales en la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Río Piedras. Ha publicado Pedro Albizu Campos y el nacionalismo puertorriqueño (1990), Historia de los seguros en Puerto Rico(2003), Puertorriqueños en la guerra civil española (2009), y prologó los dos tomos de las obras de Luis Muñoz Marín Palabras 1931-1935 y 1936-1940 (2005).
Posee un Doctorado en Ciencias Políticas de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, un Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies (DEA) de la Universidad de París 1-Sorbonne, y una maestría de la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales FLACSO-Sede México. Obtuvo la Medalla de Historia de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, por ser el más alto promedio en su concentración.