SOBRE EL AUTOR
The field of post-colonialism studies and students of colonial rule and its legacies have been searching for ways to define the relations of power and dominion that occur under imperialism. Students and scholar in this area study are constantly introducing perspectives and meaningful concepts that allow for a better understanding of those societies who fell under the control of world powers.
In his book Denis introduces a new and defining key element that, according to the author, will help us better understand US-Puerto Rico 20th century colonial relationship: opium, or, more precisely, opium addiction.
Early in the book (p. 87) we run into a rather delicate and surprising revelation: the first mention of Luis Muñoz Marín, future Puerto Rico governor but at the moment a New York City underage resident, visiting an opium den in the city’s Hell’s Kitchen sector. In the pages that follow we get a detailed description of how this initial attraction to the heavy-scented narcotic went about, how quickly the attraction turned into an addiction that would lead to a lifelong habit and, all this according to Denis, him being subdued and blackmailed by American officials because of it. A persistent nose-scratching habit and the black bags under his eyes (so characteristic of Muñoz in many of his photos) were also a result of his opium consumption according to Denis.
The source where this pretty damning and incriminating information comes from is none other than a group of “several Cuban socialists” who shared “on and off” an apartment with Muñoz on 39th Street and Broadway between 1918 and 1931. These “Cuban socialists”, whose individual names are never mentioned in the whole book and first appear on note 7, p. 83, are the informants who also reveal to the author that Muñoz left his wife and two kids stranded repeatedly for months-on without monetary support, that he made frequent incursions into the bas-fonds of Greenwich Village (with customary visits to opium dens, booze joints and brothels) and that Muñoz even organized in that neighborhood a self-styled “safari” running several times per week as a witted con for duping unwary NYC visitors out of their money.
The anonymous “Cubans socialists”, apart from being models of strict moral behavior for they scolded Muñoz for smoking opium, abandoning his family and not paying his share of the rent, turn out to be some pretty long-lived fellows: they met Muñoz in 1918, befriended the author’s own Cuban father in the 1950’s and were still available for Nelson Denis’ “longitudinal” interviews in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Who were these “Cuban socialist” men who are quoted profusely by Denis in the endnotes as privileged witnesses to Muñoz’s nefarious young years in NYC? Why are their names withheld? Did they really exist or are we being introduced to some imaginary characters that are part of an equally fictitious political novel?
The answer to these questions is both simple and obvious: if the author does not provide complete names or proof of their existence (and he doesn’t), its simply because they did not exist. Therefore, one has to conclude that all those compelling pages that vividly depict a young Muñoz recklessly wasting his life in Downtown Manhattan are nothing but a detailed made-up story.
Moreover, both Muñoz and one of his most serious biographers provide the names of the real men with whom he had rented the place on 39th Street. Salomón de la Selva (1893-1959), Luis Alfonso Alfau Galván (1892-1963) and Felipe Alfau (1902-1999), weren’t Cubans but hailed from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Spain. They teamed up with Muñoz to launch a literary magazine that only published three numbers, and their stay on the aforementioned flat was much shorter that what Denis affirms. They were all part of the little known Hispanic intellectual expat community residing in NYC in the early part of the Twentieth century. Contrary to Denis’ apparently fictitious “Cuban socialists”, the lives and works of these real living men can be easily documented [For Salomón de la Selva see María Herrera-Sobek & Virginia Sánchez Korrol, Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage, Volume III ;1993, págs. 268-311; for Felipe Alfau see Ana María Valera-Lago, Conquerors, Immigrants, Exiles: The Spanish Diaspora in the United States (1848-1948), Ph. D. Dissertation, University of California, San Diego, 2008].
Long-time New York resident Bernardo Vega provides further evidence that just doesn’t add-up with Denis’ made-up story of a young drug-consuming Muñoz Marín drawn to the low-life joints of the Village and Chinatown. In his memoirs on the New York-Puerto Rican community of the 1910’s and 20’s Vega situates Muñoz participating next to him in literary contests, Left-wing political rallies, labor meetings and even the creation of an active labor organization called Alianza Obrera and in the 1924 presidential campaign of Progressive Party candidate Robert M. La Follette (Memorias de Bernardo Vega; 1980, págs. 150, 160, 175, 178, 184). There’s a poster announcing a political meeting at the Harlem Socialist Hall, 62 East 106 Street, with Fiorello La Guardia, Mollie Friedman and Muñoz as part of the La Follete presidential campaign in New York City [Luis Muñoz Marín inédito (2010), pág. 244].
The Muñoz that comes out of Vega’s pages does not exactly match the “dead-beat”, “opium-addict” and swindler that Denis insists on portraying.
In stating his case against Muñoz and his alleged opium addiction Denis, as if pulling an ace from under his sleeve, quotes and presents in War Against All Puerto Ricans a 1943 FBI report that describes Muñoz as “heavy drinker and narcotics addict” (p.100). According to Denis, this one-page report sealed the fate of Puerto Ricans as from that moment on Federal authorities had and would keep future governor Muñoz on a tight leash due to his opiate vulnerability. Any political detour or ideological drifting on the part of Muñoz (like veering Puerto Rico towards independence) would cost him dearly.
This FBI report is neither new nor unknown. In fact, it has been previously discussed as has Muñoz’ alleged narcotic addiction. R. Elfren Bernier, special aid to governor Muñoz from 1952 to 1955, a man who was also part of his inner circle and well aware of his personal matters, calls the FBI accusations a ruse and, typical of J. Edgard Hoover’s modus operandi, an invented extortion strategy to be used should the need arise. Questioned in 1973 about Muñoz’ alleged addiction, Juan Antonio Corretjer, Nationalist Party Secretary General in the 1930’s and former friend, called the accusation “a total slander” [Ibid. 56; R. Elfren Bernier, Anecdotario Mumarino III , 2002].
Of course, author Denis does not take into account these published statements that gainsay what he’s pretending to portrait in War Against All Puerto Ricans. Quite the contrary, he takes the FBI’s reports at face value, brandishes them as irrefutable evidence and uses them to further develop his imaginary tale about the puppet Puerto Rican governor serving the imperial American master, the crestfallen addicted man whose strings are being pulled by Washington.
Never mind that the FBI files on Luis Muñoz Marín (and even on Albizu and the Puerto Rican nationalists) are full of mistaken facts, blatant exaggerations and self-serving gossip, that would require a very cautious investigative approach from any serious researcher. Even Luis Muñoz Marín’s name is misspelled at least eighty times in the FBI reports (when you can’t even get the name right that ought to tell you something about the quality of your informants and agents). [Bernier, 159-160. ]
Here are some of the falsehoods created by the FBI and their anonymous sources: Ruby Black, a well known Washington journalist and close friend of first lady Eleanor Roosevelt turns out to be Muñoz’ illegitimate half-sister, even though he was known to be an only child; Muñoz allegedly solicited five thousand dollars in “donations” from his father’s friends to publish a book of his father’s writings and never got the job done.
Of course none of this is true, yet Denis in building amazing fictional backstories of both Muñoz and Albizu uses it and enlarges it as part of his story.
In constructing his narrative of Muñoz as a political hostage to the federal authorities, Denis takes the alleged opium addiction from the 1910’s Lower Manhattan all the way to October 1950, the moment of the Puerto Rican nationalist armed revolt against Muñoz’ government. By that time Muñoz had entered history as Puerto Rico’s first democratically elected governor (1948) and was residing at La Fortaleza–Puerto Rico’s governor’s official mansion.
It is precisely in the century-old corridors of La Fortaleza where Denis’ amazing drug tale reaches its zenith. With a style in no way inferior to that of Dubut de la Forest or Thomas De Quincy, Denis gives a detailed description of Muñoz high-stakes opium consumption, adorned with fancy tropical details like his “sugar cane pipe”, “a coconut oil lamp”, and a “bamboo tray” (p. 107); he makes the governor’s wife well aware of the smoky business going on in her house, and hints that the drug was smuggled to the governor through “diplomatic pouch” (mind that the Puerto Rican government has no foreign service or diplomatic missions of its own).
Can anyone believe this? A governor in an official residence with a fifteen men-strong police detachment, with a civilian staff of around forty persons moving through from one room to the other, with four children (aged twenty-nine, twenty-eight, eleven and ten) who visited him or were with him on a daily basis, placidly smoking illegal opium. Not to mention that the well-documented atrocious stench of burned poppies would have been enough to alarm or draw anyone’s attention.
What verifiable sources does Denis rely on to substantiate this accusation? This time it’s not the anonymous “Cuban socialists” but some equally nameless Puerto Rican “nationalists” who happened to be so well placed within La Fortaleza’s halls to serve as reliable “witnesses”. Much like former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, Denis counts with a throng of “informants” who fed him some far-fetched self-serving evidence for his made-up story.
Para ver el artículo anterior pulse aquí.
El tercer artículo de esta serie: Here we have the first 29 Lies (and more will come)
Nelson Denis le contestó a Luis Ferrao: The Many Lies of Luis Ferrao y “Albizu Campos was a Fascist”, said Luis A. Ferrao
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.