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Journal ArticleDOI

Partisanship, Power Contenders, and Colonial Politics in Puerto Rico, 1920s

01 Jan 2010-Caribbean Studies (Institute of Caribbean Studies)-Vol. 38, Iss: 1, pp 3-35

AbstractThis article explores the political conditions and the reorganization of the political landscape in Puerto Rico during the 1920s. It examines how the rise of a powerful political block with a labor base in the late 1910s brought a sudden change to the political parties (Union, Republicano, Socialista) in Puerto Rico during the 1920s. The article then shows how Puerto Rico’s three dominant political parties began to revise their role as overseers of the colonial apparatus without challenging the American presence, and how they saw the status between the island and the United States resolved. To shed light on the nuances of Puerto Rican politics during the 1920s, this article explains why there was a resurgence of political violence during this decade, and why this violence resembles the episodes of political violence at the beginning of the century. What political and economic transformations had occurred in the island that promoted a political reorganization of the established parties? To fully understand the dynamics of how political partisanship and violence were manifested in Puerto Rico, I will move the narrative to one located within municipal politics. Since Caguas was considered a stronghold of Unionista politics, I examine how political changes during the 1920s unfolded in this municipality.

Summary (4 min read)

PARTISANSHIP, POWER CONTENDERS, AND COLONIAL POLITICS IN PUERTO RICO, 1920s

  • This article explores the political conditions and the reorganization of the political landscape in Puerto Rico during the 1920s.
  • Il examine comment, vers la fin des années 1910, la montée d’un puissant bloc politique de base ouvrière a bouleversé les partis politiques de l’époque (Unión, Republicano, Socialista).
  • This story shows how the patrician leadership of Caguas tried to control and reshape local political outcomes by taking to the streets to create an illusion of dominance over a new powerful contender, Partido Socialista (Socialist Party).
  • To fully understand the dynamics of how political partisanship and violence manifested itself in Puerto Rico at the local level, I will examine how political changes during the 1920s unfolded in Caguas.
  • As they grew in numbers and gained political power, organized sugarcane workers became both a political and a social threat to the political and economic rulers of the island.

Political Parties

  • The general election took place November 2, 1920 under the watchful eye of Governor Arthur Yager, who had served as the American governor since 1914.
  • Power contenders observed the protocol and rituals of political competition, but underneath this orchestrated theater wide-scale coercion and violence against the electorate were routine.
  • Competing factions each tried to cast as many ballots as possible—per person—while preventing the other side from doing the same.
  • American officials tolerated, within acceptable parameters, the violence that took place prior to the elections.
  • Puerto Vol. 38, No. 1 (January - June 2010), 3-35 Caribbean Studies Rican power contenders accepted the reality of American hegemony; they worked to re-enforce it through collaboration.

Platforms, Partisanship and Political Enemies

  • The small but important electoral victory of Santiago Iglesias, president of PS during the 1917 election for the Puerto Rican Senate, was of great concern to the other two parties, Unión and Republicano.
  • In the process of showing their rank and file the party’s commitment to solve Puerto Rico’s problems, Unión emphasized at their 1920 assembly their commitment to the United States and collaboration with the metropolis to resolve the island’s problems (La Democracia, septiembre 14, 1920).
  • Furthermore, the Republicano platform went on to criticize the laboring groups for forming a party based on class interests not on the interests of Puerto Rico as whole (Bothwell González 1979:372).
  • Both Unión and Republicanos addressed the issue of the laboring classes by either opposing anarchist views or forming a class-based party.
  • Socialistas, while presenting themselves as the party of the laboring groups, described the workers’ as slaves and semi-savages.

Caguas and Partisan Politics during the Election of 1920

  • As Election Day got closer in Puerto Rico, signs of political intimidation began to surface.
  • According to Francisco Scarano (1993:655), there is no consensus among historians about the sudden fear towards the socialist surge but it is clear that the numerical increase of unionized workers led to a “red scare” on the island.
  • The sudden recession caused by the drop in world price for sugar placed the sugar interest in the island on the defensive.
  • Agregados (resident workers) got dressed in “the colors of the party that their boss supported.”.
  • At the same time, the electoral victory in 1920 by the Socialistas confirmed the fears of many: the rise of a new political power contender.

A Short Lived Victory: Post-Election Politics in Caguas.

  • The victories by PS in Caguas were met with a wave of resistance, violence and partisanship that eventually led to the removal of the Socialistas from the assembly.
  • The Unionistas in the Assembly attacked the Socialistas in two ways—by manipulating the political inexperience of the newly elected pro-labor members and by blaming them for inciting and supporting the cane strikes.
  • It was this strong Americanism, imposition of American politicians instead of Puerto Ricans in prominent positions, and Reily’s overall attitude towards sectors of the dominant forces that led to conflict.
  • On September 23 the PU gathered their followers and party officials to draft a resolution condemning the governor and to ask Washington and President Harding to remove Reily.
  • Unionistas and Republicanos understood what was at stake for the election of 1924, their control over the political apparatus of the colony.

The Free Associated State and the Collapse of the

  • As the Unionistas fought Governor Reily during 1922, a transformation took placed with this party.
  • The creation of this new form of governance would not alter the governmental structure between the island and the US; it only guaranteed the continuation of such permanent relation.
  • The goal of ELA, according to the PU, was to extend to Puerto Ricans, as United States citizens, the right to elect their own officials including their governor.
  • For the Republicanos, the Campbell project was unacceptable due in part to their inability since 1904 election to win a majority.

The Realignments in the Political Landscape of Puerto Rico

  • Were they structural or were they the result of the party’s failure to deliver the changes promised to supporters during the past election and that economic conditions did not favor organized workers at that moment.
  • Beginning in 1923, there were rumors that Socialistas and Republicanos had begun a dialogue to explore the possibility of forming an alliance to defeat the Unionistas at the next election—the 1924 election.
  • Since the party rejected the independence option of their platform in favor of the ELA, radical independence elements within PU began the process of creating their own political organization, the Partido Nacionalista, the Nationalist Party, hereafter PN.
  • Upon returning from D.C., Antonio Barceló and José Tous Soto, a Republicano leader, presented to their rank and file the new political project.

Political Realignments at the Local Level: Caguas

  • The few Republicanos in Caguas, such as Julio Janer, a colono (sugar farmer), joined José Tous Soto by affiliating with Unión to create the Alianza.
  • They were critical of Puerto Rico’s growing dependence on and control by American capital of the economy, and especially of the sugar industry (Giusti-Cordero 1996:211-224).
  • At the mercy of the centrales and with the Unión unable to reform the colonial regime, the sugar sectors (colonos and centralistas) had no other option but to organize independently from the political parties in order to change the colonial structure.
  • After the Alianza victory in 1924 the colonos utilized the Agrarian League of Caguas, an affiliate of the Asociación de Agricultores Puertorriqueños, to push their agenda through the Municipal Assembly.
  • Leading the meetings were the following elected officials: José B. Méndez, Miguel Quiñones Cabezudo, Oscar Lizardi, and Idelfonso Solá Morales, and the Agrarian League of Caguas leaders Miguel F. Chiqués, Francisco Solá, Salvador Rodríguez Ortiz and Cándido A. Ramírez.18.

The End of Alianza’s Domination

  • The attacks and rhetoric of the Fuerzas Vivas was dividing the fragile alliance between PU and PRRep.
  • Zeno clearly took the side of the small colono, of the small and medium landowner, and the tobacco farmer who constantly dealt with the banks, centrales, and the tobacco trusts from a disadvantaged position.
  • The election of 1928 was won by Alianza but this was a much closer contest than in 1924.
  • The controversy in Caguas revolved around the elected mayor, Pablo Héreter, a colono and member of the Agrarian League of Caguas.

Conclusions

  • In 1929, the Alianza was dissolved and the agrarian, professional and commercial sectors of the island once again began to search for new roles in the colonial regime.
  • Second, the political violence and partisanship of the 1920s resembles similar episodes at beginning of the century not because historical actors are behaving similarly to their predecessors, but to the contrary, Caribbean Studies Vol. 38, No. 1 (January - June 2010), 3-35 because political violence and partisanship were and are deeply rooted in the island politics.
  • Furthermore, the local sugar industry dominated by local manufacturers and farmers suddenly was confronted by two powerful fronts: a pro-labor party that was restructuring its political platform by moving towards a more centrist position, and foreign capitalism that finally was breaking the local control over the sugar industry.
  • Puerto Rican politics were and still are a contest between factions (in many cases political ones derived from a particular social class) who are trying to gain control over government.
  • Parties mask their close class relations from their rank-and-file by constantly discussing the need to improve the living and economic conditions of the masses and by distracting them with lengthy debates over the political status of the island.

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Caribbean Studies
ISSN: 0008-6533
iec.ics@upr.edu
Instituto de Estudios del Caribe
Puerto Rico
Solá, José O.
Partisanship, Power Contenders, and Colonial Politics in Puerto Rico, 1920s
Caribbean Studies, vol. 38, núm. 1, enero-junio, 2010, pp. 3-35
Instituto de Estudios del Caribe
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Available in: http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=39220687001
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PartisanshiP, Power Contenders ... in Puerto riCo, 1920s
3
Vol. 38, No. 1 (January - June 2010), 3-35 Caribbean Studies
PARTISANSHIP, POWER CONTENDERS, AND
COLONIAL POLITICS IN PUERTO RICO, 1920s
José O. Solá
AbstrAct
This article explores the political conditions and the reorganization of
the political landscape in Puerto Rico during the 1920s. It examines
how the rise of a powerful political block with a labor base in the late
1910s brought a sudden change to the political parties (Unión, Repu-
blicano, Socialista) in Puerto Rico during the 1920s. The article then
shows how Puerto Rico’s three dominant political parties began to
revise their role as overseers of the colonial apparatus without challeng-
ing the American presence, and how they saw the status between the
island and the United States resolved. To shed light on the nuances of
Puerto Rican politics during the 1920s, this article explains why there
was a resurgence of political violence during this decade, and why this
violence resembles the episodes of political violence at the beginning of
the century. What political and economic transformations had occurred
in the island that promoted a political reorganization of the established
parties? To fully understand the dynamics of how political partisanship
and violence were manifested in Puerto Rico, I will move the narrative
to one located within municipal politics. Since Caguas was considered a
stronghold of Unionista politics, I examine how political changes during
the 1920s unfolded in this municipality.
Keywords: Puerto Rico, political violence and partisanship, colonial
studies, American imperialism, labor, municipal politics
resumen
En el presente artículo se exploran las condiciones políticas y la
reorganización del ambiente político durante la década del 1920 en
Puerto Rico. En el mismo se examina el surgimiento de un poderoso
grupo político de base obrera a finales de la década de 1910, el cual
produjo un cambio repentino en los partidos políticos de la época
(Unión, Republicano, Socialista). A lo largo del artículo se muestra la
manera en la que los tres partidos políticos dominantes durante ese
periodo comenzaron a revisar sus papeles como testigos del aparato
colonial sin desafiar necesariamente la presencia estadounidense, y la
manera en la que percibían la resolución del estatus político entre los
Estados Unidos y la Isla. Con el objetivo de dar luz a ciertas diferencias
existentes en la política de Puerto Rico durante la década del 1920,
se analiza la razón por la que hubo un resurgimiento en la violencia

José o. solá
4
Caribbean Studies Vol. 38, No. 1 (January - June 2010), 3-35
política durante este periodo y la manera en la que dicha violencia se
asemeja a los episodios de violencia política que ocurrieron a principios
del siglo XX. ¿Cuáles fueron las transformaciones políticas y económi-
cas que hicieron posible la reorganización de los partidos existentes?
Para poder comprender con mayor claridad la manera en la que el
partidismo político y la violencia se manifestaron en Puerto Rico, me
concentraré en la política de uno de los municipios de la Isla. Debido
a que el municipio de Caguas se consideraba uno de los baluartes del
Partido Unionista, me detendré a examinar los cambios políticos que
ocurrieron en dicha municipalidad durante la década de 1920.
Palabras clave: Puerto Rico, violencia política y partidismo, estudios
coloniales, imperialismo estadounidense, fuerza obrera, política
municipal
résu
Cet article explore les conditions politiques et la réorganisation du pay-
sage politique à Porto Rico durant la décennie de 1920. Il examine com-
ment, vers la fin des années 1910, la montée d’un puissant bloc politique
de base ouvrière a bouleversé les partis politiques de l’époque (Unión,
Republicano, Socialista). L’article montre ensuite comment ces trois
partis politiques ont remis en question leur rôle en tant que témoins
de l’appareil colonial sans remettre en cause la présence américaine
pour autant, et comment ils concevaient l’aboutissement de la situation
entre l’île et les Etats-Unis. Afin d’expliquer les nuances de la politique
portoricaine pendant cette période, nous étudierons les causes de la
recrudescence de la violence politique, et nous verrons comment cette
violence ressemble à d’autres épisodes de violence qui ont eu lieu au
début du siècle. De même, nous présenterons les transformations
politiques et économiques qui ont promu la réorganisation politique
des partis établis à cette époque-là. Enfin, pour mieux comprendre
comment se sont manifestées la dynamique de la partisanerie politique
et la violence à Porto Rico, nous nous limiterons à analyser le parcours
politique de la municipalité de Caguas, considérée comme l’un des bas-
tions de la politique Unionista, ainsi que les changements politiques qui
ont eu lieu dans cette municipalité au cours des années 1920.
Mots-clés: Porto Rico, violence politique et partisane, études colonia-
les, impérialisme américain, travail, politique municipale
Received: 30 January 2009 Revision received: 9 October 2009 Accepted:
13 October 2009

PartisanshiP, Power Contenders ... in Puerto riCo, 1920s
5
Vol. 38, No. 1 (January - June 2010), 3-35 Caribbean Studies
A
fter nearly two decades of civil political discourse, violence,
partisanship, and manipulation again took center stage in
Puerto Rico in 1920 (Negrón-Portillo 1990). The violence
that characterized the decade erupted before an important election in
November that year when Unionistas intimidated and beat Socialistas
in Caguas (Unión Obrera, octubre 14, 1920).
1
The labor daily Unión
Obrera reported that leaflets had been passed throughout the Unionista
municipality of Caguas demanding that all the supporters of Partido
Unión (hereafter PU) attend a mass rally on October 14, 1920. According
to the reporter, fifty Unionistas left their main offices in Caguas chant-
ing “abajo con los obreros” (down with the workers). To the surprise of
the Socialistas, who thought the rally was led and mainly comprised of
wealthy individuals, it instead consisted of “hombres que si no trabajan
no comen” (men, who if they do not work they do not eat). Unión Obrera
argued that the workers involved in the rally were not from Caguas.
The paper charged that the patricios (patricians), after a series of low
attendance at their rallies, were bringing outsiders from the surrounding
towns to give the impression that they still had large popular support
(Unión Obrera, octubre 14, 1920). This story shows how the patrician
leadership of Caguas tried to control and reshape local political out-
comes by taking to the streets to create an illusion of dominance over a
new powerful contender, Partido Socialista (Socialist Party).
What happened in Caguas was hardly unique. Instead, it illustrates
how the rise of a powerful political block grew out of a labor base in
the late 1910s to foment dramatic political change in political parties
in Puerto Rico in the 1920s. But these groups pushed for change in a
community economically and politically tied to the United States. This
article examines that shift by asking how these parties revised their role
as overseers of the political apparatus without challenging American
presence, and how they renegotiated the status between the island and
the United States. In the process, the actors in this drama invoked the
kinds of violence used to protest political and economic conditions in the
early twentieth century. But they utilized that violence to address new
grievances and, thus, their protests took on new political meaning. To
address these inter-related issues, this article explores how the impact of
American capitalism and colonialism dramatically shaped local politics
in Puerto Rico in the 1920s.
During the 1920s the United States, as it was doing elsewhere in the
Caribbean, “adopted unabashedly a management mode of supervising”
Puerto Rican affairs (Pérez Jr. 2003). Forced to deal with a militant
labor movement and growing criticism by the United States, a group of
leaders on the island began to articulate a new political discourse that
was nationalistic and reformist. These leaders formed a new and fragile

José o. solá
6
Caribbean Studies Vol. 38, No. 1 (January - June 2010), 3-35
alliance between the landowning interests (Unión Party) and corporate
sectors from the Puerto Rican Republican Party. Other leaders called
for the full incorporation of the island into the republic as the only
way to secure the prosperity of Puerto Ricans and American economic
interests. Those calling for the annexation of the island came from the
remnants of the Puerto Rican Republican Party and the Socialist Party.
These two parties, fearing a victory of the landowning-corporate sectors,
joined forces in the Coalition (Coalición) to participate in the elections
of November of 1924. The reasons for such political realignments were
based on the fear of a working class take over of the political apparatus of
the island. More than that, the Coalition hoped that a victory over Unión
would end sixteen years of this party’s dominance over island politics and
secured a new political path based on the modernization of Puerto Rico.
Although the people involved in these contests hoped to shape
Puerto Rico’s politics writ large, they pursued their goals at the local
level, and they played out clearly in towns such as Caguas. The city
provides an excellent place to study political contests in Puerto Rico in
the 1920s because Caguas was considered a stronghold of the Unionista
politics the Coalition sought to change. Unionistas struggled hard to pre-
serve their place in Caguas, and members of the Coalition targeted the
city for action to undermine their opponents’ power. To fully understand
the dynamics of how political partisanship and violence manifested itself
in Puerto Rico at the local level, I will examine how political changes
during the 1920s unfolded in Caguas.
Certainly the island has had a long history of political violence and
intense partisanship. Yet, within the political narrative of Puerto Rico,
the 1920s is the least studied decade of the Twentieth Century. This arti-
cle by no means disregards the scholarship published about this period.
2
To the contrary, this article builds on it, and one of the main foci of this
work is to re-think our understanding of political partisanship, local
politics, and American colonialism on the island. During the 1920s the
island experienced political realignments among the established parties
(Unión, Republicano de Puerto Rico, and Socialista) and between frag-
ments within those parties. Furthermore, the conversion of the Puerto
Rican proletariat into a political contender, Partido Socialista (Socialist
Party, hereafter PS) during the 1910s had far-reaching implications for
the dominant groups (Córdova 1980). The militancy of labor became a
potential rival to the landowning segments, the urban bourgeois, and
their reformist projects. Yet, the political situation on the island cannot
be divorced from the colonial condition in which the local parties
functioned under American rule. The multiple forms of United States
hegemony in Puerto Rico functioned as a system and profoundly affected
the institutional character of the colony.
3
At the same time it was these

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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What have the authors contributed in "Partisanship, power contenders, and colonial politics in puerto rico, 1920s" ?

This article explores the political conditions and the reorganization of the political landscape in Puerto Rico during the 1920s. The article then shows how Puerto Rico ’ s three dominant political parties began to revise their role as overseers of the colonial apparatus without challenging the American presence, and how they saw the status between the island and the United States resolved. To shed light on the nuances of Puerto Rican politics during the 1920s, this article explains why there was a resurgence of political violence during this decade, and why this violence resembles the episodes of political violence at the beginning of the century. 

Further studies about the political behavior and clashes between different political factions may uncover many episodes that will explain how political violence and partisanship manifested itself during those years.