Puerto Rico’s Armed Rebellion: El Grito de Lares
El Grito de Lares or Lares Uprising was the most significant rebellion against Spanish rule in the history of Puerto Rico. This separatist mission happened almost simultaneously alongside the Spanish Glorious Revolution and the Cuban Grito de Yara.
The Lares Uprising was the result of the anti-Spanish sentiment that invaded part of The Antilles. Puerto Ricans were tired of the abuse of the colonialists and with this they were seeking better life conditions for themselves, and freedom for their country.
This post recognizes the brave heroes that tried to give Puerto Rico their independence but failed at their attempts to do so. Nevertheless, these revolts’ aftermath was, in part, their objective.
Read ahead to find out what happened on September 23 of 1868 and how El Grito de Lares unfolded in history.
Causes and Demands of El Grito de Lares in Puerto Rico
The anti-Spanish sentiment of the Puerto Ricans was not unfounded. Here are some of the causes that developed the social discontent in Puerto Rico at the time.
- Lack of political autonomy
- Urge of financial freedom
- The Spanish colonists were increasing tariffs and taxes of all exported and imported goods
- Social repression against all who sought justice was on the rise
Some of the demands of the Puerto Ricans were as follows.
- Slavery abolition
- Independence cutting all ties with the Spanish or a set of fair political reforms ending the Spanish government centralization*
- Commercial freedom
- Financial autonomy
- Social and economic improvements
- Instauration of more and better rights for citizens
- Reduce the breach between Puerto Rico-born and peninsulares
- A space for dialogue, debate and resolution instead of oppression that always resulted in imprisonment or exile
*As happened with other countries’ revolutions not all people were separatists, but everyone wanted fair and dignified treatment.
In 1865 the Spanish government realized they were having trouble in all of their colonies so they set up a board to review each case. They elected the committee of representatives that would speak on behalf of Puerto Rico freely. The only issue was that those that could vote were mainly caucasian and selected mostly Spanish-born spokespeople that would likely vote down every separatist initiative or liberal reform.
Independentist cells started to form and spread throughout the island but it wasn’t until January of 1868 that Segundo Ruiz Belvis and Ramón Emeterio Betances planned the revolution and created the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico while in exile in the Dominican Republic.
They called on all Puerto Ricans of all social classes for the organization of the revolution immediately. They wrote many statements attacking the colonial system and injustices of the Spanish crown. The most famous one was the “Ten Commandments of Free Men” that was based on the French Declaration of the Rights of the Man and of the Citizen.
Lola Rodríguez, the Puerto Rican poet, wrote the lyrics of La borinqueña, today’s Puerto Rico national anthem. Also, Mariana Bracetti knitted the Grito de Lares flag or the first flag of Puerto Rico. The flag has a white cross that divides it into 4 equal sides. The upper squares were blue, the lower ones red—resembling the blood shed of the revolutionary heroes—and on the left upper side a white star that represents freedom.
The Strategy of Ramón Emeterio Betances
The Dominican Republic government facilitated Betances weapons and a ship, but the Spaniards got word of this. They occupied the ship and confiscated all armament and ammunition. While he was stranded, the military started to arrest conspirationists in Puerto Rico, so other leaders decided to move up the revolution date and not to wait for Betances.
Around 500 men congregated at Manuel Rojas’ house at midnight. They took the city hall and officially declared the creation of the Republic of Puerto Rico. As the Spanish Empire considered them enemies of the crown, they imprisoned the rebels.
The Battle of El Pepino
Just as in Chile, Peru, and Argentina’s liberation, all the slaves that joined the cause automatically received the status of free people. The insurgents then tried to move to the city of Del Pepino—today San Sebastián—, where neighbors and the local military were organized under the orders of Colonel San Antonio.
While they tried to take the central square, they were surprised by a few members of the Spanish forces. They thought that the Spanish army was on their way too, so the rebels ignored the attack order of Manuel Rojas. They had no other choice than to retreat back to Lares, where the royalists imprisoned them including their leader Manuel Rojas.
Two weeks after, the local court announced the death penalty for all detainees—from the original 800 about 100 died due to the poor conditions of the overpopulated jails—but were released thanks to the good will of the governor José Laureano Sanz that had the intention of calming the waters with this.
Afterwards, the rebels decided to disband and form little groups so it would be easier to hide and have little spontaneous insurrections. Although these happened, none of them were effective.
Aftermath and Celebration of El Grito de Lares
The Grito de Lares failed to get the independence Puerto Ricans wanted but it granted them some of the autonomy by the Spanish government.
Different administrations outlawed the celebration of the Lares Uprising in different periods, but in 1920, Pedro Albizu instaurated proper festivities to commemorate these historic moments. Albizu’s most famous quote was “Lares is Sacred Ground, and as such, it must be entered on your knees” (Lares es tierra santa, y como tal, debe entrarse a ella de rodillas.) Lares is a historic site today.
Bronx locals go out to the streets every year on September the 23rd to celebrate their national heroes and remember the legacy of those who fought in 1868. They buy from food stalls and other stores, enjoy traditional music, and dance on the sidewalk by the Grito de Lares flags that neighbors put out their windows.
Meanwhile in Lares, Puerto Rico, there is a small ceremony with a military parade and marching bands. Participants hold the different flags of the Puerto Rico administrations. You can listen to national music, join the procession to the Lares Church, and dance. You can also hear speeches of independence from the USA still today. People dance, sing, and protest in this contrasting social stage where Puerto Ricans raise their voices to be heard.
Celebrate El Grito de Lares! (¡Celebra El Grito de Lares!)
There is no better way of learning history and encountering other cultures than experiencing them at first hand. If you are interested in the historical passage of El Grito de Lares and want to live a fundamental part of Puerto Rico’s identity, you can do so in the native language! Learn Spanish to get closer to the island’s culture and people, get to know the locals, chat with them, and see this beautiful country through their eyes!
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