Puerto Rico’s First and Only Cry for Independence: Grito de Lares

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Puerto Rico has now been a colony for 151 years. But the town of Lares, Puerto Rico homed a movement in September 23rd, 1868 when many Puerto Ricans urged for change. Tired of having their economic and political freedoms suppressed by the Spanish, they knew something needed to be done. This is how the Grito de Lares, also known as the “Cry of Lares,” came to life. 

Even though it’s not spoken about so often, Grito de Lares has been Puerto Rico’s most notable attempt for independence. This rebellion against the Spanish colonial system was led by two brave men, Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis. They started out their plan by founding Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico (Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico) in January 6th, 1868 after being exiled from the Dominican Republic. These two men were key figures in encouraging the people of Puerto Rico to demand a more humane treatment, which led them to advise for a revolt against the Spanish rule. 

Though both men were significant to Puerto Rico, Dr. Betances had a greater influence in the plan to gain freedom. 

Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances was born in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico in 1827 to both Domican and Puerto Rican parents. He quickly grew up adapting a progressive mindset, which didn’t sit all that well with his father. Being driven for change, Dr. Betances became a multi-hyphenated man whose ideas surpassed his time. He acquired his first accomplishment in 1856 when he  earned his two medical degrees, doctor and surgeon, in Paris, France. After that, he gained recognition for being a diplomat, a writer, and an abolitionist. He was particularly fond of fighting against slavery. 

Dr. Betances, Photo Credit enciclopediapr.org

Since Dr. Betances knew that baptized children were more expensive to buy, he went ahead and baptized many enslaved children. He did this with the hope that their high value would deviate the Spanish from buying them. As sad as that sounds, that once was a reality in Puerto Rico, and well, in many places of the world. Aside from that act of kindness, he also believed in free health care for the people of Puerto Rico. This led him to be known as the “doctor of the poor.” He used to treat patients at no charge and co-established a hospital where he treated his patients. However, with much pride, that hospital still stands today as the Hospital of San Antonio in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. 

Eventually, Dr. Betances’ passion for the people of Puerto Rico steered him for a Puerto Rico he believed in and thought could prevail in a “revolution of love,” as he used to call it. As part of his plan to get Puerto Rico to gain its independence, Dr. Betances spread politically-driven proclamas or statements that promoted anti-colonization ideologies throughout many parts of the island. These proclamas were the stepping stone to the beginning of Grito de Lares.

Secret cells of the Revolution Committee of Puerto Rico were established all through the island leading up to the insurrection. These cells brought in many supporters from various walks of society including merchants, peasants, slaves, professionals, among many others. Although, it is important to note that most of the people who joined the Revolution Committee were criollos, or Puerto Rico-born rebels.

Originally, the rebellion was meant to go live, without being detected by the Spanish authorities, on September 29th, 1868. As much as they tried not to have their plan exposed, the Spanish authorities somehow became aware of it. This forced the rebels to reschedule their first hit on September 23rd.

On that day, September 23rd, an estimate of about four to six hundred Puerto Rican rebels made their way to Lares by horse and foot, where they had agreed was the best place to start the rebellion. Before attacking, they all gathered in the hacienda of the pro-independence Puerto Rican, Manuel Rojas, which was located in a small vicinity on the outskirts of Lares named Pezuela. Once they felt confident in their plan, they went out to strike. 

Hacienda de Manuel Rojas, Photo Credit enciclopediapr.org 

Unfortunately, there were quite a few things working against their favor. 

Many of these rebels lacked experience in battling against heavily armed militia. Their disadvantage lied within their poor training and their insufficient supply of weaponry. Nevertheless, they were determined to set out to finish what they had started. As part of their rebellion, the rebels marched towards the peninsulares or Spanish-born people and attacked their businesses. They looted their local stores and offices. Aside from that, they took over the peninsulares’ city hall, which has become one of the most memorable moments of their revolt. Once they had the city hall under their reign, they proclaimed the island as the new Republic of Puerto Rico. The next day, September 24th, Francisco Ramírez was named president of the new Republic of Puerto Rico. As one of his policies, Ramírez freed all the slaves that had joined the uprising. 

Photo Credit progresoweekly.us
Photo Credit progresoweekly.us

The Spanish did not take the defiance of these Puerto Ricans lightly, either. 

After seeing the capabilities of the Puerto Ricans, Spanish authorities and merchants started considering these rebels as enemies of “their” land and started seeking for their imprisonment. 

While the Spanish were out imprisoning their enemies, the Puerto Ricans began to move towards the next town, San Sebastián del Pepino. This is when things turned for the worst. The inevitable happened — the Spanish decided to strike back. 

As the Puerto Ricans entered San Sebastián del Pepino, Spanish militia were waiting for them. With their more sophisticated weapons and vast array of trained soldiers, they rapidly gained the upper hand over the rebels of Puerto Rico. The Puerto Ricans found themselves setting foot into their defeat as the violent opposition of the insurrection from the Spanish overshadowed their efforts. Having realized that they were being bested by the Spanish, they decided to retreat back to the hacienda of Manuel Rojas. 

Photo Credit enciclopediapr.org

After noticing what had been happening, the governor of the island, a peninsular named Julián Pavía ordered for the rebels to be rounded up by the Spanish militia. And this is exactly what happened. Spanish militia found these Puerto Ricans, including Manuel Rojas, and sent them off to prison. This caused the rebellion to come to an abrupt end. 

It got worse. A few months later, on November 17, the military court ordered the death penalty of the imprisoned rebels. Gratefully, this didn’t end up happening. In an attempt to create a better environment for everyone on the island, this sanction was stopped by the incoming governor, José Laureano Sanz. 

Though the Spanish relished in their victory at that moment, it didn’t last them forever. Several years later, in 1898, they were forced to hand over their rights of Puerto Rico to the United as dictated by the Treaty of Paris. Once more, Puerto Rico was colonized based on the selfish needs of others. Thankfully, the colonization of the island Puerto Rico has never meant the end Puerto Ricans passion.

grito Puerto Rico
Photo Credit progresoweekly.us

Though the Grito of Lares didn’t acquire the desired outcome, it doesn’t mean it was carried for nothing. In fact, the Grito of Lares has become imprinted in history, but most importantly, at the core of every Puerto Rican. 

At the end of the day, time never stops and history has a knack for repeating itself. Who knows what’s in store for Puerto Rico? All I know is that their fire still remains, especially after seeing Puerto Ricans get a governor impeached. With that in mind, I’ll leave you with some lyrics of the song Mi Puerto Rico by Bad Bunny:

“Y yo sé que el Puerto Rico de hoy no es el de ayer

Pero tampoco es el que va a ser mañana…”

Translated to English:

“And I know that today’s Puerto Rico is not yesterday’s

But neither is it going to be tomorrow’s…”