Carlos Gallisá, Lucía Romero and Juan Mari Brás at the time of the PSP. / Claridad Newspaper
Organized in 1971 to work toward the establishment of an independent, socialist republic in Puerto Rico. It had a broad presence in Puerto Rico and in various U.S. cities with Puerto Rican populations. Its peak of activity was concentrated in its first ten years. It dissolved in 1993.
The PSP was founded on November 28, 1971 at the Pepín Cestero Arena in Bayamón, but it had its origins in the Pro Independence Movement (MPI), which had been organized in 1959. The MPI had joined with nationalists, communists and pro-independence forces of various backgrounds at a time when pro-independence was weak. After the repression that followed the nationalist insurrection of 1950 and the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952, the MPI and other groups, such as the Pro Independence University Federation (FUPI), reactivated the independence movement. They adjusted their messages and methods to the profound political, social and cultural changes Puerto Rico was experiencing. The new strain of groups and activists of those years were known as “the new independence movement” and were known for linking various social, environmental and cultural struggles of the time to the need to be independent. From the beginning, the MPI organized “missions” (groups) among the Puerto Rican community in the United States.
At the international level, the founding of the MPI and, later, the PSP occurred while anti-colonial struggles were happening on several continents, accelerated after World War II. Colonialism, it was thought at the time, was about to be eliminated from the earth. The Cuban Revolution in 1959, in a nation that was close by and had strong historical links to Puerto Rico, was another important factor. It showed that it was possible to organize and defeat undemocratic governments, even if they were supported by powerful empires.
The PSP and the labor movement
Toward the end of the 1960s, the labor movement was very active. In the fiscal year 1959-60, there were 47 strikes. In the fiscal year 1969-70, there were 93, with more than double the number of workers involved. The working class demanded better pay and working conditions, collective bargaining, and recognition of unions by the government and employers. Some U.S. companies in Puerto Rico paid lower salaries here than in the United States. Equality of salaries was a common demand.
In late October of 1969, an important strike began at the General Electric plant in Palmer, Río Grande. The MPI participated in the strike and supported it, which led to the organization making it a higher priority to work with the working class. This and other similar experiences strengthened the socialist trend within the MPI and were fundamental in its later transformation to the PSP.
The PSP believed that workers had to organize in unions committed to their interests and in a revolutionary party, which the PSP aspired to be, to eventually take power through a revolution. With this in mind, they proposed a Single Workers Central that would unite the largest possible number of unions to put strength behind their demands. The PSP encouraged the creation of coordination and collaboration efforts such as the United Workers Movement (MOU) in 1971 and unions such as the National Union of Workers (UNT), led by young, socialist workers.
The party actively participated in strikes that were called during that period, such as, for example, one at the newspaper “El Mundo” (1972), at the Water and Sewer Authority (1974) and at Puerto Rican Cement (1975), among others.
Women in the PSP
In its first document, the “General Declaration,” the PSP affirmed that it would ensure “the equality of women to assume tasks and responsibilities,” both in the struggle and in the new society it aspired to create. However, few women were among the first leadership. Of a total of 65 members of the Central Committee, only ten were women. In the Political Committee, Flavia Rivera Montero shared the leadership with eleven men. The PSP had a long way to go.
According to Carmen Rivera, who was a member of the Political Committee of the PSP Branch in the United States, the sexist attitudes were less obvious there than in Puerto Rico, but they had similar effects. Public declarations in favor of women’s liberation existed alongside traditional gender roles in the home. Women in positions of responsibility were challenged by men who were peers at their level and by men in the base.
On February 2, 1975, the PSP participated in the founding of the Federation of Puerto Rican Women (FMP). Norma Valle and Flavia Rivera, of the PSP, were elected president and vice president. But their participation generated debates. The PSP believed that oppression of women was a direct result of capitalism and colonialism, and although it favored the creation of the FMP, there were voices that said it was an unnecessary duplication of efforts. Those people argued that it was enough for women to join the PSP. Within the FMP, others argued that “gender prejudice, like discrimination against blacks, has deep psychological roots” and it wasn’t enough to reform or revolutionize the system.
The elections and armed struggle
The PSP was not a political party in the traditional sense, so its founding and existence were not based around participation in elections. They believed elections could be useful if they were used to draw attention to the Party and its ideas and attract supporters. However, the party believed the objective of independence and socialism would be achieved by combining various methods, including armed resistance. The PSP participated in the elections of 1976 and 1980 as a party that defended armed resistance and took steps to implement it.
The PSP inherited an armed branch from the MPI: the Armed Liberation Commandos (CAL), which between 1968-72 attacked mainly U.S. military installations and businesses and later took credit through communications. The relationship between CAL and the MPI, and later the PSP, was never public, but they defended the CAL’s actions. After 1972, this armed branch continued to take action, without issuing communications, in support of various workers’ struggles in which the PSP participated. For example, when Governor Rafael Hernández Colón mobilized the National Guard for a second time against a strike in December of 1974, the PSP intensified its campaign of sabotage in support of the strikers and on occasions confronted the soldiers, taking away their rifles. In May, 1975, the Policy Committee reorganized the armed branch to gradually build what was called the popular clandestine army. Meanwhile, in December of that year, the Second Congress of the PSP approved participation in the elections of 1976.
The participation in the elections of 1976 and 1980 did not yield the results some expected, however. Legislative candidates Juan Mari Brás and Carlos Gallisá in 1980 obtained about 80,000 votes, but the effort needed to register the PSP as a party and conduct the electoral campaigns took a big political cost. Not enough effort had been put into organizing the Party’s base in communities and workplaces. But what could have appeared to be an inability to combine tasks and methods was a result of important political differences within the leadership. These differences emerged after the 1976 elections and again after the 1980 elections.
The MPI had created important cultural spaces that the PSP inherited and broadened, while also creating new ones. The newspaper “Claridad” was founded in 1959 as a voice of the MPI and for most of the 1960s it was a weekly. The PSP made it twice weekly beginning in 1972 and from 1974 to 1976 it was daily. Since 1972, a bilingual version of “Claridad” was published in the United States and distributed in cities with Puerto Rican populations and PSP presence, from New York to Los Angeles.
Impresora Nacional, which printed “Claridad” and other publications, was a PSP business. There were others, such as the Librería Puerto Rico, the Disco Libre record label, the Girasol Travel agency and child care centers for party members. Musical artists such as Noel Hernández, Flora Santiago, Roy Brown and Grupo Taoné; and theater groups such as Anamú, Moriviví and Tirabuzón Rojo spread a culture of resistance. This helped the PSP broaden its influence beyond participation in campaigns, demonstrations and international forums.
Repression, internal debates and dissolution
Like other pro-independence groups, the PSP was repressed by the Puerto Rico Police and federal agencies such as the FBI and others. It was attacked by Cuban anti-communist groups and pro-statehood groups tied to the New Progressive Party, with the support and permission of the authorities. On January 11, 1975, a bomb placed by one of these groups killed two people at a PSP activity in the plaza in Mayagüez. On September 9, a bomb exploded in a children’s center of the party in Hato Rey, without causing injuries. On March 24, 1976, Santiago “Chagui” Mari Pesquera, the son of Juan Mari Brás, secretary general of the PSP and candidate for governor, was assassinated. These are just a few examples. The repression took many forms.
According to researchers Rafael Bernabe and César Ayala, two sectors coexisted in the PSP that could not agree to a common cause. On one side was the nationalist sector, which, although it sympathized with the struggle on social issues, put more emphasis on independence and sought alliances with the Popular Democratic Party. On the other side was the socialist sector for whom independence was just one part of the project, although necessary, and which emphasized building the party on its bases. In the internal debate after the elections of 1976 and 1980, the nationalist sector, led by Mari Brás, prevailed in its positions and expelled the socialist sector in the Third Congress in 1982. The mismanagement of these debates drained the Party.
In the Policy Declaration approved by the Fourth Congress in 1988, a weakened PSP affirmed the need to work toward a “New Political Project.” The PSP formally dissolved on August 29, 1993, giving way to the creation of a new organization, the New Independence Movement (NMI). Since then, according to historian Ché Paralitici, the PSP has been “not even a shadow of what it was” in the 1970s.
January 11, 1959 – Founding of the Pro Independence Movement (MPI) in Mayagüez on the 120th birthday of patriot Eugenio María de Hostos, a Mayagüez native.
August 6, 1961 – 1st General Assembly of the MPI in the United States, in New York City. The first missions (local groups) were created in Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn.,
April, 1966 – The monthly “Boletín Informativo” of the Permanent Mission of the MPI, founded between January and April, 1966, began to circulate in Havana.
February 22, 1968 – The Armed Commandos of Liberation (CAL), the clandestine armed branch of the MPI, issues its first communication. For several years it acted anonymously.
October 28, 1969 – Strike by workers at the General Electric plan in Palmer, Río Grande, begins. The MPI supports the strike.
October, 1971 – The United Workers Movement (MOU), sponsored by the MPI and other groups, is organized to coordinate labor action. The PSP continued and expanded this effort.
November 28, 1971 – In the closing of the 8th National Assembly, at the Pepín Cestero Arena in Bayamón, the MPI was transformed into the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP).
April 8, 1973 – The 1st Congress of the PSP Branch in the United States, held in New York City, approved its founding document, “From the Gut.”
July 6, 1973 – Governor Rafael Hernández Colón (PPD) mobilized the National Guard against several simultaneous strikes. The PSP supported the strikes and denounced the government’s actions.
August 30, 1973 – The U.S. National Labor Relations Board began administrative procedures against the National Workers Union for violations of the federal Taft-Harley Act. This led to decertification of the union and imprisonment for three months of Radamés Acosta, its secretary and treasurer. Acosta and other leaders of the Union were PSP activists.
February 23-24, 1974 – First Extraordinary Congress approved the political theme: “The Socialist Alternative.”
October 27, 1974 – The Branch organized an act in support of independence that filled Madison Square Garden in New York to capacity. The “national action,” as it was called, had international support and representation and recognition from broad sectors of U.S. society.
November 30, 1974 – First daily edition of “Claridad.” It criticized a new mobilization of the National Guard, this time against a strike at the Water and Sewer Authority (AAA). There were numerous confrontations and acts of sabotage that the armed branch of the Party participated in.
January 11, 1975 – Two were killed and several wounded when a bomb exploded in the plaza of Mayagüez during a PSP public event. Cuban counter-revolutionaries and local and federal authorities were accused.
February 2, 1975 – Constituent Assembly of the Federation of Puerto Rican Women (FMP). Leaders and militants of the PSP, such as Flavia Rivera and Norma Valle, were elected to its leadership.
May, 1975 – The Policy Committee of the PSP approved the reorganization of the armed branch, previously known as the CAL, with the goal of creating a popular clandestine army.
December 7, 1975 – Second Congress at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan. According to several historians, this was the high point of the organization. It approved participation in the elections of 1976.
December 23, 1975 – PSP activists Raúl García, Johnny Sampson and Ángel Gandía returned to Puerto Rico. They had been convicted and imprisoned in the middle of the year in the Dominican Republic for transporting from Puerto Rico three guerrillas who conspired against the dictatorship of Joaquín Balaguer. They were pardoned after an international campaign to free them.
March 24, 1976 – Santiago “Chagui” Mari Pesquera, the son of Juan Mari Brás, secretary general of the PSP, was assassinated. Mari Brás was a candidate for governor in the November elections.
July 4, 1976 – Under the slogan “Bicentennial without Colonies,” the Section and other groups in the United States marched in Philadelphia on the day of the bicentennial of U.S. independence.
November 2, 1976 – Elections of 1976. The votes for the PSP – just 0.7% – did not match internal projections, which expected triple that amount. This brought out long-standing differences between the nationalist sector and the socialist sector, in light of the victory of Carlos Romero Barceló, the PNP and his campaign for statehood. A debate was unleashed that led to ruptures and the weakening of the Party.
August and September, 1978 – To confront the statehood campaign by Romero Barceló and the PNP in the United Nations (UN), part of the PSP leadership began a close collaborative relationship with the PPD. Because of its implications and consequences, this generated strong criticism within and from outside the PSP.
September 15-17, 1978 – Second Extraordinary Congress. An agreement was reached between the socialist and nationalist sectors. A “Socialist Program” was approved, updating the one approved in 1975. Lucía Romero was elected Undersecretary General.
December 10, 1978 – Second Congress of the Branch. The “Branch Political Thesis,” an update of the document “From the Gut” of 1973, was approved, putting more emphasis on the pro-independence role of the Branch. The debates taking place in Puerto Rico began to be felt.
November 4, 1980 – Elections of 1980. In the last election in which it participated, the PSP won just half as many votes as in 1976. Legislative candidates Juan Mari Brás and Carlos Gallisá, however, won about 80,000 votes. An internal debate began that was even stronger than four years earlier between the nationalist and socialist sectors within the Party.
October 22, 1982 – Third Congress at the Bar Association in San Juan. The open debates after the elections were put to rest. One sector of the leadership, the nationalist sector, prevailed in its positions. The socialist sector was pushed out of the organization. Abandoning the idea of building a socialist party, the PSP returned to its patriotic focus, similar to what it had in the days of the MPI. As an organization, the PSP emerged from this Congress extremely weakened.
May 22, 1983 – Third Congress of the Branch. Just as had occurred in Puerto Rico, the renunciation of the socialist project led to many resignations and departures, as well as a general weakening of the organization.
November 6, 1984 – Elections of 1984. The PSP, which did not participate in the elections, launched the slogan “An entire people against Romero.” This position was criticized by some as tacit support for the PPD and its candidate, Rafael Hernández Colón. Similarly, in the United States, sectors of the Branch gravitated toward the Democratic Party.
March 18-20, 1988 – Fourth Congress of the PSP. The Political Declaration approved by the Congress underlined the need to work for a “New Political Project.”
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Author: Guillermo Morejón Flores, February 5, 2021
Revision: Dr. Lizette Cabrera Salcedo, February 8, 2021