El Grito de Lares’ Aftermath: An Emerging Nation

Lares’ Aftermath

While the Lares uprising may have not been a national movement, the policies followed by the Spanish colonial authorities in its aftermath promoted the emergence of Puerto Rican national identities. From this standpoint Lares had undeniable important consequences. If the revolt itself did not separate Puerto Ricans from Spaniards, Spanish colonial policies would make the differences between them all too clear.

Following the insurrection, the newly appointed Governor and Capitán General of Puerto Rico, General Laureano Sanz, moved to exclude natives of the island (“los hijos de este país”) from teaching positions while promoting the españolización of public and private instruction. Sanz also sought to ban Puerto Ricans from the clergy and from all administrative posts except the most “subaltern ones” and only after having “unequivocally proved their unblemished” loyalty to Spain.[1] These measures created even more friction between peninsulares and the criollos for they closed traditional routes to socio-economic and political improvement. As discussed above, there is a vast historiography highlighting the dichotomy between peninsulares and criollos and their political and class struggles. Then again, such struggles affected relatively small elite which depended on the metropolis as a warrantor of their status in the island.

Spain’s exclusionary policies, however, were not restricted to the political realm and the colonial administration. Los hijos de este país, who had not only served faithfully for over 300 years but who had also suppressed the Lares revolt, found themselves excluded from the military. Soon after the revolt the colonial administration proceeded to ban Puerto Ricans from its armed forces in an attempt to forestall other insurrections. Unlike the political suppression of the criollo elites, the demobilization of the local population directly affected a large sector of the population.

As part of a larger colonial project, after 1868, and especially under Sanz’s leadership, the Iberian metropolis was invested in preventing the emergence of strong nationalist feelings. In essence, Spain embarked in what can be described as an anti-nation building project. Political repression, demobilization of the population, and the españolización of the island were some of the tools with which to avoid the emergence of strong Puerto Rican national identities that could be used to rally those born on the island against Spanish domination.

batalla pepino

Sanz’s plans had the opposite effect. By closing the military to natives of Puerto Rico the Spaniards created a common denominator for those born on the island; exclusion by birthplace. Barring los hijos de este país from the military was more damaging than any other form of exclusion by the colonial administration since it affected the majority of the population not just a small criollo elite.

By following exclusionary policies the Spanish colonial authorities made more obvious the differences between peninsulares and Puerto Ricans, lost the opportunity to co-opt Puerto Ricans into serving Spain, and ultimately promoted the development of Puerto Rican national identities. In effect the combined exclusion of Puerto Ricans from the colonial administration and the military undermined the loyalty of the inhabitants of the island and kindled the development of a sense of national unity vis-a-vis the Spaniards.

The development of distinct national identities under Spanish sovereignty, however, was a slow, confusing, and ambivalent process because of socio-economic and demographic factors and because of the Puerto Rican elites’ real or imagined cultural affinity with Spain. Even as Spanish control over Puerto Rico was coming to an end, the criollo elites continued to pride themselves of the cultural legacy and affinity, such as blood, race, traditions, language, religion, and history they thought to share with their Iberian counterparts.[2] Moreover, most of the criollo elite saw Spain as “indispensable for their survival.”[3]

Soon after the Grito de Lares, most of the criollo leadership, which comprised the liberal movement, opted for a policy of autonomismo or a higher degree of political freedom as opposed to independence from Spain.[4] The reluctance of the criollo leadership to sever its ties to Spain, and degrees of cultural affinity with Spain that the elite seemed to embrace, may have slowed the development of Puerto Rican national identities.

This is not to say that the criollos that stayed in the island had many other options. The demobilization of the Puerto Ricans hindered the political choices of the criollo leadership. In fact the criollos’ position was weakened by the absence of Puerto Rican militias. Military exclusion provided Puerto Ricans with a common experience that may have moved them towards a shared identity, a shared sense of grievance. But it also weakened the criollos and liberals for the simple fact that by disarming the local population the colonial authorities suppressed the threat of armed rebellion and could focus on the surveillance and repression of the criollos.

Controlling access to the military and paramilitary apparatus and seeking to curtail the power of the liberals and criollos in the island were not new colonial strategies. Nor was military service a marginal issue for the inhabitants of the island. The demobilization of the popular sectors in Puerto Rico fueled the emergence of distinctive national identities. When the Americans invaded three decades later, Puerto Ricans had little incentive to repel them.

lares flaggg

[1] Sanz wrote; “Puerto Rico necesita reformar su instrucción pública españolizandola convenientemente y para ello se hace indispensable prescindir por completo de los profesores naturales de este país”. He also argued for the “conveniencia de prescindir de ciertos puestos de empleados hijos de este país. Nunca pueden dar aquí buen resultado”. He added “… en esta Provincia [Puerto Rico] sólo deben admitirse los empleados [born on the island] más subalternos, siempre que hayan dado pruebas inequívocas de un acendrado españolismo”. See, Leg. 5112. Expediente 15 Memoria presentada por el Gobernador supr. Civil de Puerto Rico D. Laureano Sanz, in Gautier Dapena, Trayectoria del pensamiento liberal, 46-47.

[2] Writing for the Boletín Histórico de Puerto Rico,the Puerto Rican Liberal leader Cayetano Coll y Toste lamented with ambivalence bidding farewell to “our parents’ and grandparents’ flag. It was cruel with us; thoughtlessly, they often flagellated our faces with her, handled by unjust hands and desecrated by retrograde hands; and, that notwithstanding, we loved her.” Cubano Iguina argues that the fin de siècle criollos, in general, assumed Spanish nationality and identity consciously and identified Spain as a greater or “sublime” “Nation”, a “Motherland” in which the “regional” patria (Puerto Rico) had a space. This regional patria was in turn “more intimate, and it is loved with passion”. See; Cubano Iguina, Criollos ante el 98, 7-8, 10-11, 17, 20-21, 29.

[3] See; Bergard, Toward Puerto Rico’s Grito de Lares, 640-642; and, Cubano Iguina, Criollos ante el 98: 5-6.

[4] Román Baldorioty de Castro and Luis Muñoz Rivera, leaders of the Autonomist Liberal Party (pro-autonomy) in Puerto Rico talked openly about the impossibility of obtaining independence through war. One of the reasons was the state of illiteracy and poverty of the peasantry which they thought would not allow for an effective revolt or the survival of an independent republic. According to Jiménez de Wagenheim’s findings, of the men taken prisoners after the revolt who were asked about their literacy 40% responded negatively. Jiménez de Wagenheim, El grito de Lares, sus hombres y sus causas, 79. Cubano Iguina describes the Autonomistas as a movement of nativist inclination which, in search of political hegemony, sought to establish a distinction vis-à-vis the peninsular newcomers whom they perceived as representatives of metropolitan domination. Cubano Iguina, Criollos ante el 98,2-3. And, Astrid Cubano Iguina, “Política radical y autonomismo en Puerto Rico: conflictos de intereses en la formación del Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (1887)”,(Anuario de Estudios Americanos, Tomo 1.1. núm. 2. 1994, 155-173),155-157.

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