WAR AGAINST WHO?
© 2015 Pedro Aponte-Vázquez
(Translated from Spanish by its author).
It is surprising to realize that the book War Against all Puerto Ricans has been defended “with tooth and nails” by people who haven’t even read it and even by others who are well aware of the fallacies, exaggerations, and half-truths it contains and describes, as well as of the fact that its author defames the Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu-Campos. Perhaps there will be in the Academy students and professors who will study this event as a monumental phenomenon of marketing, public relations, and open and effective manipulation of the mass media.
Were it the plot of a novel based upon a handful of twisted historical facts, we could state that don Pedro Albizu-Campos is the protagonist and the U. S. Government is the antagonist with numerous secondary characters who nonetheless are also important. On the other hand, if it was the purpose of the author to write an authentic historiography about the invasion and military occupation of Puerto Rico and the armed resistance by the Nationalist Party, it is a forced conclusion that it does not meet the indispensable conditions of the rigorous account that he promised.
Nelson A. Denis, a New York politician who was a state assemblyman during four years and lost his seat in 2000, is marketing a history book for which he claims having spent forty years just gathering data. Denis, born in New York City on September 10, 1954 of a Cuban father and a Puerto Rican mother, says that, in addition to reading a a great number of historiographical sources, he examined the file that the FBI kept on Albizu and interviewed many Nationalists and veterans of the 65 Infantry Regiment, a U. S. Army unit known as the Borinqueneers (after Borinquen, Puerto Rico’s Indian name). He says that he became interested in writing this book after meeting in the city of Caguas, Puerto Rico, a relative who told him he had been Albizu’s “bodyguard”.
Those of us who have spent years researching Albizu and the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party-Liberating Movement through the examination of documents, often original ones, in addition to personal interviews, know that the persons who have claimed having been Albizu’s bodyguards, drivers, barbers, and even prison guards without showing any documentary evidence and without their claims having been corroborated by other means have not been scarce. That Denis accepted his relative’s claim without any corroboration, would not be relevant were it not for the fact that such is his way of not only interviewing, but also of reporting the outcome of his interviews.
Of course, oral history is a valuable resource in historical research when there are no documentary sources or the existing ones are not available. This author not only has used it, but also established on his own initiative an Oral History Center at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico, where I was a professor and Dean of Students. However, it is a must that those who resort to oral history research ascertain that the persons interviewed are highly credible sources whose vital experiences clearly show that they do deeply know the matter about which they report. In War Against all Puerto Ricans, the author used this resource, but he does not tell us who were the persons he interviewed, why he considers them to be credible, or where or when he conducted the interviews. Granted that it is reasonable to omit a source’s name if the person requires beforehand to remain anonymous as a condition to reveal information, but such was not the case with the many persons Denis claims to have interviewed.
There are other serious deficiencies. Too many bibliographical notes don’t respond to the text with which they are linked in the body of the book or in which the sources mentioned are not the correct ones. It is not prudent to enumerate them in this so limited space, so I will only mention some examples that are not necessarily the most eloquent, but rather the ones readily at hand.
In note # 20, page 333, the author provides as bibliographical source magazine Verdad, February 1953 edition, No. 8, Year I, but if you look that up, you won’t find the quoted article, for the right year is II. Something similar happens regarding note No. 5, page 333, Pedro Aponte Vázquez, Yo acuso y lo que pasó después. (Bayamón, P. R.: Movimiento Ecuménico Nacional de P.R., 1985, 41). Number 41 refers to page 41 of that book, but the edition of the book with that title was not published by the Movimiento Ecuménico Nacional de P.R., for which reason, if you look for page 41 you won’t find the pertinent data. That organization published only the book titled ¡Yo acuso!: Tortura y asesinato de don Pedro Albizu Campos. There have been several editions with the same title and several more with the subtitle Y lo que pasó después, but there is no text whatsoever on page 41 or, if there is any text, it does not correspond to note No. 5.
Moreover, the author provides the FBI file as reference for plenty of data and, although he does mention the section where they are supposed to be, he does not say who originates the document, its date, subject, and to whom it was addressed. Instead of providing those data in order to facilitate the search for the document, Denis provides the section number followed by a figure which readers will interpret as page number. For instance, in note 25 of page 334, the author refers the reader to “Section No. VIII, 66-67”; that is: pages 66 to 67 of that Section. The problem is that that file is not set up that way, as consecutive pages as in a book, but on the basis of individual documents. Indeed, some documents may have several pages (in which case it is advisable to say how many), but the reader needs to know what kind of document is involved, its date, who sends it and to whom and even about what subject in order to be able to find it. This deficiency causes the impression that the person who wrote the book does not know how the quoted file is organized and, still worse, it impedes the reader to verify where the data came from.
Besides those notes not being useful, the author makes surprising statements which trusting readers will accept at face value without knowing whether they are true or not, unless, having researched those specific events or historical figures or for some other reason, they know if the statements are true or not. Let’s see some examples without any pretense of being exhaustive:
- In relation to the book’s title itself, the author gives a false quote and refuses to admit it. In the course of his publicity campaign, he started by saying that the title was based on statements by chief of Puerto Rico Police Elisha Francis Riggs to the effect that there would be [war to death against all Puerto Ricans”, which Denis knows is not true. Riggs did say that there would be “war, ceaseless war, not against politicians, but war against criminals” (See: La Democracia, 26 oct 1935). The news item begins on page 1 and continues on page 8. At the end of the column on page 1, reference is made to statements by colonel Riggs, but they begin and end on page 8).
- In the Preface to his book, Denis mentions contradictory data about what supposedly happened to his father when he, Denis, was a child. Then, during his publicity campaign, he adopts one of the two, to wit: That “it was 3:00 in the morning of an October day in 1962 when FBI agents knocked at the door in building 600, 161st street where he lived with his family in Washington Heights. His father, an elevator operator who admired the Cuban Revolution, was arrested on alleged spying charges. Without an audience or trial, Antonio Denis Jordán was deported to La Habana”. (El Nuevo Día interview with Nelson Denis, 18 May 2015). This is not true, for Antonio Denis Jordán was neither arrested nor deported, but instead left the country for La Habana spontaneously (See: http://archive.org/…/annu…/annualreportofim1963unit_djvu.txt).
- On pages 129-130, besides putting Albizu to crawl on the floor and then accept being the subject of a vulgar joke and take part in it, the author did not care about the known fact that Albizu did not drink alcoholic beverages and says that, when he sat at the Salón Boricua barber shop for a haircut, he would “take a shot of rum”.
- Relatives of José (Águila Blanca) Maldonado, including his granddaughter, author Margarita Maldonado Colón, stress that they have no knowledge regarding Denis’s claim that Maldonado was the owner of Salón Boricua barber shop and that he had ceded it to Vidal Santiago. Furthermore, they ascertain that Maldonado did not die there, but at his home (Article by Maldonado Colón in this author’s files).
- Some of Denis’s data pertaining to Vidal Santiago do not agree with reality. According to information obtained from reliable sources by a researcher of Albizu and of other Nationalists, “Vidal’s father did not die in a sugar cane field, neither was he a Reader for the workers, nor did he ever go to Ybor City in Florida; Vidal did not graduate from high school; there was no hole or hiding place between the barber shop and his living quarters; Vidal didn’t drink and neither did don Pedro; Águila Blanca did not cede Vidal that property and did not die in Salón Boricua nor did he write a book about the barber shop (Edwin Rosario, quoted in Iris Zavala Martínez, “Observaciones acerca de War Against All Puerto Ricans de Nelson Denis”, sent by electronic mail, July 1, 2015).
- On page 164, Denis says that, on September, 1930, doctor Cornelius Rhoads injected Maldonado something that caused the throat cancer of which he in fact died. However, by that date, Rhoads was not in Puerto Rico, having arrived on June, 1931. (Pedro Aponte Vázquez, “Necator Americanus: O sobre la fisiología del caso Rhoads”. Revista del Colegio de Abogados de Puerto Rico, Vol. 43, Núm. 1, febrero, 1982, pp. 117-142). Apropos of doctor Rhoads, it stimulates curiosity to realize that Denis dedicates only the equivalent of a page to that case and describes Rhoads as “a new physician” at Presbyterian Hospital. He thus omits the fact that the notorious and influential Rockefeller Foundation, with headquarters in the City of New York, sent him with other physicians to San Juan to experiment with women, men, and children and participated in the cover up of the murders he confessed.
- In note # 24, chapter 21, “Atomic Lynching”, pages 333-334, the author says that Herminia Rijos, who visited Albizu in his place of residence on the corner of Del Sol and De La Cruz streets, had visited him in La Princesa jail and that she was a friend of Albizu’s family. None of this is true. I interviewed Rijos at her home and she told me that she had gone to see him at his place of residence because, having been married to a Nationalist, she was aware of his allegations [of torture] and felt “curiosity”. It does not follow, from the document Denis quotes and of which Reynolds had given me a copy, that Rijos had visited Albizu at La Princesa nor that she was a friend of his family (See: Testimonio de Herminia Rijos en NY, 1 Feb 54, about her visit to Albizu in 1953 regarding burns on his whole body, Colección Pedro Aponte Vázquez-Judith Ortiz Roldán, Archivo de la Fundación Luis Muñoz Marín (FLMM), Box 1, folder No. 101). Later, I gave TV reporter Sylvia Gómez this information when she visited me for an interview on July 4, 1985 at my home for a television documentary to which Denis refers on that note (audio tape of our conversation in Colección Puertorriqueña, Biblioteca Lázaro, UPR, Río Piedras and in FLMM).
- It is curious that, in addition, Denis omits very important data, as is the case pertaining to Braverman vs. United States (317 U. S. 49). Whoever knows the Puerto Rico Nationalist Party-Liberation Movement with reasonable depth and has carefully examined the FBI file on Albizu, can’t miss the significant legal and historical implications of the opinion of Chief Justice Harlan Stone of the U. S. Supreme Court in that historical case ―without having studied Law, contrary to Denis (See: http://pedroapontevazquez.com/opinion-de-un-constitucionalista-sobre-braverman-vs-united-states/). Those implications affected Albizu directly and, indirectly, the subsequent development of our political history, for Stone’s opinion was the reason Albizu was able to walk out of the Atlanta federal penitentiary without accepting any conditions, to stay in New York for as long as he wanted to, and to return to Puerto Rico when he deemed it convenient, all of this without federal Judge Robert Cooper revoking the four-year probation he had imposed upon him in addition to the six years in prison (See: Pedro Aponte Vázquez, Pedro Albizu Campos: Su persecución por el FBI. San Juan: Publicaciones RENÉ, 1991 y Albizu: Su persecución por el FBI. San Juan: Publicaciones RENÉ, 2,000. Augmented edition).
Denis went overboard when he affirmed that there was no armed resistance in Puerto Rico to the invasion by the U. S. Army in July, 1898. Finally, for the benefit of all the interested parties, the author ought to closely revise his book and make all the corrections that have been pointed out to him, both publicly and in private, before it is translated into Spanish and before the English version is published as paperback.#