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The US media coverage of Puerto Ricans in the United States had a negative impact on Puerto Ricans and added to the pro American agenda the United States wanted to convey. In 1937, on March 21, a peaceful annual march in celebration of Palm Sunday took place in Ponce, a city in Puerto Rico. The parade was filled with nearly 300 men, women and children, all allowed with a parade permit that the Nationalists had obtained. The Mayor of Ponce, and the Insular Police captain announced that the permit had been revoked under the orders of the Governor of Puerto Rico and that the police were instructed to stop the event by any means necessary. At this point, over 200 police officers were gathered, but the people at the parade played the Puerto Rican National anthem and continued marching. Police opened fire on the unarmed civilians for thirteen minutes and killed 17 unarmed civilians, including 17 men, 2 police officers, one woman, and a 7 year old girl. This was known as the Ponce Massacre and was immediately addressed as such by the local new outlets and locals, but in the mainland United States a different story was told. The government of Puerto Rico and the mainland US tried to cover up what had happened during the parade by twisting the story in their favor by overlooking and or dismissing details and actions taken by the Puerto Rican and United States government.
Something similar happened with the October 30th, 1950 Puerto Rican revolution. This consisted of eight full armed revolts in different towns against the Puerto Rican Government by the Nationalist party,and an assassination attempt on President Truman to catch global attention and draw focus to Puerto Rican issues. Like the Ponce Massacre, the mainstream media and government in the US mainland dismissed the entire revolution and spun the story on its head in several ways to promote a pro American agenda. Both these events were examples of US mainland media criminalizing and degrading Puerto Rican events and actions, ignoring the bigger questions and issues in favor of focusing on how Puerto Ricans caused these events to happen and playing down US involvement. This more often than not hurt the Puerto Rican independence movement by degrading their actions and making them feel invisible in the eyes of the public.
The actions taken by the police on the day of the Ponce Massacre and the differences between how the mainland US news outlets spoke about the movement directly demonstrates a pro American agenda which hindered the Puerto Rican independence movement. The first example of the government trying to play damage control was the initial reaction and attempt by police to cover up the massacre. The plan behind this was simply to make it seem like the Nationalists at the parade were the ones who started the fight by firing at the police. The ruse started when the chief of police in Puerto Rico, Colonel Enrique de Orbeta, arrived at the scene and called “over the El Mundo photographer and several of his men, and they choreographed a series of ‘live action’ photos to show that the police were somehow ‘returning fire from the nationalists who were, at this point, already lying dead in the street”. This did not work, but the intent was clear: Orbeta saw how the Ponce Massacre painted him and his men and rather than own up to the consequences of their actions their first instinct was to make it seem like the Nationalists fault. This action was immediately followed up by the reaction of Governor Blanton Winship, governor of Puerto Rico at the time, who, “blamed it on ‘Nationalist Terrorists’” and had, “his Insular police followed the wounded to Tricoche Hospital in Ponce, arresting them in their stretchers and hospital beds”. This led to many families feeling pressured into giving false statements about the event to fit the narrative that the survivors of the massacre somehow murdered themselves. The way they Puerto Rican Government acted during the aftermath of the massacre, calling the Nationalists “terrorists”, and committing mass arrests expresses a very strong need to criminalize the Puerto Ricans in order to hide the actions of the police under the Governor’s orders.
The most appalling example of the dismissal of this massacre can be seen in the mainland United States newspaper outlets discussion of the events. The New York Times headline for the event was: “7 DIE IN PUERTO RICO RIOT, 50 INJURED AS POLICE FIRE ON FIGHTING NATIONALISTS; 26 SEIZED IN PONCE”. The Washington Post followed with a headline reading: “Puerto rico Riot toll reaches 10; Others near dead.”. The first glaring issue with both headlines was the inaccurate account of death and damages, and the use of the word “Riot”. The Times article described the event as; “… a campaign protest against the imprisonment of 8 Nationalists who had been convicted of sedition… Mayor Ormes of Ponce had given a permit for the parade, but when the matter came to the attention of Colonel Enrique de Orbeta… he forbade it.” It then went on to say that the Nationalists fired the first shot. Mainstream press in the US mainland actively down played the damage done in Puerto Rico and painted a narrative that expressed that the massacre was somehow the fault of the Nationalists. This also implies that the parade had been some sort of cover for a Nationalists event rather than a peaceful religious celebration. Not one of the papers used the word massacre in their description of the events, instead favoring the idea that the parade had been a violent armed riot despite many sources stating that no Puerto Ricans were armed.
Similar to the Ponce massacre, as previously stated, the reaction and coverage of the Puerto Rican revolution on October 30, 1950, was treated in a the same and enforced the idea that the US actively tried to portray Puerto Rican events in a destructive and criminalizing manner. The October 28 the revolution began with a prison break, which led to the escape of 110 prisoners. The next morning J. Edgar Hoover flew sixty FBI agents to Puerto Rico to handle the situation. In Penuelas, Puerto Rico, on October 30, police hunted down a group of Nationalists and a gun fight broke out resulting in the death of three Nationalists. In Jayuya, Puerto rico, fourteen Nationalist surrounded a police station in the town and police started firing. The police station was on fire and the police had told reporters that there were hundreds of Nationalists with machine guns, which led to a US bombing in the town the following day. It was known as “The only time in history the United States bombed its own citizens”. Later that same day, the US bombed Utuado as well. The omission of this event in Puerto Rico in United States mainland papers and news outlets further drives home that the US did not consider Puerto Rican citizens real americans, because it was not important enough to mention the bombing of US citizens.
Another example of the dismissal of the revolution as a whole was President Truman’s initial reaction to the revolution in Puerto Rico where he dismissed the entire revolution as “an incident between Puerto Ricans.” The President dismissed the killing of countless Nationalists, police officers and civilians. This in turn led to the assassination attempt on President Truman by two mainland Puerto Ricans who wanted to draw the media’s attention to Puerto Rico because up to this point, no new outlet in mainland US had talked about the revolution. Like the Ponce Massacre, the headlines covering this event were just as inaccurate and criminalized the Puerto Ricans, with the Washington Post stating: “ASSASSIN SLAIN, ANOTHER SHOT AT TRUMAN’S DOOR; PUERTO RICAN TERRORISTS KILL GUARD, WOUND 2; PRESIDENT GLIMPSES BATTLE’S END FROM WINDOW” in reference to the assassination attempt on President Truman. In the same vein of calling Puerto Ricans terrorists rather than analyzing the reason or motivation behind the assassination attempt, The Times stated in reference to United States occupation in Puerto Rico after the assassination attempt;
“This is not an example of American imperialism, except by communist standards. There is no real popular demand for independence. The small following of the Nationalists and Communists is one proof of that; failure to get a popular mass uprising there last few days even more striking proof.”
The statement that “there is no real popular demand for independence” not only undermines the events that had occured the day before, but the feelings of all Puerto Ricans who did not approve of US rule. After this event Puerto Ricans still felt invisible, as if even when Puerto Ricans made the most noise they could muster not one person outside of the island seemed to care which had dealt a damaging blow to the movement and the sense of non existent national pride.
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