Located in the mountainous terrain in the central western region of the island, the municipality of Lares, Puerto Rico accounts for 159.4 square kilometres of terrain. North of Maricao and Yauco, south of Camuy, east of San Sebastian and Las Marias and west of Hatillo, Utuado and Adjuntas, Lares, Puerto Rico consists of 10 wards, with Lares Pueblo as the administrative centre.
According to the 2010 Census, the population of Lares, Puerto Rico is 41,415. The people of Lares, Puerto Rico are known as Lareňos.
The highest elevations in the municipality of Lares, Puerto Rico are found to the south, where the Central Mountain range begins. Santo Domingo peak reaches 700 metres above sea level, Malo 640 m, Las Mulas 500m and La Torrecilla 430m.
The main river in the region is Rio Blanco, which is also known as Grande de Aňasco, and flows into the Mona Channel. Other rivers in the region include Culebrinas, which is 44 km in length and the Guajataca which is 40km in length. A man-made lake reservoir called Guayo can also be found in Lares, Puerto Rico and is used for electricity, fishing and irrigation.
History of Lares, Puerto Rico
The Founding of Lares, Puerto Rico
In 1512, Amador de Lariz, originally from the Basque region of Spain, was granted land in Puerto Rico by the Spanish Crown for his services and set up a cattle ranch called Hato de Lariz. Hato de Lariz is now considered to be part of the municipality of San Sebastian, but in these early years existed as a separate settlement.
By the 17th Century, 237 residents of Hato de Lariz had become dissatisfied with the distance that they had to travel to the nearest church and access the justice system. In 1824, the mayor of Utado put forward a request to the Governor of Puerto Rico on behalf of the people of Hato, and it was due to this document that permission to officially establish a town was given.
On April 26 1827, Francisco de Sotomayer and Pedro Velez Borrero founded the town, of Lares, Puerto Rico on a piece of land donated by Martin Medina. The spot was chosen due to the availability of materials in the area and access to water. The name of the town was taken from the name Lariz, in honour of the landowner.
The population of Lares, Puerto Rico was to see a boom in population between the years of 1850 – 1899, when the number of residents grew from five thousand to over twenty thousand as the coffee industry in the area became successful.
The Grito de Lares
One of the most important events in the history of Lares, Puerto Rico is the revolutionary action known as the Grito de Lares. Grito is the Spanish word for scream or cry, but during this late 19th Century it was also used to signify an “action or declaration for independence”.
The Grito de Lares was planned by a group of individuals who wanted to draw attention to the economical problems and political situation in Puerto Rico. Ramon Betances, who was later nicknamed the Father of Puerto Rico, and Segundo Ruiz Belvis were amongst the main players in organising the action, along with other members of the group known as the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Committee.
Those involved in the Grito came from many different walks of life, backgrounds and countries, all with the same aim in common – the freedom of Puerto Rico from its Spanish masters. Slaves and plantation owners alike were determined to change Puerto Rico and gain independence.
Plans for the Grito de Lares had taken several years to form, and revolutionary cells were being set up all over the island. Ramon Betances was not in Puerto Rico at the time of the action, but played a key role in ensuring a supply of weapons and organising the event. On September 14 1868, the leaders of the planned action met in the house of Manual Rojas, who was a plantation owner.
Those present prayed that god would help them in their actions. The original plan was to begin their protests on September 29 in the town of Camuy. However, a Spanish officer overheard the plans being discussed and reported his knowledge to his superiors.
The news that their plot had been uncovered got back to the leaders of the independence movement in time for them to change their plans. On September 23, Manuel Rojas gave an inspirational speech to a large group of men and women who would go on to march on Lares, Puerto Rico.
He spoke of high taxes and government action and announced that it was time that they stood up together against the regime that they all suffered under. Reports as to how many people took place in the demonstration vary immensely, with some historians stating 200, and others suggesting that as many as 600 marched that day.
The first group to arrive in Lares, Puerto Rico were turned back by the military, but continued on to the town’s plaza, where their flag (designed by Ramon Betances) was unveiled for the first time. They freed slaves and looted Spanish owned businesses before march towards San Sebastian de Pepino.
Before the revolutionaries could continue their actions, military reinforcements arrived from nearby Moca. The Grito of Lares lasted only 10 hours, with 4 dead and others injured. Records from the time show that as many as 500 revolutionaries were arrested and those who were armed or actively participating were convicted with a death sentence.
The story of the Grito de Lares did not end there, as it drew attention to the movement for independence and was the first action of its kind in Puerto Rico. The Grito was to inspire similar attempts in many other towns and by 1869, those who were jailed for participating at Lares were granted amnesty and released. In 1897, those who fought so hard to gain independence for Puerto Rico finally received their reward, when Spain granted the island autonomy.
The Economy of Lares, Puerto Rico
Lares, Puerto Rico has long been associated with coffee growing, which has played an important role in supporting the economy of the municipality. Oranges, banana and tomatoes are also grown in abundance in the area, while livestock production in the area focuses on cattle. Historically, Lares was mined for manganese, a mineral which is mixed with iron to produce steel, though this is no longer the case.
Places to See in Lares, Puerto Rico
One of the most famous attractions in Lares, Puerto Rico is the Heladeria (Icecream Shop) de Lares. The family owned and run business was opened by Salvador Barretto in 1958, has walls covered with photos of celebrities who have visited over the years and, as seen on the Travel Channels Bizarre Food show, specialises in serving unique and unusual flavours.
Along with old favourites such as strawberry and vanilla, visitors can try home made concoctions including Arroz con Gandules (rice with pigeon peas, a typical Puerto Rican dish), Bacalao (salt-cod) and the strangely enticing best seller – Corn.
There are a number of haciendas in the area of Lares, Puerto Rico which are of interest to visitors. Haciendo de Cafe El Porvenir is an 18th Century building which is open to the public by appointment, while restorations are taking place on Hacienda Le Lealtad (also known as La Paragua) to turn what once was one of the main coffee producers in the region into a tourist attraction and hotel
Another building of interest in Lares, Puerto Rico is Los Torres. The wooden building was constructed in 1846 by Jose Maria Torres y Medina, who spent years before starting the project collecting, preparing and categorising pieces of wood for the task. As one of the oldest wooden buildings still standing on the island.
Los Torres is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings due to its high quality craftsmanship, and the use of materials such as the Puerto Rican Palm and other native trees. Torres y Medina married Maria Isadora Pol y Segarra, whose brothers were involved in the revolutionary action of the Grito de Lares.
According to oral history passed down through the family, Las Torres served as a hide-out for the brothers after the Grito. The building was also used as a meeting point for the handover of Lares, during the occupation of Puerto Rico as part of the US/Spain war.
Lares remembers the Grito of Lares with their “Revolutionary Plaza”. The recreational area has a monument to Ramon Betances and a mosaic by artist Elizim Escobar shows the path of the revolution. It is said by some locals that the tamarind tree planted on the plaza was set there by Pedro Albizu Campos, who was also a key player in the events. The square serves as a meeting point and is where festivities in memory of the Grito take place.
Close to the plaza, is the Museum of Lares which houses an interesting selection of paintings, statues and artefacts including Taíno items, agricultural tools, money and original slave records from 1871. Visitors will also note a wooden replica of the Plaza of Lares, as it was in 1926.
Facts About Lares, Puerto Rico
The official flag of Lares, Puerto Rico was first unveiled at the Grito de Lares on 23 September 1868. The flag was designed by Ramon Betances and constructed by Mariana Bracetti, a leading member of the Revolutionary Committee. Based on the flag designed used in the Dominican Republic between 1844 -1849, the flag of Lares has a white Latin cross which divides the field into four quarters.
The top two quarters of the flag are blue, with a white five pointed star in the top left hand quarter, and the lower quarters are red. The white cross represents a “longing for the homeland” and rebellion against oppressors, the red colour used in the flag represents blood shed in battles for freedom and the star, liberty. The flag became the official flag of Lares, Puerto Rico in 1952.
The Coat of Arms of Lares, Puerto Rico shows the flag on a shield. This is surrounded by a chain and topped by a towered castle to represent the town’s status. A banner below the shield reads “Lares Ciudad del Grito” , ensuring that the revolutionaries efforts to gain independence for Puerto Rico are never forgotten.
Lares, Puerto Rico is known by several nicknames, and in recent years this has caused disagreement between residents of the town and local government. Traditionally, Lares has been called “Ciudad de la Grito” and sometimes “Altar of the Fatherland”. These names have a strong historical and cultural significance for the people of Lares, so when a new title – “Ciudad de Cielos Abiertos” or City of the Open Skies – was suggested, it caused an uproar.
Despite open criticism from the general public, signs were placed at the entrances of Lares, Puerto Rico using the new name. Many Lareňos expressed concerns that the important historical happenings in the town are being overlooked with this new nickname, and state that it is irrelevant, however, their commitment to the memory of those who participated in the Grito ensures that whatever title the town is given, those significant events will never be forgotten.
Every year, Lares celebrates Almojabana – a cheese bread produced in the area – with several days of festivities. The lively event is an excuse for locals to meet with friends and family, and attracts visitors from all over the island. Local Puerto Rican foods are served, arts and crafts are demonstrated and sold, all accompanied by the sounds of traditional music.
Lares also hosts the National Guineo Festival, an annual event which has taken place since 1991. The guineo is the banana, which is one of the staple crops of the region. Along with the usual music, food stalls serve up an array of dishes – both sweet and savoury- and drinks which include the banana as an ingredient.
People of Lares, Puerto Rico
Dolores “Lolita” Lebron Sotomayer – Lares-born “Lolita” Lebron is best known for leading an attack on the United State House of Representatives in 1954. The aim of the attack, which resulting in the injury of several people, was to get independence for Puerto Rico from the US.
Lebron was imprisoned for 25 years for attempted murder, but was later released under the orders of US President Jimmy Carter. Lebron returned to Puerto Rico, where she settled in the town of Loiza, and later married. She remained politically active and was involved in campaigns such as that against the US military use of the island of Vieques until her death from ill health in 2010.
Jose Feliciano – Singer, guitarist and composer, Jose Feliciano is a proud Lareňo, who has achieved world-wide recognition for his talent and cross-over Latin/English style. Often referred to as the world’s greatest living guitarrist, Feliciano was born blind due to a congenital glaucoma. Despite this difficulty, he has become a highly successful recording artists, with one of his best known songs being the Christmas hit “Feliz Navidad” which was released in 1970.