The Puerto Rican Independence Party (Partido Independentista Puertorriqueño), also referred to by the initials PIP, is a social democratic political party which aims for full independence for Puerto Rico from the United States of America. The party’s members are known as independistas or pipiolos.
The History of the Puerto Rican Independence Party
To understand the aims and ideals of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, it is necessary to look back at the political history of the island.
Over centuries, Puerto Rican’s have been under the rule of another nation. From 1493, the island was claimed by conquistadors for Spain, and remained under Spanish rule until 1898. The Caribbean island was thought of by the USA as a “prize of war” and its strategic position made it a valuable commodity as a military base. In May 1898, as part of the Spanish-American war, US troops successfully invaded and took control of Puerto Rico.
Initially, some locals were positive about the changes that the invasion signaled and welcomed the end of Spain’s leadership. However, opinions quickly changed as it became clear that US rule in Puerto Rico would not necessarily give the people the freedom and rights they hoped for.
The most contentious issues brought by US rule was the fact that local governing bodies would have little or no say in what happened in Puerto Rico. The aim for for Americanization, with the intention that language and culture would adapt to match that of the USA. The 1900 Foraker Act formalized the position of the island as being under colonial rule, meaning that Puerto Ricans had little say in their rights.
By 1917, the Jones Act was put into place, making Puerto Rican people into US citizens but not allowing them to vote in US presidential elections and still maintaining high levels of control over local government.
By the 1930s, many Puerto Ricans were becoming dissatisfied with the political situation on the island. Despite attempts to boost the economy, large numbers of the population suffered intense poverty, while US landowners profited from their work. Pedro Albizu Campos was inspired to found the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party (PNP) – a group which aimed to shake what they considered to be illegal US control of the island with militant resistance.
One member of the PNP was Gilberto Concepcion Gracia. Concepcion was born in Vega Alta on 9 July 1909 and his experiences as a child in US ruled Puerto Rico led his to become involved with the PNP while studying in San Juan. During the 1930s, Concepcion travelled to New York, where he worked as a lawyer, in particular providing defence for political leaders like Pedro Campos. Concepcion also worked as an editor in chief for the daily newspaper La Voz.
It was in 1946 that the PIP was finally formed. Concepcion was amongst a group of activists who felt that attempts to gain independence by other parties had been “diluted” or compromised. On the 20 October 1946, in the Bayamon area, the Puerto Rican Independence Party was officially founded, with Concepcion elected as its leader.
In 1948, a new law (Ley de la Mordaza, The Gag Law) was brought into action which made it illegal to promote independence from the USA, to display the Puerto Rican flag or sing folk-songs. In elections, the Puerto Rican Independence Party received 10% of the vote, surely in some part a reaction to the gag law.
Through the 1950s, interest in the Puerto Rican Independence Party continued to grow. In 1952, the party got 20% of the vote and had 15 members in the House of Representatives. It has been suggested that PIP’s anti-war stance was an important factor, after large numbers of Puerto Rican’s had been conscription to fight for the USA in the Korean War.
The 1970s saw important changes for the Puerto Rican Independence Party when Ruben Berrios Martinez was made president. He felt that it was important to make it clear that the party did not have Marxist ideals but aimed for social democracy. This led to some members forming separate parties.
As a leader, Berrios was highly involved and put himself on the front line of certain campaigns. In 1971, he was involved in protests against the US Navy’s use of the small island Culebra as a base, and was jailed for three months for civil disobedience. In 1999, Berrios was also present during protests to release the island of Vieques from US military rule, and again was jailed for his efforts.
In more recent years, the Puerto Rican Independence Party has seen a downturn in popularity. In the 2004 elections, a low vote percentage meant that the party was at risk of losing its rights to representation. However, party members were able to amass a vast number of signatures allowing them to retain their position. In the 2008 and 2012 elections, the party again lost official recognition for receiving less than 3% of the vote.
PIP & COINTELPRO
In 1971, documents which revealed the existence of an FBI run counter intelligence program (COINTELPRO) were stolen from offices in the USA and released to the media. The documents proved without question that a mission to “misdirect, discredit, disrupt and otherwise neutralize activists/opposition” had been running from around 1956.
The Puerto Rican Independence Party and their desire for independence made them prime candidates for COINTELPRO action, with some members being kept under surveillance or embarrassed over an extended period.
Had it not been for the attentions of COINTELPRO, would the PIP have achieved their ideals? It is, of course, impossible to know, however many members and historians speculate that progress was slowed by the actions against them.
Puerto Rican Independence Party Symbol
The symbol of the Puerto Rican Independence Party is a flag with a green background and white cross. The green colour signifies ongoing hope for independence, while the white cross represents the party’s sacrifices and commitment