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Collection Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives

The Grito de Lares: The Rebellion of 1868

Frustrated by the lack of political and economic freedom, and enraged by the continuing repression on the island, Puerto Rico's pro-independence movement staged an armed rebellion in 1868. Known as the Grito de Lares (the "Cry of Lares"), the rebellion broke out on September 23, 1868. It was planned by a group led by Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis, who on January 6, 1868, founded the Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico (Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico) from their exile in the Dominican Republic. Betances authored several proclamas, or statements, attacking the exploitation of the Puerto Ricans by the Spanish colonial system and called for immediate insurrection. The proclamas soon circulated throughout the island as local dissident groups began organizing. Secret cells of the Revolutionary Committee were established involving members from all sectors of society, including landowners, merchants, professionals, peasants, and slaves.

Although plans originally called for the insurrection to begin on September 29, their discovery by Spanish authorities forced the rebels to move the date up. They agreed to strike first at the town of Lares on September 23. On that day, some four to six hundred rebels gathered in the hacienda of Manuel Rojas, located in the vicinity of Pezuela, on the outskirts of Lares. Poorly trained and armed, the rebels reached the town by horse and foot around midnight. They looted local stores and offices owned by peninsulares and took over the city hall, proclaiming the new Republic of Puerto Rico. Spanish merchants and local government authorities, considered by the rebels to be enemies of the fatherland, were taken prisoner. The following day, September 24, the republic was proclaimed under the presidency of Francisco Ramírez. All slaves who had joined the uprising were declared free citizens.

The rebel forces then departed from Lares to take over the next town, San Sebastián del Pepino. The Spanish militia, however, surprised the group with strong resistance and caused the rebels to retreat back to Lares under the leadership of Manuel Rojas. Upon an order from Governor Julián Pavía, the Spanish militia quickly rounded up the rebels and brought the insurrection to an end. Some 475 rebels were imprisoned, Manuel Rojas among them.

[Detail] Map of the island of Porto Rico. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

On November 17, a military court imposed the death penalty for treason and sedition on all prisoners. Nevertheless, in an effort to ameliorate the tense atmosphere on the island, the incoming governor, José Laureano Sanz, dictated a general amnesty early in 1869 and all prisoners were released.

The first formal account of the Grito de Lares was written by a Spanish resident of Puerto Rico, José Pérez Moris, with collaboration from Luis Cueto. It was published in 1872 as Historia de la Insurrección de Lares and appears in this online collection. Its main purpose was to present a strong case for the conservative cause on the island by showing that separatist forces were strong in Puerto Rico and thus a serious threat to the established order.