Tomb of Ramón E. Betances in Cabo Rojo, with the Lares flag in front, 2007
The Lares uprising, commonly known as the “Grito de Lares” occurred on September 23, 1868, but was planned well before that date 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. These statements soon circulated throughout the island as local dissident groups began to organize.
Condition of Manuel Rojas’ house in 1960
Secret cells of the Revolutionary Committee were established in Puerto Rico by Mathias Brugman, Mariana Bracetti and Manuel Rojas bringing together members from all sectors of society, to include landowners, merchants, professionals, peasants, and slaves. Most were “criollos” (born on the island). The critical state of the economy, along with the increasing repression imposed by the Spanish, served as catalysts for the rebellion. The stronghold of the movement were towns located on the mountains of the west of the island.
Although original plans called for the insurrection to begin in Camuy on September 29, Spanish authorities on the island discovered the plan forcing the rebels to move up the date. On the night of September 19 a Spanish captain stationed in Quebradillas, Juan Castañón, overheard two cell members commenting on the plans: on September 29 the troop at Camuy would be neutralized by poisoning the bread rations. Given the fact that September 29 would be a holiday for most laborers, simultaneous uprisings would occur, beginning with the cell in Camuy, and following with the ones in various other points; reinforcements would come in through a ship, “El Telégrafo”, and the cells would be reinforced by more than 3,000 mercenaries. Castañón alerted his commanding officer in Arecibo, and the cell leaders at the Lanzador del Norte cell in Camuy were soon arrested.
Proclamation of the Republic of Puerto Rico
It was then agreed to first strike at the town of Lares on September 24. Some 400–600 rebels (Spanish journalist José Perez Morís puts the number closer to 1000) gathered on that day 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” (Spanish-born men) and took over the city hall. Spanish merchants and local government authorities, considered by the rebels to be enemies of the fatherland, were taken as prisoners. The revolutionaries then entered the town’s church and placed the revolutionary flag knitted by Bracetti on the High Altar as a sign that the revolution had began and the Republic of Puerto Rico was proclaimed at (2:00 AM local time) under the presidency of Francisco Ramírez Medina. All slaves who had joined the movement were declared free citizens.