The document revoking the permit warned that the police would not allow the activity. The Nationalists, after talking with Mayor Tormos Diego and Colonel Orbeta himself, decided to go forward with the activity.
The police under the command of Guillermo Soldevila, the head of the force in Juana Díaz, and Felipe Blanco cordoned off the demonstrators, using expert marksmen mobilized from all the police stations in Puerto Rico.
The police covered the corner where the Nationalist Council was located on Marina Street, between Aurora and Jobos Streets. Meanwhile, the Cadets of the Republic and the Nurses Corps organized in three columns.
The cadets wore a uniform of white trousers, black shirts, black caps, and on the left sleeve, a Calatravian cross. Leading the column was cadet captain Tomás López de Victoria. The young women formed up as the nurses corps, wearing white uniforms and marching behind the young men. Bringing up the rear was the band, made up of five or six musicians.
Nearby, on Aurora and Marina Streets, almost in front of where the Council was located, the families of the cadets came together with other Nationalists who had come to see the parade. The band played “La Borinqueña,” and the captain of the Cadet Corps, Tomás López de Victoria, immediately gave the order to step off. At the precise moment when they were about to do so, Soldevila raised a whip, put it to the chest of López de Victoria, and told him that they could not march.
Police officer Armando Martínez ran from the corner in front of the Nationalist Council toward Marina Street, firing once into the air, which unleashed volleys of shots from arms of different calibers. Eight people died instantly and later others died, for a total of nineteen. Police officers Ceferino Loyola and Eusebio Sánchez died victims of the crossfire of their fellows.
Georgina Maldonado, a 13 year old girl, an employee of a nearby gas station, José Antonio Delgado, a member of the National Guard who was passing by, and fourteen Nationalists also died.
Shortly before the shooting, Colonel Orbeta and Captain Blanco inspected the area where the demonstration was to be held, then left in a police vehicle to drive around Ponce, returning to the area after the shooting had ceased and ordering the arrest of everyone in the vicinity. They went into the building where the Council was located, where several wounded persons were also arrested. In addition to the dead, there were some 140 to 200 wounded.
The number is not certain, as many of the wounded ordinary citizens and Nationalists were not taken to hospitals but sought assistance from private physicians. The Nationalist prisoners in the La Princesa Prison in San Juan learned of what had happened in Ponce from the radio of a neighbor who lived near the prison, who turned up the volume so that they could hear.
Remembering Puerto Rico’s Ponce Massacre
22 March 2007
In Puerto Rico, Wednesday marked the 70th anniversary of the Ponce massacre. On March 21st, 1937, 19 people were killed and more than one hundred wounded when police opened fire on a demonstration calling for independence from the United States.
The day is considered a defining event in Puerto Rico’s history of struggle against United States domination.
Massacre of Ponce, Puerto Rico – Listen/Watch
Democracy Now broadcast’s marking the 70th anniversary of the Ponce Massacre, an atrocity in the history of struggle for Puerto Rican independence.
For more on this historic event click here >