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“The War Against All Puerto Ricans” — One Year Later

A factual narrative with over 700 footnotes, the book is a history of US-Puerto Rico relations. But it also reads like a police blotter.

Pedro Albizu Campos was the president of Puerto Rico's Nationalist Party. (Photo: Public Domain)

Although Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship in 1917, the United States continued to exploit, oppress and eventually launch a “war” on the people of Puerto Rico to gain land and resources. The book, War Against All Puerto Ricans, is a vivid, detailed account of the brutal treatment of a people “liberated” from Spain only to be subjugated by the US. Click here to order the book now with a contribution to Truthout!

When published in April 2015, War Against All Puerto Ricans ignited debate throughout the US and Puerto Rico. I was called a “liar” by several history professors … yet the book became a #1 Amazon Bestseller for 13 months, and the top-selling book in Puerto Rico. It even outsold Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Why was this book so successful?

A factual narrative with over 700 footnotes, the book is a history of US-Puerto Rico relations. But it also reads like a police blotter.

One reviewer wrote: “It provides detailed accounts of government corruption, police abuse, Wall Street greed, scientific experimentation, politicking, graft, racism, wholesale slaughter, surveillance, assassinations, eugenics, propaganda, espionage, forgery and falsification — all within the span of half a century, on an island no bigger than Connecticut.”

The book was covered in the The New York Times, New York Daily News, Mother Jones, VIBE Magazine,VIVA Magazine,WABC TV, MSNBC, C-SPAN, New York 1, Al Jazeera TV, WNYC, WBAI, WNPR and dozens more TV, radio and print outlets.

The largest newspaper in Puerto Rico, El Nuevo Día, ran four articles about it, including a Sunday front page feature.

On the island, the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) created an eight-city book tour attended by PIP President Ruben Berríos, PIP gubernatorial candidate María de Lourdes Santiago, PIP party leaders and thousands of PIP delegates and members.

On the internet, the book’s website received over 2.8 million views in 14 months. The Facebook page received more than double this number, close to 6 million.

In New York and 10 other cities, I presented the book to unions; youth groups, local radio stations, bookstores; civic groups; church and evangelical, community and arts groups; high school, college, and graduate students; bar associations; political clubs; radical left organizations; Independentistas; women’s groups; senior centers; book and library clubs; salsa concerts; night clubs; university history, criminal justice, and Latin American studies departments; a boxing gym, Costco book signings, Puerto Rico book signings, a maximum security prison; and a séance in the Bronx.

Oscar López Rivera read it in his prison cell in Terre Haute, Indiana. He recommended it to other prisoners, and wrote a blurb which appears on the front cover of the Spanish-language book, Guerra Contra Todos Los Puertorriqueños.

Was It the Story?

In a publishing industry where seven of 10 books don’t earn out their advance, I reflected on my book’s success. The central story was gripping … for decades, the FBI shot Puerto Ricans in the street and kept secret police files (carpetas) on more than 100,000 of them. Owning a Puerto Rican flag, singing La Borinqueña or shouting “¡Que viva Puerto Rico libre!were all felonies, punishable by 10 years in jail.

On October 30, 1950, a violent revolution finally exploded: Nationalists tried to kill President Harry S. Truman; gunfights roared in eight towns; patriots burned police stations, post offices and selective service centers.

To suppress this revolution, the US Army deployed 5,000 troops and bombarded the towns of Jayuya and Utuado — the only time in history that the US government has bombed its own citizens.

They also arrested 3,000 Puerto Ricans and imprisoned Pedro Albizu Campos.

While Don Pedro was in prison, evidence strongly indicates, the US subjected him to TBI (Total Body Irradiation) until it killed him.

As Arthur Miller once wrote, attention must be paid to such a man. The life and death of Don Pedro, the drama of his revolution, the depravity of the FBI, are largely unknown to the US public. It is a shocking story that had to be told.

Was It the Market?

At 55 million and growing, there are more Latinos in the US than there are senior citizens. As of 2014, the Theatrical Markets Report of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA, pp.12-14) shows that Latinos are buying twice as many movie tickets as African-Americans.

The island of Puerto Rico, where my book outsold Harry Potter, has its own marketing surprise. Until their chain folded in 2011, Borders operated 642 stores in the US and Puerto Rico. Of all these outlets, the Borders store in Plaza Las Americas (San Juan, Puerto Rico) sold the most books, and was the most profitable by far, with annual sales of $17 million.

Both in the US and Puerto Rico, Latinos are a hugely underserved market. They are hungry for stories. Starving for role models. But they’re not getting them.

I wrote a book by and about US Latinos: specifically Puerto Ricans. That is why it struck an immediate and resonant chord. That is why it sold out repeatedly, and required emergency print runs.

Yet currently, the major publishers service the US Latino market with mostly foreign literature (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Javier Sierra, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Julio Cortázar, et al). These foreign imports with pre-packaged P&L numbers produce an easier sale at the weekly marketing meetings, and lackluster sales in the bookstores.

A tectonic shift — a tipping point — will inexorably occur. There are too many US Latinos, with our own heritage and experience and stories. Junot Díaz is the merest tip of that iceberg, and he didn’t scratch it very far.

Sooner or later, one media gatekeeper will realize this, make a fortune, and all the others will stampede to be second.

Was It the Economic Crisis?

War Against All Puerto Ricans arrived at a critical time. Puerto Rico is on the verge of defaulting on a $72 billion debt — the largest municipal bond default in US history.

The US response — to impose a Financial Control Board as a Wall Street collection agent, and recommend a minimum wage of $4.25 – may trigger a humanitarian crisis on the island.

The economic malaise is already extreme: with an 11.5 percent sales tax, a 60 percent water rate increase, multiple gasoline tax hikes, electrical rates and energy costs 250 percent higher than in the US, 30,000 government workers laid off, pension rollbacks, an increase in the retirement age and the closure of 150 schools.

One report found that, in the years 2013-14 alone, 105 different taxes had been raised in Puerto Rico.

After 96 years, the Jones Act (Merchant Marine Act of 1920, § 27) continues to strangle every corner of the insular economy.

Working class and middle-income Puerto Ricans are being squeezed off their own homeland. Over 80,000 of them are fleeing the island annually, leaving only 3.6 million to shoulder the rising tax burden.

In June 2015, Gov. Garcia-Padilla announced the obvious: that Puerto Rico is in a death spiral. But the governor failed to provide any solutions. And so, one year later, Puerto Rico faces a Financial Control Board, a humanitarian crisis and a growing outcry for independence from the United States.

What does this have to do with War Against All Puerto Ricans?


The history of the US – Puerto Rico relationship, the evolution of fatally inept US policies toward an island it never understood, has led to the insolvency of Puerto Rico and the plutocracy of a Financial Control Board.

This history is dissected and deeply documented in the book. In the end, every page of War Against All Puerto Ricans is an indictment of 118 years of US abuse, of its “territorial possession” in the Caribbean.

All over Puerto Rico, and in every city that asked me to present the book — in New York, Orlando, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Newark, Buffalo, Hartford, Holyoke — the same question that confounded Albizu Campos, is now being asked: “If owning one man (slavery) makes you a scoundrel, then how does owning a nation (Puerto Rico) make you a colonial benefactor?

That question can no longer be ignored.

In 1971, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee re-calibrated our nation’s moral compass with regard to Native Americans and their tragic history.

That same recalibration is long overdue for nine million Puerto Ricans, and the island that they call home.