February 17, 1906 – July 25, 1996
Blanca Canales (February 17, 1906 – July 25, 1996) was an educator and a Puerto Rican Nationalist leader who may have been the first woman to lead a revolt against the United States. Canales joined the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1931 and helped organize the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party.
As a leader of the Nationalist party in Jayuya, she stored arms in her house, which were used in a revolt in 1950 against United States rule over the island. During the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party Revolts of the 1950s she led members in the Jayuya Uprising, in which Nationalists took control of the town for three days.
On October 26, 1950, Albizu Campos held a political meeting in Fajardo. After the meeting Albizu Campos received word that he was going to be arrested and that his house in San Juan was surrounded by the police. He escaped from Fajardo and ordered the revolution to start. On October 27, the police in the town of Peñuelas, intercepted and fired upon a caravan of nationalists, killing four. On October 30, the nationalists were ordered to stage uprisings in the towns of Ponce, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Arecibo, Utuado (Utuado Uprising), Nationalist attack of San Juan and Jayuya.
The first battle of the Nationalist uprisings occurred in the pre-dawn hours of October 29, in the barrio Macaná in the town of Peñuelas. The police surrounded the house of the mother of Melitón Muñiz the president of the Peñuelas Nationalist Party, under the pretext that he was storing weapons for the Nationalist Revolt. Without warning, the police fired upon the nationalists and a firefight between both factions ensued, which resulted with the death of two nationalists and six police officers wounded. El ataque Nacionalista a La Fortaleza; by Pedro Aponte Vázquez; Page 7; Publisher: Publicaciones RENÉ; ISBN 978-1-931702-01-0
A plaque was placed at the monument to the Jayuya Uprising participants in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, honoring the women of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Canales’ name is on the second line of the third plate.
Canales returned to Jayuya and worked at a local rural school. In 1931, she joined the Nationalist Party and was active in organizing the Daughters of Freedom, the women’s branch of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. During the 1940s, Canales’ active political participation was limited to making monetary collections because her job kept her constantly traveling from San Juan to Ponce.
Prior to her joining the party, a series of increasingly hostile events between the U.S.-appointed government and the Nationalists took place in the 1930s. In 1936, Albizu Campos was arrested and on March 31, 1937 the infamous Ponce Massacre took place. In 1947, Albizu Campos was released from jail.
In 1956, Canales was transferred to the Women’s Jail in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico. In 1967, after 17 years in prison, Canales was given a full pardon by Puerto Rican Governor Roberto Sanchez Vilella. She continued to be an active independence advocate until the day she died.
Canales died in 1996 in her hometown of Jayuya. The house in which Blanca and Nemesio Canales were born and raised, was turned into a museum by the City of Jayuya.
Puerto Rican Gag Law
On May 21, 1948, a bill was introduced before the Puerto Rican Senate which would restrain the rights of the independence and Nationalist movements in the island. The Senate, which at the time was controlled by the PPD and presided by Luis Muñoz Marín, approved the bill. This bill, also known as the Ley de la Mordaza (Gag Law) and Law 53, received the approval of the legislature on May 21, 1948. The bill, which resembled the anti-communist Smith Law passed in the United States, was signed into law on June 10, 1948, by the U.S.-appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Jesús T. Piñero and became known as Ley 53 (Law 53).
Under this new law it would be a crime to print, publish, sell, or exhibit any material intended to paralyze or destroy the insular government; or to organize any society, group or assembly of people with a similar destructive intent. Anyone accused and found guilty of disobeying the law could be sentenced to ten years imprisonment, a fine of $10,000 dollars (U.S.), or both.
According to Dr. Leopoldo Figueroa, member of the Partido Estadista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Statehood Party) and the only member of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives who did not belong to the PPD, the law was repressive and in violation of the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees Freedom of Speech. As such, this was an assault on the civil rights of every Puerto Rican.
On June 21, 1948, Albizu Campos gave a speech in the town of Manati, which explained how this Gag Law violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Nationalists from all over the island attended – to hear Campos’s speech, and to prevent the police from arresting him.
On October 30, 1950, the Nationalist leaders in Jayuya – including Canales, her cousin Elio Torresola (Griselio Torresola’s brother) and Carlos Irizarry – entered the town of Jayuya in a bus and a car. Canales led the group to her house in Barrio Coabey, a neighborhood of Jayuya, where she had been stockpiling arms and ammunition.Miñi Seijo Bruno; The Nationalist Insurrection in Puerto Rico, pp. 121-127; Editorial Crelisa, 1989; ISBN 968-6308-22-9Federico Ribes Tovar, Albizu Campos: Puerto Rican Revolutionary, p. 106; Plus Ultra Publishers, 1971
Armed with the weapons she had stored, Canales and the men attacked and occupied the police station. The Nationalists then occupied the post office, approached the telephone station, and cut the phone lines.El Vocero; March 3, 1979; p. 6 Canales led the group to the town plaza, raised the Puerto Rican Flag (which was outlawed at the time), and declared Puerto Rico a Free Republic. Casa Museo Blanca Canales After being notified that Carlos Irizarry was wounded, Canales hurried to the town hospital. But, the police had shut down the hospital, and she found Irizarry leaning against a lamp post. He had been wounded in a gunfight at the police station. Canales rushed him to a hospital in Utuado, the neighboring town.
Jayuya was under Nationalist control for three days until it was attacked by U.S military planes, artillery, mortar fire, grenades, U.S. infantry troops, and the Puerto Rican National Guard commanded by the Puerto Rico Adjutant General Major General Luis R. Esteves, which occupied the town. The Nationalists surrendered on November 1, 1950.
Canales was arrested and accused of killing a police officer, wounding three others, and burning down the post office. Following a brief federal trial, she was sentenced to life imprisonment plus sixty years. In June 1951, she was sent to the Alderson Federal Prison Camp in Alderson, West Virginia.
After being convicted of assaulting United States Congressmen in the 1954 Nationalist attack on the US House of Representatives, in which they shot and wounded five Representatives, Lolita Lebrón was also imprisoned at this facility.
Canales (birth name: Blanca Canales Torresola ) was born in Jayuya, Puerto Rico. She was the younger sister of writer and politician Nemesio Canales. Her family was politically active and her father was part of the “Partido Unión de Puerto Rico” (Union Party of Puerto Rico). It lobbied for the independence of the island. Her mother was a strong-willed woman who encouraged her children to think for themselves., Peace Host website (Spanish), n.d.
As a child, Canales read many books and stories about other nations and their heroes. She often accompanied her father to political meetings, where she enjoyed the speeches, flag-waving, and patriotic fervor. Canales finished her primary and secondary education in Jayuya.
In 1924, her father died and her mother moved to Ponce. Canales graduated from Ponce High School and, in May 1930, earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Puerto Rico. Before graduating, she attended a conference given by the President of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party, Pedro Albizu Campos, and was impressed by the ideals of independence which he preached. Canales returned to the university that same year, and took a course of study in social work.