Ramon EMETERIO Betances
A doctor and surgeon by trade, Ramón Emeterio Betances was also a scientist, diplomat, writer, and abolitionist who fought against colonial rule and helped enslaved Puerto Ricans flee to neighboring countries where slavery had already been abolished. Born in Cabo Rojo to Dominican and Puerto Rican parents, Betances (1827—1898) dreamed of a “revolution of love” that would radically transform the Caribbean. Although his father became a sugar planter, Betances rejected the racism and privileges of planter society. When his father changed the family’s official classification from "mixed race" to "white,” which entitled the family to further legal and property rights, Betances insisted that he and his entire family were not blancuzcos but rather prietuzcos, meaning “blackish.” In addition to asserting his black identity, Betances often signed his letters as “El Antillano” meaning “the Antillean,” identifying himself with the peoples of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.
In 1856, a year after completing his medical degrees in Paris, Betances settled in the western city of Mayagüez. There, he was known for baptizing enslaved children with the "waters of freedom." Baptized children were more expensive; therefore, Betances used to buy the freedom of these children in the hope that this could prevent the return to slavery. Betances was also a proponent of free and universal health care, and was known as “the doctor of the poor.” He treated patients for free and co-established a temporary hospital that contributed tot contain a cholera epidemic and eventually became the Hospital San Antonio, a municipal hospital that still exists today. Like other activists of the era, Betances constantly confronted opposition from the authorities. When he attempted to start a university, the Spanish government, which feared that secondary education would incite anti-colonial revolt, thrwarted his efforts.
Betances’s defense of justice included his fight against Spanish colonial rule in Puerto Rico. In 1868, Betances planned “El Grito de Lares,” the first armed rebellion against Spanish colonialism. When the revolt was suppressed, Betances sought refuge in New York, where he became part of the Cuban Revolutionary Party and established the Revolutionary Section of Puerto Rico with Segundo Ruiz Belvis. He also collaborated with the New York-based Junta Central Republicana de Cuba y Puerto Rico (Republican Council of Cuba and Puerto Rico) in their efforts to seek independence for Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spain. He later traveled through the Caribbean and served as ambassador in Europe for the Dominican Republic. Betances lived in Paris for the last twenty-five years of his life and continued to support the idea of a Caribbean Confederation, a vision of independence from colonial hold and emancipation of all people.
For further reading: Félix Ojeda Reyes and Paul Estrade, Pasión por la Libertad (Rio Piedras: Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2000) and Khalil Chaar-Pérez, “A Revolution of Love: Ramón Emeterio Betances, Anténor Firmin, and Affective Communities in the Caribbean,” The Global South, Vol. 7, No. 2, Dislocations (Fall 2013), pp. 11-36, https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/globalsouth.7.2.11#metadata_info_tab_contents
Viewing: Tito Román, El Antillano (2014), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEByT0wghBw