• U.S.

The Hemisphere: Martyrdom Denied

2 minute read

After he was sentenced to death for his attempted assassination of President Harry Truman in November 1950, Oscar Collazo† showed no regret. Though he had lived in the U.S. for 14 of his 38 years, he burned with an unquenchable conviction that the U.S. had “enslaved” his native Puerto Rico. In his cell in the District of Columbia prison, the fanatical nationalist spent his time studying Latin, teaching a fellow prisoner Spanish, poring over the biographies of the great liberators Bolivar and San Martin. He would sign no petition for clemency on his behalf addressed to the White House. To his wife Rosa, he wrote: “[I] refuse to play the slave asking his master for mercy.”

But other Latin Americans rallied to intercede for the zealot. From Guatemala, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil and El Salvador flowed petitions and resolutions. Puerto Ricans in New York City formed a Save Collazo Committee, got 30,000 signatures on a clemency petition. From Puerto Rico came messages pointing out that the island has no death penalty. Last week Puerto Rico’s Governor Luis Mufioz Marin sent an urgent telegram to the White House. The U.S. State Department advised the President that the execution of Collazo would damage U.S.. relations with all Latin America. Eight days before Collazo’s anticipated martyrdom, and one day before Puerto Rico became a “free commonwealth” (see above), President Truman commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.

†His fellow conspirator, Griselio Torresola, and Presidential Guard Leslie Coffelt were killed in the gun battle in front of Washington’s Blair-Lee House.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com