Doña Consuelo de Corretjer

We saw poet/revolutionary Juan Antonio Corretjer on a number of occasions, always conspicuous for his black beret, and regal bearing. He was ever present at rallies and meetings of CUCRE (Committee Against Repression). It was not difficult to get his consent for an interview. But something always came up. He was off to Mexico on behalf of imprisoned William Morales. He was in the middle of an important article. And, finally, he was too ill to see us. Knowing him to be an outspoken revolutionary, the gentle tenderness of his last reply struck me. "I'm so sorry. My wife and I did want to meet you." And then came news of his death, January, 1985, throwing all of Puerto Rico into deep mourning. His life had been one of constant struggle for the freedom of his country, for which he had suffered years of imprisonment. "Commandante Juan Antonio Corretjer, ¡Presente!" was the universal cry.

Rafael Cancel wrote a beautiful tribute to Juan Antonio. "And do you know something else that I admired in you? To see you seated on the benches of the public plazas with your Doña Consuelo at your side, and to see you rise with all the pain of your shoulder and walk towards the friends who were coming to greet you, not waiting for them to walk to you—these were little gestures of sublime greatness."

A description of one of his books of poetry speaks of its beautiful balance between the classical and the modern. "He transports us into the world of his love for Doña Consuelo, opening his collection of poems with some verses of Homer, in which he speaks of the nobility and strength of husbands and wives when in heart and mind they are one." Such was the relationship between Juan Antonio and Doña Consuelo.

Doña Consuelo, in turn, spoke in an interview published in Claridad of the indestructible love between her and Juan Antonio that carried them through hunger, sickness, persecution, and every crisis. There were moments of danger, too, when, returning from a meeting of the Socialist League, a bullet barely missed the forehead of Juan Antonio.

In a Claridad tribute to Doña Consuelo, she is acclaimed as a heroine. "This extraordinary woman, by her intelligence and sensibility and valor holds a place of honor in the line of combatants for National Independence." It speaks of her great sense of humor that helped her survive in the struggle for freedom.

I finally did get to meet Doña Consuelo de Corretjer. I saw her first at a welcoming dinner for Pablo Marcano, political prisoner who had just been released. With her was a young psychologist, Iris Rodríguez, who promised to take me to her home in Guayanabo. (I later learned that Iris' house had been searched during the August 30 arrests.)

A narrow, woodsy road led to the simple cottage of Doña Consuelo. There, with suitcase packed, was José Luis Rodríguez. The neatly groomed young man of twenty-four gave his quiet farewells. He was off to Chicago to face trial for sedition. It was a moment of apprehension and sadness.

As we partook of cafe con leche, Doña Consuelo spoke, in a low, quiet voice, of her first contacts with Nationalists, with Pedro Albizu Campos and with Juan Antonio, who had served in prison with Don Pedro and later became Secretary General of the Nationalist Party.

She was born in Santurce, the seventh in a family of ten. Her conservative Episcopalian parents failed to understand that it was their own teachings of the principles of justice that led her to embrace the Nationalist cause of independence, and eventually to enter the Communist Party. Her parents had taught her to think, regardless of their own convictions.

Two events in the 1930s influenced her thinking: the Spanish Civil War and the imprisonment of Puerto Rican Nationalists. It was then that she began her work of liberation.

One of her activities had been to open the Betances School in order to further an understanding of Puerto Rican national heritage. Students would bring their children to learn what was never presented in the public schools. In keeping with the effort to destroy the independence movement, the school was finally closed in 1950.

She, as well as Juan Antonio, served time in prison. She was charged, in 1969, with conspiracy against the United States government. Of the eight charges, she was sentenced for only one: illegal possession of arms. She was held in maximum security, apart from her fellow socialists.

At one time she studied art, painting and music and thought of becoming a concert pianist. But she was directed into political action.

Juan Antonio, in time, left the Nationalist Party to found the "Liga Socialista Puertorriqueña." One of his primary concerns was the support of Puerto Rican political prisoners—primarily the so-called POWs (prisoners of war), and those who resisted questioning by the Federal Grand Jury.

As a result of their activities, their phone, along with thousands of others in Puerto Rico, was tapped. Proof of this came once when someone calling the Corretjer family found himself connect with the police department. And their daughter was once talking with her daughter by phone. Upon closing the conversation, she lifted the receiver again only to hear the entire conversation played back. While going into homes to give piano lessons, Doña Consuelo would find herself followed by undercover agents.

Along with refusal to recognize U.S.-controlled elections, Juan Antonio and Doña Consuelo refused any government aid, such as welfare or social security. They eked out a living with Doña Consuelo's teaching, and the sale of Juan Antonio's books. Doña Consuelo continues to subsist with dignity on a very meager income, accepting gifts of clothing, and the free use of a house. Her life is dedicated to service rather than to self-gratification. She is content to live on faith rather than to be beholden to U.S. charity.

Doña Consuelo accepts the possibility of armed revolution to confront the violence of the U.S. military takeover and occupation. She believes that in time hunger, unemployment, the militarization of Puerto Rico, the presence of nuclear weapons, and the threat of Puerto Ricans being sent to kill blood brothers in Central America will create enough anger for armed revolt.

As I commented on the number of poets involved in revolutionary thought, she remarked that Latin Americans are poets by nature. One sees this in the number of poets in the Sandinista leadership in Nicaragua, and with such Puerto Rican patriots as Juan Antonio Corretjer, Lolita Lebrón, Rafael Cancel, Francisco Matos Paoli and many others.

Meanwhile, Doña Consuelo, despite a recent stroke, carries on the political idealism of Juan Antonio, the publishing of his works, and creating of her home a shrine where visitors come for inspiration and support in the cause of freedom.