Betances y Alacán, Ramón Emeterio (1827–1898)

views updated

Betances y Alacán, Ramón Emeterio (1827–1898)

Ramón Emeterio Betances y Alacán was born in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico on April 8, 1827, to Felipe Betances Ponce and Maria del Carmen Alacán. His parents were a well-off Dominican-Puerto Rican mulatto family. When Betances reached primary-school age, he was sent to get a college degree in southern France, where he received the support and nurturing of a French-Puerto Rican family. In 1846 Betances earned a B.A. in philosophy, and after a brief stay in Puerto Rico he returned to France to pursue a degree in medicine, which he earned in 1855. That same year Betances returned to Puerto Rico and established his residence and medical practice in the town of Mayagüez. There he earned an excellent reputation as a doctor, risking his life when he controlled successfully an outbreak of cholera in Puerto Rico. Because he offered his services for free to the poor, he was given the name Doctor de los pobres ("Doctor of the poor people").

In addition to treating the poor, Betances was an abolitionist who bought the freedom of many children born into slavery. In his famous proclamation "Ten Commandments of Free Men" (1867), Betances called for the abolition of slavery, freedom of speech, freedom of worship, and the right to elect one's officials. The proclamation appears to be inspired by the Haitian Revolution, and scholars affirm that Betances sought in the revolution a model to emulate against colonialism and slavery. In addition to his abolitionist activities, Betances organized the first rebellion against Spanish colonial rule in Puerto Rico, known as El Grito de Lares ("The Cry of Lares"), in 1868. The rebellion was a failure, and Betances fled to New York City in April 1869. In the 1860s Betances traveled throughout the United States and the Caribbean, where he succeeded in establishing contacts with important Cuban and Dominican revolutionary leaders such as Ramón Estrada Palma and Gregorio Luperón, who became the president of the Dominican Republic in 1879. In recognition of Betances's aid in the Dominican struggle against Spain, President Luperón appointed Betances an ambassador to Paris and London. Betances never returned to Puerto Rico. He dedicated the last twenty-five years of his life to the cause of an Antillean Confederation, with Haiti as the lead country. After the Spanish-American War the United States established a new system of colonial rule in the Caribbean, and until the last moment of his life, Betances vehemently rejected the outcome of the war. Betances passed away on September 16, 1898 in Neuilly, France. In 1920 his remains were brought to his hometown of Cabo Rojo. Puerto Ricans celebrate his birthday as a national holiday.

See alsoSlavery: Spanish America .


Bonafaux, Luis. Betances. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1970.

Estrade, Paul, and Félix Ojeda Reyes. Pasión por la libertad: Actas, Coloquio Internacional "El Independentismo Puertorriqueño, de Betances a Nuestros Días." San Juan, Puerto Rico: Instituto de Estudios del Caribe, Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 2000.

Jiménez de Wageheim, Olga. Puerto Rico's Revolt for Independence: El Grito de Lares. Princeton, NJ: M. Wiener Publishers, 1993.

Maldonado Denis, Manuel. Betances, revolucionario antillano y otros ensayos. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Antillana, 1970.

Ojeda Reyes, Félix. La manigua en París: correspondencia diplomática de Betances. City: San Juan, PR: Centro de Estudios Avanzados y del Caribe Publisher, 1984.

Ramos Mattei, Andrés A. Betances en el ciclo revolucionario antillano: 1867–1875. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1987.

Suárez Díaz, Ada. El doctor Ramón Emeterio Betances y la abolición de la esclavitud. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, 1980.

                                        Milagros Denis