Rafael Cancel Miranda, in our hearts

San Juan, Puerto Rico

On the night of Monday, March 2, Rafael Cancel Miranda, the undisputed leader of Puerto Rican nationalism, passed into immortality. And it could be said that it is with his head held high, just as he lived, offering a last blow to Yankee colonialism. In spite of the illness that threatened his body, his strong willpower allowed him to fulfill his wishes: to die after March 1, the anniversary of that day when in 1954, along with Lolita Lebrón, Irvin Flores and Andrés Figueroa Cordero, he climbed the steps of the United States Congress to shoot out the farce of the recently imposed Commonwealth status in Puerto Rico.

But, even more, March 2 has another connotation. On that day in 1917, the United States had imposed American citizenship, only a month before that country entered into World War I. And in 2017, the deposed pro-Yankee governor Ricardo Roselló had signed an executive order to make that nefarious day a holiday, “American Citizenship Day.” Don Rafa, as many people called him, chose that day as his last, so now, instead of the day of colonial nationality, the life of an immortal in the struggle for the liberation of the country will be celebrated.

The farewell days began on Friday, March 6, in San Juan and ended on Sunday, March 8, with the burial in his beloved hometown of Mayagüez.

They were highly emotional days where the independence movement accompanied him in the various farewell activities. Former Puerto Rican political prisoners, the leadership and the bases of the different parties and organizations that fight for independence, friends and the people in general accompanied his widow María de los Ángeles Vázquez and their son, Rafael Cancel Vázquez. Speeches, elegies, patriotic songs, poetry, and above all, the revolutionary national anthem paid tribute to our national hero.

The flag of Puerto Rico was always accompanied by those of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela — countries with which Don Rafa had a deep revolutionary friendship — presiding over the rooms where the coffin was brought so that his people, those people that Don Rafa loved so much, paid their last respect.

The first stop was at the College of Lawyers in San Juan, where Cadets of the Republic, the Lolitas (group of women who commemorate the centenary of Lolita Lebrón this 2020) and hundreds of people came to welcome his body. Then, at noon, he was moved to the Puerto Rican Athenaeum where the program was followed. Then, we walked through the streets of Old San Juan towards the Cathedral, where a service was held.

Early Saturday, a caravan set off to Mayagüez in the western end of the island. In different cities there were concentrations of people with their fists raised waiting for the passage of the procession, with the Puerto Rican flag and with banners alluding to Cancel Miranda. In several places they had thrown flowers into the street, forming beautiful fragrant carpets. More cars joined as the caravan proceeded. Murals painted on walls and banners were seen saying goodbye to the national hero, with messages of appreciation. “Goodbye Commander!” and “The goal is reached sooner on your feet than on your knees,” a characteristic phrase of Don Rafa.

In Mayagüez we arrived at the Casa Grande Museum, where the wake concluded. The next day, a mass was celebrated in the city’s Cathedral, officiated by the Bishop of Mayagüez, Álvaro Corrada del Río, who addressed the audience with a fiery message which he emphasized by hitting the staff on the floor, while making the crowd remember and shout the maxim of Don Pedro Albizu Campos, “the homeland is courage and sacrifice,” urging those present to defend Puerto Rico, especially in these difficult historical moments of neoliberalism and dictatorship of a Fiscal Control Board ruling. He ended his message with “¡Viva Puerto Rico Libre!”

From the cathedral we proceeded to the cemetery where Don Rafael’s father is also buried. After a few words of farewell and exhortation to the unity of the patriotic forces by Rubén Berríos, president of the Puerto Rican Independence Party, whom Cancel Miranda had asked to make his farewell, Rafael, the youngest son of Cancel Miranda, spoke. He read a message from his father “Do not cry for me, I am not here anymore, I am in your hearts. And I will continue there. What I do ask is that you always keep the [Puerto Rican] flag raised, that you always walk with your head held high, that you do not be deceived, that you do not become zombies, [because] the media aim to control our minds, that you do not fight with each other [independence] comrades. Who is the enemy? The Yankee empire!”

Rafael Cancel Miranda is now in our minds and hearts as a noble example and incentive for the fight towards the definitive liberation of Puerto Rico. Rafael Cancel Miranda, ¡PRESENTE!

 SLL photos: Berta Joubert-Ceci