Antonia Martínez Lagares (1950-1970)

Although belated, I wanted to render tribute to the memory of Antonia (Antonia Martínez Lagares), the now emblematic figure, who still represents in a tragic way, the University of Puerto Rico’s ongoing struggle for dignity. A student at the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras (UPR-RP), the 20-year-old education student born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, was killed by a police officer on March 4, 1970. She died during protests organized by the Federación Universitaria Pro Independencia (FUPI) and the Comité de Acción Femenina Universitaria (CAFU) [Pro-Independence University Federation and the University Women’s Action Committee] against the presence of the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) on campus. Martínez was one of two UPR-RP students to die during rioting in the early 70s.

“On March 4, 1970, during conflicts caused when the riot police was sent to UPR-RP campus to control students protesting the presence of ROTC presence on the campus, Antonia looked from her lodging’s balcony, on the second floor above Ponce de León Avenue. While police officers beat down other fellow students, she shouted at them ‘Asesinos’ [Assassins]. One of the police officers looked up at the balcony, took out his gun and shot her. The bullet pierced her head and injured in the neck another student that was standing with her. Antonia died soon after at Auxilio Mutuo hospital. Celestino Santiago, the other wounded student, told the events and identified some of the present police officers. After that, a police officer was accused, but was absolved on trial.

Later on, on the declarations of some police agents to the Senatorial Juridical Commission of Puerto Rico on the investigations of the Cerro Maravilla Incident case, a police agent denounced the cover-up by the Police Department and the FBI of the murder of Antonia Martínez, declaring that in order to cover the case, a police officer that had nothing to do with it was accused so he would be absolved. The murderer was protected and has never been tried before a court for this crime.”

Antonia Martínez’s death was taken as a symbol of police abuse and oppression. Two murals stand as a tribute to her: one is located at the Humanities Building of the UPR-PR (first photo above) and the other (see second photo), commemorating the 40th anniversary of the killing of Martínez, stands in the city of Ponce, Puerto Rico. In 2010, the latter mural was vandalized. Led by former political prisoner Rafael Cancel Miranda, activists from various organizations supported a group of urban artists to restore the mural.

This video of Antonio “El Topo” Cabán Vale’s song “Antonia,” makes me cry every time:

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