Today is the birthday of Ramón Emeterio Betances y Alacán, who was born in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico on April 8, 1827, and died in Paris, France, on September 16, 1898. Betances was a Puerto Rican doctor, writer, abolitionist, nationalist, and promoter of independence movements in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Repubic, and Cuba. In Puerto Rico, he is well-known as for the Grito de Lares revolt and is called the father of the Puerto Rican independence movement. He was strongly opposed to racial prejudice.
Betances left Puerto Rico at age 10 to study in Toulouse, France. He later graduated from the Faculty of Medicine in Paris and returned to Puerto Rico as a medical doctor, ophthalmologist, and surgeon. After establishing himself as a doctor (having battled against the cholera epidemic along with Dr. José Francisco Basora), because of his revolutionary ideals, he was exiled numerous times, and spending time between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Haiti, St. Thomas, Curaçao, France, and, briefly, in the United States (New York), among others.
His writing include medical articles, treatises, and books (for example, El cólera: historia, medidas profilácticas, síntomas y tratamiento) as well as fiction, such as the story “La Vierge de Borinquén,” the novel Les Deux Indiens: Épisode de la conquéte de Borinquen, and numerous essays, such as “Washington haitiano” (Alexandre Pétion). He also wrote many proclamations, such as his most famous: Los diez mandamientos de los hombres libres [The Ten Commandments of Free Men, based on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen].
In July 1887, the French government awarded Betances the rank of Chévalier de la Légion d’honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honor) for his work as a medical doctor in France and as a diplomat for the Dominican Republic.