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Repeating Islands

News and commentary on Caribbean culture, literature, and the arts

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
theFederación 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

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
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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