"DE HOSTOS' POLITICAL THINKING IS DISTORTED,"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, VIEWPOINT, MONDAY, JANUARY 26, 1998
On January 11, Puerto Rico commemorated the 159th anniversary of the birth of Eugenio María de Hostos, an illustrious Puerto Rican known worldwide as an educator, humanist, abolitionist, thinker, philosopher, writer, politician and, above all, a master in every sense of the word.
It was with sadness and indignation to read and hear (as in previous years) flagrant distortions of de Hostos' political thinking. Some pro-independence extremists still persist in saying that de Hostos was not only an inflexible pro-independence radical, but anti-United States.
In fact, on the 100th commemoration this year of the landing in Puerto Rico of U.S. troops, some organizations carrying the name of de Hostos have condemned this landing as an "infamous invasion of Yankee imperialism." They don't say, of course, that in a manifesto addressed to Puerto Ricans about the landing, which de Hostos signed and helped write, it was said: "It is not the foreign invader that menaces us. It is the great North American people who with their power, wealth, morality, and standards of free federal institutions, are coming to emancipate us." (Meaning emancipation from Spain.)
What we have witnessed in the case of de Hostos confirms that ideological political fanaticism and false excessive nationalism produce cataracts in the eyes of those who, as a result, turned a blind eye to Puerto Rico's historical facts and political reality. As I predicted in my January 12 column, this excessive and false nationalism will be the order of the day this year, which has already given signs of being a year loaded with tensions, hostilities, misguided emotionalism, obstructionism, divisions in the Puerto Rican family, intolerance, protests, marches and demonstrations against measures of the present administration aimed, in good faith, at serving the best interest of Puerto Rico and its people.
As one who was born in de Hostos' hometown of Mayagüez, once again I am compelled to set the record straight on his political thinking. This as a tribute not only to this great patriot, but a tribute to those whom I owe much of my knowledge of de Hostos, including his son, the late Adolfo de Hostos, Puerto Rico's official historian from 1936 to 1950, and de Hostos' grandson the prominent surgeon, Dr. Eugenio María de Hostos Brunet. The facts show the characterization of de Hostos by some pro-independence sectors is wrong. In several of his writings, de Hostos' grandson pointed out not only that his grandfather believed that with a good command of the English language Puerto Ricans would be in a position to achieve equality with the people on mainland United States, but always thought Puerto Rico was too small to survive as an independent entity. This explains why de Hostos advocated the Federation of the Antilles.
On December 16, 1938, at the Eighth International Conference, held in Lima, Perú, de Hostos was declared "Citizen of the Americas." The distinguished Argentine educator, Bartolomé de Mitre, said de Hostos taught America to think. De Hostos had a clear, liberal, internationalist, flexible and pragmatic mind and helped to educate an entire continent. It is not surprising that he has been glorified in many countries where monuments, schools, avenues, streets and parks carry his name. There are hundreds of writings on his pedagogical and philosophical works, unfortunately unknown to most Puerto Ricans. This led my respected and admired professor at the University of Puerto Rico, and biographer of de Hostos, Antonio Pedreira, to say the de Hostos was "the unknown illustrious Puerto Rican."
In a January 17, 1899 interview in the San Juan newspaper at the time, El País, de Hostos said: "Puerto Rico is now in a position to become a territory of the American Union. It cannot go back to being a colony without the benefits of an ample autonomy. We want to be brothers of the Americans, not servants. We have the right to be first-class Americans, with all the prerogatives of a free country. So, let's hope for a civil government." On May 1, 1900, the first U.S. civil governor was inaugurated.
It is to be noted that on September 16, 1898, de Hostos proposed a plebiscite in which Puerto Ricans would exercise their right to decide the future of Puerto Rico's political status. With this in mind, he founded the League of Patriots, which was set up in Puerto Rico and New York City. The plebiscite was to be based on annexation to the United States or independence as legitimate and internationally recognized political status options. In this respect, de Hostos said: "We will accept annexation if it is the will of the Puerto Ricans. If not, we will give the Federation of the North the best tribute any nation could receive by asking for a temporary 20-year protectorate. It will not be a protectorate of force and power but one of guidance to liberty and progress."
De Hostos' plebiscite proposal did not receive support from the then-divided (still is!) Puerto Rican political leadership, which thought we was a "dreamer" and his proposal impossible to realize. His exhortation for consensus among Puerto Ricans in asking the U.S. government for a self-determination process on Puerto Rico's political status was equally ignored.
It is simply amazing that what de Hostos proposed 100 years ago with great political vision and dimension, is still valid and imperative to solve Puerto Rico's political status. It is equally amazing and sad that we are still lacking the consensus needed to firmly support federal legislation to start the process that would bring about the solution of our political status dilemma.
Disappointed and frustrated by the failure of his plebiscite proposal, de Hostos returned to the Dominican Republic, where he had accepted a position as Director of the Central College and Inspector of Education. He died and was buried in the Dominican Republic on August 11, 1903.
As we have seen, the characterization of de Hostos as an inflexible pro-independence radical and as anti-United States, is a flagrant and gross distortion of his political thinking. Using his name in hate-U.S. demonstrations condemning the U.S. landing in 1898 and characterizing it as an "infamous invasion of Yankee imperialism" is a shameful political campaign strategy.
One of de Hostos' many famous sayings was: "To be a man is the most extraordinary thing among the ordinary things on earth." And, indeed, Eugenio María de Hostos was a man!