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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Ferre Never Lost Statehood Dream

Associated Press

October 22, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico -- Luis A. Ferre, a philanthropist and former governor of Puerto Rico who became the patriarch of the territory's U.S. statehood movement, died Tuesday. He was 99.

Ferre, who had been hospitalized for weeks with pneumonia, died of respiratory failure, with his family at his side, said Jose Serra, a spokesman for the family.

The venerated "Don Luis" had played a prominent role in Puerto Rican politics since World War II, chasing the ideal of U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico while overseeing his charitable foundation.

"Puerto Rico has lost a man of principles who dedicated his life to his ideals," said Gov. Sila Calderon, who ordered flags flown at half-staff.

San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini called him "an engineer of dreams and an executor of great works."

Ferre was a member of the assembly that produced Puerto Rico's 1952 constitution. He founded the pro-statehood New Progressive Party in 1967 and was governor from 1969 through 1972.

He stayed involved in politics, testifying before U.S. congressional panels in favor of statehood and participating in presidential nominating conventions. He remained chairman of the island's branch of the Republican Party and served as Puerto Rico's Senate president from 1977 to 1980.

"He's a friend, and I like him very much," former President Bush told The Associated Press on Oct. 10.

Born Feb. 17, 1904, in the southern city of Ponce, Ferre was the grandson of a French engineer who worked on the Panama Canal before settling in Cuba. His father, Antonio, moved to Puerto Rico as a young man and married Maria Aguayo Casals, a cousin of the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who lived in Puerto Rico.

Ferre studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and trained at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was an accomplished classical pianist.

He and his brother started the Puerto Rico Cement Co. in Ponce, the source of the family's wealth. Ferre also founded the city's library, opened the Ponce Museum of Art and bought the newspaper, which was on the brink of folding. His son moved the newspaper to San Juan, and El Nuevo Dia is now the island's biggest daily newspaper.

It was during his university days, Ferre said, that he developed a passion for the "American way of democracy" and eventual statehood for Puerto Rico, which was seized as war booty from Spain in 1898.

As a commonwealth, Puerto Ricans receive some federal benefits, vote in U.S. presidential primaries and do not pay federal taxes. They cannot vote for president, however, and send only one representative to Congress who can vote only in committee.

Statehood lost in non-binding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998, but Ferre never abandoned his dream.

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