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Thanks For The Gifts


October 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

In Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic film "The Last Emperor," there is a pivotal scene in which a young Pu Yi, China’s last monarch, and his Scottish tutor reflect on the importance of words.

"Why are words important?" asks the child. "Because, your Majesty," says the tutor, "if you cannot say what you mean you will never be able to mean what you say, and a gentleman should always mean what he says."

"Are you a gentleman?" asks Pu Yi. "I try to be," responds his teacher.

Luis A. Ferre was a gentleman. He always said what he meant and always meant what he said. A rare trait in a politician, perhaps, but then Ferre wasn’t a politician. He was a statesman.

He was also a teacher, not in the formal sense of one who provides formal instruction in a classroom, but in the more demanding role of one who teaches by example.

During his century-long life, don Luis gave us many gifts, but none greater than the gift of his example. For the better part of the 20th century, he was, if you will, Puerto Rico’s tutor.

He taught us by example that leading a successful business enterprise isn’t at odds with—and perhaps requires—management’s generous commitment to improving the standard of living of workers beyond the regular payment of wages. The Christmas bonus, supplemental cost-of-living increases, and workers’ pension fund that Ferre implemented at Porto Rico Ironworks, the family foundry, were precursors of the labor legislation that would be implemented in Puerto Rico decades later, some during his term as governor between 1969 and 1972.

He taught us by example that there is no economic development without adequate infrastructure development. It is true that Puerto Rico’s journey to an industrialized economy had started two decades earlier. But it was during Ferre’s governorship that the concept of infrastructure development as the cornerstone of economic growth was really invented in Puerto Rico. To this day, some of the most important infrastructure projects ever built on the island, notably the San Juan-to-Ponce expressway, were built during his term. Those projects boosted short-term job creation then and continue to sustain our economic development today.

He taught us by example also that economic development alone isn’t enough to satisfy the human spirit. And so he bequeathed to us the Ponce Museum of Art, one of the best in the world; the Performing Arts Center in San Juan; the Catholic University in Ponce; and so many other cultural and educational institutions that in great measure define who we are as a society and make Puerto Rico a much better place in which to live.

He taught us by example that the notion of a representative democracy—with separate but equally powerful executive, legislative, and judicial branches—is an empty concept unless there is a real plurality in the political process. Although Puerto Rico had boasted a democratic constitution since 1952, it wasn’t until Ferre won the governorship that the island experienced a truly viable and democratic two-party system. Thus, Puerto Rico finally became a democracy. In a 1999 interview with CARIBBEAN BUSINESS, Ferre referred to the end of the single-party rule and the advent of true democracy in Puerto Rico as his single greatest achievement. He was right.

Finally, Ferre taught us by example to be gentle. To be gentlemen and gentlewomen. If he, ever the gentleman, was able to achieve all those great things to the unanimous appreciation, respect, admiration, and even love from friend and foe alike, couldn’t we all—shouldn’t we all—in our shops, in our businesses, in our classrooms and, yes, even in our political parties, aspire to emulate him?

Thank you, don Luis, for your example. And for all the other gifts.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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