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Luis A. Ferre: Renaissance Man
Pillar Of Progress
Shaper Of The Puerto Rican Agenda
Luis A. Ferre: `He Was Puerto Rico's Renaissance Man'
BY PETER FONTANES
October 24, 2003
The death of Luis A. Ferré, former Puerto Rico governor and founder and patriarch of the modern-day pro-statehood movement, invokes a deep sense of sadness. Those who knew him will miss his friendship, but the greater loss is the absence of his wit, intellect and integrity in a world where these traits are scarce.
I met him nearly 20 years ago while doing a college project on the status issue. After two days in his office and despite his busy schedule, Don Luis patiently converted me into a staunch proponent of Puerto Rican statehood. He did it by employing quiet and steady logic, as opposed to emotional jargons and empty platitudes -- and with respect for the opposing position.
To be a young Puerto Rican statehooder during the 1960s and '70s in New York City was a lonely voyage. Nonetheless, Don Luis always would tell me that you fight the fight when you feel you are right and everything else will follow. As I saw the statehood movement grow in Puerto Rico and on the mainland over the years, I came to appreciate fully his message of tenacity and perseverance.
During the last year of his administration as governor, I served as assistant director of the New Progressive Party, and we talked often during breaks from official party meetings. While enjoying some café con leche, he taught me much about the politics of the times and about life, art and the meaning of being a Hispanic American.
Simply stated, Don Luis was a caballero, a gentleman. He was as humble a man as you can find, yet he was aware of the greatness and the gravity of the responsibility that he carried as an actor in events of historic significance. Pomp and ceremonies never really moved him, but to hear him play classical piano was to see a man lost in the simplicity of beauty.
Once, returning from a campaign trip to Ponce, he turned around and told me to look out the window. With a sparkling gleam in his eyes and with a subtle but effervescent grin, Don Luis instructed me to look at the beautiful view of the shoreline. There was no doubt in my mind that this man truly loved Puerto Rico.
As we campaigned in the slums, I noticed that he would never shy away from a hug, from the poorest of his constituents. I recall so many times that I have campaigned with other politicians who hated even a handshake from the public. Not Don Luis! He would wade into the crowds joyfully. No matter how tired he was, he would always stop to acknowledge you and let you know that you were important. He was energized by people.
Don Luis had generously donated monies to the arts and was a founder of the Museo de Ponce. His devotion to Puerto Rican art and culture was second to none. He was, no doubt, Puerto Rico's Renaissance man.
The 99-year-old Don Luis left his imprint on a new generation of young Puerto Ricans from all walks of life, including Nick Lugo, the head of Nick Lugo Travels; Frank Vázquez, head investment banker from Bear Sterns; María Román, New York Gov. George Pataki's advisor; and former Puerto Rican Senate President Charlie Rodríguez.
Sadly, Don Luis did not live to see the day that Puerto Rico will become a state of the Union. His passing should stir our resolve to see that his dream becomes our reality. That should be our monument to him. Putting political disagreement aside, he was someone that everyone genuinely liked, respected and admired. His greatness lies in the fact that no one can speak ill of him as a man.
Peter Fontanes is a founder of Destiny 51, a pro-statehood organization based in New York City.
A Pillar Of Progress Is Gone
GUILLERMO I. MARTINEZ SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
October 23, 2003
For some unknown reason, I could not part with the book when a large part of my father's library went to a local university two weeks ago. Maybe it was because the book was a present from former Puerto Rican Gov. Luis A. Ferre, who had autographed it for my father. The book was a collection of Ferre's speeches and articles.
Maybe what swayed me to keep the book was that it reminded me of the years I covered Ferre as a young journalist in Washington, D.C. These were the first thoughts that came to mind when news came that Ferre had died in Puerto Rico. He was 99.
It was a kinder, gentler environment between journalists and politicians back then. We looked at ideas, at principles, at history as it was occurring. We had the possibility of talking and thinking; agreeing to agree or disagree with respect, without being disagreeable.
It was back in 1969 when I first met Ferre. Puerto Ricans elected him governor on a platform that called for the island commonwealth to become the fifty-first state of the Union. He was the first estadista (as advocates of statehood are called on the island) elected governor. All those before him, including Luis Munoz Marin, the architect of the commonwealth status for Puerto Rico, had been advocates of those special ties that bind the United States and the island together.
Some in their hearts secretly yearned for independence. That was not Ferre's case. He was proud of his Puerto Rican heritage and of his American ties. He firmly believed that the commonwealth status should not be permanent. It was, in his mind, transitory, a period of time that would gradually pave the way for Puerto Rico to become a state. One with a different language and culture, yet still an integral part of the United States of America. He worked for Puerto Ricans living on the island and for those who migrated to the mainland.
The governor did not raise his voice when he spoke. Yet his ideas were firm, clear. He believed that Puerto Rico could and should play an important role in establishing closer ties between the United States and Latin America. He was an advocate for better pay, better benefits and a better life for the poor in Puerto Rico and for those throughout the hemisphere. He had close ties to the Republican Party, but it was difficult to wrap an American political label around his views.
Ferre was one of those men who did not think in terms of borders separating rich and poor. In a letter to James Haggerty, White House aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ferre advocated a common economic market to strengthen the democratic regimes of the hemisphere. He believed the United States should help create an assistance program for Latin American nations similar to the Marshall Plan established at the end of World War II.
He preached for an international minimum wage, paid vacations, social security, and a workweek with a minimum and maximum number of hours on the job. These were his dreams, for Puerto Rico and for all countries in the hemisphere.
Ferre was much a product of his time, and believed Puerto Rico was a vivid example of why American democracy and freedom provided a better system of government than communism.
In a speech given to Cuban exiles living in Puerto Rico back in 1971, Ferre phrased the choice in simple terms: "Latin America must make an enormous effort so that its people can unchain themselves from poverty, oppression and hunger so that those children born in poverty today are not the parents of tomorrow's poor," Ferre said in his speech. "That is what our government wants."
For him it was a simple question with a simple answer: "Who is going to set the best example: Puerto Rico or Castro's Cuba? Castro's tyranny or Puerto Rico's freedom?"
Today Puerto Ricans everywhere mourn the death of one of the pillars of its political system and economic development. Latin America lost an ally in its fight for social justice. Cuba lost a friend who opened his arms to those who fled communism and yearned for the day it would be free.
Ferre Never Lost Statehood Dream
October 22, 2003
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.
Ferre Saw Statehood As Means To Achieve Social Justice
By Proviana Colon Diaz WOW News Editor
October 26, 2003
PONCE Former Gov. Luis A. Ferre, founder of the New Progressive Party, firmly believed that statehood was the best solution for the islands status limbo.
However, the visionary engineer, politician, musician, and philanthropist died Tuesday, five months short of living a century, and the islands territorial and colonial dilemma has yet to be solved.
Still contrary to what many may think, his relatives say Ferre did not pass away frustrated because he did not see the island become a U.S. state. For Ferre, his grandson Luis Alberto Ferre Rangel said, the means by which statehood would be achieved were more important than achieving it.
"Although he always had the hope of one day achieving statehood, he always knew that it was a long process and that he might not live to see it," said Ferre Rangel.
Ferre Rangels eulogy both praised his grandfathers life and strongly criticized the islands current political leaders.
"His greatest frustration was observing the incapacity of our people to achieve greater social justice. He worried over the lack of public dialogue and over our incapacity to achieve greater social consensus. And above all, he suffered for the incapacity of all political parties to speedily and completely attend the social demands of our people," Ferre Rangel said.
Ferre Rangel was applauded by the crowd several times, specifically when he in front of the current governor, Sila M. Calderon, and past governors, Rafael Hernandez Colon, Carlos Romero Barcelo, and Pedro Rossello, criticized the way in which the parties are forgetting a much-needed social agenda.
"We cannot go on with a political agenda divorced from a social agenda. Every day we are seeing how the political parties go one way and the people go in another direction. Every day this looks more like a partydocracy than a democracy. And people are getting tired of it," Ferre Rangel said.
For Ferre, his grandson said, statehood was a model that would free Puerto Ricans from years of colonialism, would improve the islands economy, and would bring social justice for all. But Ferre did not believe in a blind statehood or in one that was bought.
"He believed in statehood with political and human dignity. He believed in statehood that respected our most profound Puerto Rican traditions. He believed in a liberating statehood, not one of assimilation," Ferre Rangel said.
Ferre Rangel said although many Puerto Ricans had chosen other paths to achieve the liberation of the island, his grandfather, as many have said in recent days, always respected and admired those who dedicated their lives to pursuing a political belief.
Luis Ferre: Shaped The Puerto Rican Agenda
By Hugh O'Shaughnessy
October 29, 2003
Politician who shaped the Puerto Rican agenda
THE CONSERVATIVE Puerto Rican entrepreneur, politician and patron of the arts Luis Ferre spent his life in a effort to knit together the Latin and Anglo-Saxon elements in the politics of this Caribbean colony of the US which, with Cuba and the Philippines, had been captured from Spain in the Spanish-American war of 1898 a few years before his birth.
Despite his domestic political skills and closeness to the Republican Party establishment in Washington, success eluded him. Given the broad cultural gulf between the US and Latin America, often widened by misunderstanding and even mutual contempt, the task he set himself was probably impossible. Nevertheless, he was rightly regarded as a man who helped to shape the Puerto Rican agenda in the 20th century.
Ferre was the grandson of a French engineer who went to Panama when France was making its fruitless attempt to build an inter-oceanic canal there. He later settled in Cuba, where Luis's father, Antonio, was born. The family moved on to the Puerto Rican town of Ponce shortly before the US invasion of 1898 and the young Luis grew up on tales of US troops coming ashore in his native town.
Antonio married Maria Aguayo Casals, a cousin of the great Catalan cellist Pablo Casals, and started an ironworks. The family was comfortably off and piously Catholic, and discriminating enough to send Luis to the Massachussetts Institute of Technology and the New England Conservatory of Music. The boy came to love the US, where he developed his skills of engineering, fencing and music.
The young man soon conceived his life's ambition of leading Puerto Rico of the status of a state of the US, often referred to in the island's awkward "Spanglish" as "estadidad". Luis's sister Isolina was sent to the Jesuit university of Fordham in New York and became a nun who ministered to the fearsome Puerto Rican gangsters in Brooklyn.
Returning home, Luis and his brother Joseph set up a cement business which made the Ferre family even richer and later bought the rickety daily El Dia in San Juan, the island's capital, today the largest newspaper on the island. In the 1930s the island was a pure example of colonialism. The traditional small-scale growing of coffee and tobacco by peasants had long been replaced by the large-scale cultivation of sugar by large corporations run from the US; authorities were appointed from Washington and the US government was bent on "modernisation" and the cultural absorption of the Spanish-speaking population through a programme of public education in English and a quiet partiality for protestantism. The Depression and hard times for the sugar industry produced an upsurge in an often violent nationalism which was only partially assuaged by the New Deal policies of President Franklin Roosevelt and moves from 1940 onward to give the Puerto Ricans more self-government.
Luis Munoz Marn, a long-lasting native-born governor, cleverly sought to balance the demands of Washington with the aspirations of Puerto Ricans and eventually crafted "Commonwealth" status or local self-government for the colony: Ferre, increasingly drawn to a political career, set his heart on making Puerto Rico a full-blown State of the Union, despite the yawning cultural gulf and a tropical poverty on the islands of a seriousness nowhere to be found in the continental US.
In 1948 Ferre was elected to the island's House of Representatives. His money, connections and oratorical skills allowed him to take charge of the old PER or Statehood Republican Party in 1952, the principal opponent of Munoz Marn. In 1967 he founded a political party in his own likeness, the PNP or New Progressive Party which fast developed a close relationship with the Republicans in Washington. Two years later the PNP brought Ferre the governorship with a mandate to push the island into full union with the US.
To his disappointment, he was not able to achieve it as governor, partly because of the lukewarm attitude of Puerto Ricans themselves, partly because of the unwillingness of governments in Washington to tamper with the status of a distant and economically unimportant Caribbean colony.
Puerto Ricans were bought off. They had been given US citizenship in 1913 and were allowed free right to settle in the continental US. They were spared federal taxation, yet received many federal benefits. They were not, however, allowed the vote in federal elections, their agent in the House of Representatives not permitted to vote on substantive issues.
To Ferre's pride the island was, as it remains, a prime recruiting ground for US forces and the site of bases from which to operate around the Caribbean, notably in the rehearsal and execution of the 1983 invasion of Grenada. That did not always bring him popularity. In 1989 demonstrators smashed the windscreen of Ferre's car as he tried to drive through a crowd protesting against the US Navy's use of the island of Vieques off Puerto Rico's east coast.
In November 1991 Ferre received the US Presidential Medal of Freedom alongside other conservative figures who included General Vernon Walters of the CIA and the economist Friedrich von Hayek.
Luis Antonio Ferre Aguayo, businessman, politician and patron of the arts: born Ponce, Puerto Rico 17 February 1904; Founder, PNP, New Progressive Party 1967; Governor of Puerto Rico 1969-72; President of the Senate of Puerto Rico 1977-80; President, Ponce Museum of Art 1959-2003; married first Lorencita Ramrez (died 1970; one son, one daughter), second Tiody de Jess; died San Juan 22 October 2003.