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January 9, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

Don Luis Ferré Is the Herald’s Person Of 2003

In the Herald’s final Hot Button Issue Poll of 2003, readers, by the slimmest of margins, chose Luis Antonio Ferré Aguayo as their "Puerto Rican Person of the Year," by one percentage point in the overall voting.

This week’s question asks, "Do you share Don Luis’ dream for Puerto Rico?"

This remarkable Puerto Rican, who died on October 21st at the age of 99, edged out an outstanding Puerto Rican of the Diamond — and sure future inductee into baseball’s Hall of Fame -- Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, star catcher of the 2003 Florida Marlins. Close behind these two in reader preference was Pedro Rosselló, former New Progressive Party (NPP) two-term governor and a current candidate to repeat in that role if he prevails in the 2004 election against two candidates from rival political parties. Substantially trailing in the voting was incumbent Governor Sila Calderon and Resident Commissioner and current Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for Governor, Aníbal Acevedo Vilá.

Here is how the final voting concluded.

1. Luis Ferré 29% (1) 29% (2) 29% (1*)
2. Pudge" Rodriguez 28% (2) 32% (1) 19% (3)
3. Pedro Rosselló 26% (3) 25% (3) 29% (1*)
4. Sila Calderon 11% (4) 11% (4) 11% (5)
5. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá 6% (5) 3% (5) 12% (4)

* Pudge Rodriguez was the winner among off-island voters while Luis Ferré and Pedro Rosselló tied for first place among island voters.

Luis Ferre’s virtuosity in so many fields earned him the moniker, "Puerto Rico’s Renaissance Man." Gonzalo Cordoba, Professor of History at the University of Puerto Rico, who worked with Don Luis for three years when they both served on the boards of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra and the Casals Festival, would qualify that characterization, believing that "Son of Florence" better describes the late Don Luis. "In my view, Luis Ferré was a Creole version of the Florentine noble Lorenzo the Magnificent. Like that Renaissance figure, he combined the disciplines of science, commerce and the arts into an integrated life and, what is most important, made them relevant to the needs and concerns of ordinary people."

He became a man of great wealth, largely due to the success of the Puerto Rico Cement Company, a venture begun by him and his brother.

More than any other modern advocate, Don Luis was a promoter of Puerto Rico’s full integration into the political system of the United States, a structure he grew to admire during his student days in Boston in the 1920s. There he studied mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), earning both a Bachelor’s and Master's degree. Subsequently, he enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music to develop competency in a great passion of his life, classical piano. Friends say that he practiced on the piano most every day thereafter.

In the 1960s he joined the MIT Corporation as a Board member, where he raised funds to create a Puerto Rico Room ("Sala de Puerto Rico") in the student activities building.

Other philanthropy in his lifetime benefited the artistic and intellectual life of his island. He placed a magnificent art museum in his native Ponce and housed in it his eclectic acquisitions in painting and sculpture. The collection, admired by the world’s curators, traces Western creative expression from the Middle Ages to modern Puerto Rico, including painting of the Victorian era, a genre ignored until recently, but one that Ferré always admired. A Victorian painting that he bought forty years ago, Lord Leighton's "Flaming June," is now hotly pursued by collectors, some offering sums of up to ten million dollars to remove the masterpiece from Ponce.

In Ponce, he also established a free public library and bought a failing newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, eventually moving it to San Juan where, under the present directorship of his son, Antonio, it has become the island’s newspaper of record.

Luis Ferré was a fierce defender of Puerto Rico in official Washington and among his many friends and political associates in the Republican Party, of which he was an active and influential member.

In the year 2000, he spoke out on the Vieques issue, charging that the frustration and anger felt by Puerto Ricans over the accidental bombing that lead to the eventual Navy pull-out was a function not of anti-Americanism but of their feelings of second-class citizenship. In an article published in the Washington Times, he wrote, "The recent developments in Vieques are but a symptom of Puerto Rico's political status problem, a dilemma that can no longer be ignored. The U.S. citizens living in Vieques have waited 60 years to make their voices heard on a critically important federal matter."

In a less charged moment, he defended Puerto Rico’s defense of the nation in time of war.

When the original plans for the WWII Memorial, now under construction on Washington’s Mall, were first made public, fifty marble columns were shown, each representing one of the fifty states of the Union. In a letter to Robert Dole, Chairman of the project, Don Luis objected, pointing out that the contributions of Puerto Rico and other U.S. Territories to the war effort were ignored in the design. Furthermore, he observed that two of the present states, Alaska and Hawaii, were then territories, as was Guam and the Philippines, Pacific Ocean territories actually occupied by the Japanese. It is a sign of Don Luis’ humility — and his close friendship with the former Senator -- that he never made his letter public. In the next Memorial rendering, fifty-six columns were displayed, one for each of the forty-eight states and eight territories of the United States in the 1940s.

Luis Ferré was arguably Puerto Rico’s most determined and influential politician of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Sixteen years after the establishment of the Puerto Rico Constitution — which he helped draft - Don Luis was elected Governor, after two failed attempts. He also served in the House of Representatives and in the Senate as its President. His one term at La Forteleza marked a turning point in modern Puerto Rican politics. He and the New Progressive Party (NPP) which he founded began to articulate a modern concept of statehood which found support with elements of the electorate previously favoring autonomy or independence. Subsequently, there have been two other statehood-minded Governors and, as of today, the NPP holds parity with the previously dominant PDP at the ballot box.

His statehood message was clear and simple. Puerto Ricans, as American citizens, should enjoy the full benefits and share the same obligations as all other Americans. Without statehood, he said, Puerto Rico was a colony and a second-class player in federal affairs. Over the years, he articulated this view on many occasions before committees of the U.S. Congress as they considered legislation affecting the island.

After he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1991, he told a reporter that he interpreted its bestowal as a tribute not so much to him but to the people of Puerto Rico, who were proud and loyal American citizens, constantly making positive and significant contributions to national life.

In an interview on the occasion of his 88th birthday, he said that he was "proud to be a citizen of the world’s greatest democracy." He went on to recount that, as a child, he reveled in stories that his father told about riding his horse out into the surf of Ponce to welcome the arrival of the American Expeditionary Force as it came ashore to begin the American Century in Puerto Rico. He said that his life was dedicated to the fulfillment of his father’s expectation that the arrival of those troops meant more than the end of the island’s colonization by Spain, but rather the beginning of Puerto Rico’s full sovereignty as a state of the United States.

Luis Ferré lived most of that Century with a dream and a purpose. It was to help build a modern and sophisticated Puerto Rico that - in his lifetime - would come to enjoy the full rights of its citizenship in U.S. statehood. He used every means at his disposal to bring it about -- public education, cultural enrichment, economic development and political empowerment -- but his time ran out.

Time will tell if his vision of Puerto Rico’s political future will come to pass. If it does, he will be remembered as one who helped it become a reality. If it does not, it will not be because Luis Antonio Ferré Aguayo ever wavered in his effort to bring it about.

What is your view? Do you share Don Luis’ dream of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States?

Please vote above!

This Week's Question:
Do you share Don Luis’ dream of Puerto Rico as a state of the United States?

(US Mainland Residents, please vote on the left; PR Residents on right)

US . Residents
. PR
Yes 62%
23% No 32%
5% Not sure 6%


.To submit your idea for a future PR Herald poll question or "Hot Button" issue, please click here.

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