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P.R. Republican Party Celebrates 100 Years

by Neftali Fuster Gonzalez

July 4, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE SAN JUAN STAR. All Rights Reserved.

The first Independence Day celebration in Puerto Rico was held on July 4, 1899. On that same day, another historical event took place: the founding of the Puerto Rican Republican Party.

Throughout this century, the Republican Party has been more than a mere political organization. In the Republican Party we find an ideological movement, the embodiment of an honorable political tradition and the custodian of the ideal of statehood for Puerto Rico.

On July 4, 1899, statehood for the island seemed to be an unreachable star, an impossible dream. But after a century of struggle, even in the face of many electoral defeats, there is now a real possibility for Puerto Rico to become, in the foreseeable future, the 51st State of the Union.

Several generations of Republicans, following the example of party founder, José Celso Barbosa, have persevered in the struggle for their ideal. And their perseverance has turned a dream into a real possibility.

The Republican Party deserves, indeed, its just place in the pages of Puerto Rico's political history.

The roots of the Puerto Rican Republican Party are to be found both in the autonomist movement of the 19th century as well as in the separatists who formed the Puerto Rico Section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party.

Barbosa was a disciple of Román Baldorioty de Castro, a supporter of a republican form of government for Spain. The autonomist ideal of Baldorioty was based on two fundamental principles: local self-government and Puerto Rican representation in the Spanish parliament on equal terms with the other provinces of Spain.

In 1897 an assembly was held in San Juan to determine if the autonomist movement were to enter into a pact with a monarchical party in Madrid. Barbosa, as a loyal keeper of the political principles of Baldorioty, rejected the proposed pact. The majority of the delegates at the assembly sided with Luis Muñoz Rivera and the pact was ratified. The supporters of Muñoz formed the monarchical Liberal Fusionist Party, while the followers of Barbosa founded the "Partido Autonomista Ortodoxo".

In those days, the political activism of Puerto Ricans was not limited to San Juan or Madrid. In New York, a group of separatists, led by Dr. José Julio Henna and Roberto H. Todd, had formed the Puerto Rico Section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party. Before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, those separatists offered their support to the American armed forces, hoping that in the upcoming conflict, as it happened, the island was to be invaded and the harsh Spanish rule was to be put to an end.

The fateful year of 1898 brought the war, and after it, American sovereignty in Puerto Rico. Thus began a period of adaptation to the new realities. The political groups directed by Barbosa and Muñoz Rivera began to get reorganized.

The followers of Barbosa issued a manifesto declaring that statehood was in agreement with the liberal tradition of the Puerto Rican people. On March 25, 1899, a platform was approved, in which it was stated that "it is the highest duty of every citizen to uphold the laws of the land and the integrity of his country." The platform also supported the organization of a territorial government "as the way to become in time a State of the Federal Union."

A convention was held in San Juan July 2-4, 1899, wherein the Puerto Rican Republican Party was founded. Most of its members were followers of Baldorioty and had supported the ideas of Francisco Pi y Margall for a federal republic in Spain. among them was Francisco Mariano Quiñones, Federico Degetau and Manuel F. Rossy. Former separatists Roberto H. Todd and Mateo Fajardo were also among the founders.

The Republican Party that was born 100 years ago is still alive in the struggle of attaining full equality for the American citizens of Puerto Rico.

It has been, indeed, a great political and ideological institution, which can be described by certain words from French historian Alexis de Tocqueville: "The political parties that I would call great are those which cling more to principles than to consequences; to general, and not to special cases; to ideas, and not to men. Such parties are usually distinguished by a nobler character, more generous passions, more genuine convictions, and a more bold and open conduct than others."

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