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        On the occasion of the recent commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the disembarkment of U.S. troops in Puerto Rico, I heard an dread separatists and hate-U.S. sectors saying once again that the United States thwarted Puerto Rico's political development attained from Spain under the provisions of the 1897 Autonomic Charter. Once again, I am compelled to keep the record straight on this matter, proving that the said Charter was no panacea for Puerto Rico.

        Under Spain's constitutional conservative monarchy, Prime Minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta issued on November 25,1897 three decrees known as the Autonomic Charter, granting an autonomous form of government to Cuba and Puerto Rico. The Charter was decreed by Sagasta under pressure from the United States to grant an autonomous regime to Cuba and thereby prevent an armed conflict between Spain and the United States. Puerto Rico was simply a beneficiary of the existing situation, insofar as the Charter was also extended to us with some modifications. It must be noted that Sagasta, acting hastily to prevent war with the United States, decreed the Charter without the ratification of Spain's Parliament. But Sagasta's move was too late to prevent the Spanish-American War in 1898.

        The following were the provisions of the Charter with respect to Puerto Rico, and which can hardly be called broad autonomous powers enhancing Puerto Rico's political development:

  1. The governor of Puerto Rico was appointed by the king of Spain.
  2. The governor was empowered to suspend constitutional guarantees and take whatever measures necessary to maintain law and order.
  3. The governor could negate any measure approved by Puerto Rico's Legislature and refer them for revision to the Spanish Parliament, if he thought said measures exceeded the powers granted by the Parliament.
  4. The governor was empowered to suspend sessions of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives and Senate (known as the Administration Council).
  5. The members of the cabinet were not under the authority of the governor but under that of the Puerto Rican Legislature.
  6. Seven of the 15 members of the Senate were appointed by the governor.
  7. The right to make commercial treaties remained under the Spanish government and not under the Puerto Rican government. The same applied to matters concerning custom duties.
  8. No mention was made of matters concerning immigration, communications, post offices, etc.
  9. All matters concerning the administration of justice and the organizations of the judicial power remained under the Spanish Parliament, which was also empowered to determine Puerto Rico's economic contribution to the Spanish central government.
  10. The power of the Spanish Parliament to legislate over Puerto Rico remained unaltered.
  11. The preamble of the Charter clearly indicated that Spain maintained its sovereignty over Puerto Rico.

        Judging from the above, the Charter only granted Puerto Rico semi-autonomous powers under a governor who, more than a governor, was a proconsul representing the Spanish government in Puerto Rico.

        It must be highlighted that the short-lived autonomic government established under the Charter in Puerto Rico on February 11, 1898, was on very unstable grounds because the Charter was never ratified by the Spanish Parliament. Members of the Parliament were vigorously opposed to the Charter because, for one thing, it granted the Spanish colonies powers which the Parliament never granted the provinces of Spain. So, had it not been for the Spanish-American War (bringing an end of the Charter) most likely the Autonomic Charter would have been greatly altered when presented to the Spanish Parliament for ratification.

        It is indeed sad and painful to see continuous misinformation and distortion of historical facts aimed at serving the interests of some political agendas. It is no wonder that there is such deep confusion in our present political scenario!

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