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De Hostos' Political Thinking Distorted

by Guillermo Moscoso

January 19, 1999
©Copyright 1999 Guilllermo Moscoso

On January 11th, Puerto Rico commemorated the 160th Anniversary of the birth of Eugenio María de Hostos. Born in Mayaguez on January 11, 1839, de Hostos was one of the most distinguished and illustrious men in Puerto Rico's history. He was known worldwide as an educator, humanist, abolitionist, thinker, philosopher, writer, politician and, above all, a master in every sense of the word.

De Hostos had a clear, liberal, internationalistic and pragmatic mind. This "Citizen of America", as he was called by the distinguished late Professor and writer, Antonio S. Pedreira, educated and entire continent. His son, Adolfo (Official Historian of Puerto Rico from. 1936 to 1950) said the following about his father: "He adopted a pedagogical program with the objective to teach people how to think". Badly needed these days here! It was not surprising, therefore, when the distinguished Argentine historian, Bartolomé de Mitre, said: "De Hostos taught America to think". It's no wonder that de Hostos had been glorified in many countries where monuments, schools, avenues, streets and parks carry his name. There are hundreds of writings on his biography, pedagogical and philosophical works.

As is the case every year, and this year was no exception, small non-affiliated pro-independence sectors and activists, distort de Hostos' political thinking, and claim him as one of their own and present him as an inflexible pro-independence radical with a very anti-United States stance.

Since most of those born and raised in Mayaguez, like me, feel proud of and admire this great man and treasure his memory, once again I feel compelled not only to render a tribute to de Hostos, but to keep the record straight, as follows, on his political thinking.

The historical facts are to the effect that the characterization of De Hostos by the independence sectors and activists was wrong. The late Dr. Eugenio María de Hostos Brunet, grandson of the master, said his grandfather "visualized the progress of the United States and its influence on Puerto Rico and was concerned not only about the importance of teaching Spanish in Puerto Rico's schools, but also English so that with a good command of English, Puerto Ricans would be in a position to achieve an equality with North Americans". The grandson further said that his grandfather "thought Puerto Rico was too small and had limited natural resources to survive as an independent republic, which explains why he advocated the Federation of the Antilles, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic".

In an interview published on June 17, 1899, in a San Juan newspaper at the time, El País, De Hostos said: "Puerto Rico is now in a position to become a territory of the American Union. It cannot go back to being a colony without the benefits of an ample autonomy. We want to be brothers of the Americans, not servants. We have the right to be first class Americans with all the prerogatives of a free country. So, let's hope for a civil government". (end of quote). Puerto Rico was at the time under a U.S. Military government, which later was changed to a civil government, culminating in 1917 with the granting of U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and greater autonomic powers under the 1917 Jones Act. Subsequently, under the provisions of U.S. Law 600, Puerto Rico acquired still broader autonomic powers its constitution and the present commonwealth status which, although still ambivalent and with vestiges of colonialism, gave Puerto Rico greater powers for a self-government than those granted to Puerto Rico by Spain under the Autonomic Charter, under which, for example, Puerto Rico's governors were appointed by the King of Spain and laws passed by the Puerto Rican legislature were subject to revision by the Spanish Parliament.

As member of the Puerto Rican Section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, with headquarters in New York City, in an assembly of the organization on July 12, 1898, De Hostos approved a resolution addressed to the U.S. government through the then U.S. Secretary of State William R. Day in which Puerto Ricans residents of New York offered their services to accompany to Puerto Rico the U.S. forces of occupation which were being organized at the time" in recognition of gratitude owed the Americans who are coming to redeem Puerto Ricans from the yoke of the tyrant (Spain) and serve as guides and intermediaries between the armed forces and native Puerto Ricans". Copy of a Manifesto approved at the assembly, also sent to Secretary Day, and to be distributed to Puerto Ricans upon disembarkation, was signed also by de Hostos, and read in part as follows: "We send you, fellow Puerto Ricans this Manifesto because of our deep love for Puerto Rico and because of our loyalty and love for the great republic of the North, where we found hospitality, secured asylum, a peaceful home and have made it our adopted country against the Iberian despot. It is not the foreign invader that menaces us. It is not a new master which is coming to enslave us. It is the great North American people who with their power, wealth, moral standards and free institutions are coming to emancipate us".

On September 16, 1898, de Hostos proposed a plebiscite in which Puerto Ricans were to exercise their right to self-determination and decide the future of Puerto Rico's political status. With this in mind, and with the purpose of educating Puerto Ricans on his proposal, he funded the League of Patriots in New York City and in Puerto Rico. The plebiscite was to be based on integration with the U.S. as a state, or independence as legitimate and internationally recognized status options. In this respect De Hostos, who was 100 years ahead of his time, said: "We will accept annexation to the United States if it is the will of Puerto Ricans. If not, we will give the Federation of the North the best tribute any nation could receive by asking for a temporary 20-years protectorate. It will not be a protectorate of force and power, "but one of guidance to liberty and progress".

The plebiscite proposal did not receive support in Puerto Rico. Disappointed and frustrated, De Hostos returned to the Dominican Republic, where he had occupied the position of Director of the Central College and Inspector General of Education. He died there on August 11, 1903 and his remains are interred in the Dominican Republic National Pantheon, with that nation's great patriots.

The best tribute we could render De Hostos today is to achieve what he sought 100 years ago and was ignored by Puerto Rican political sectors at the time. That is, set aside personal ambitions, grudges, bitterness, calumnies, vicious personal attacks, distortion of facts, lies, and unfounded fear and false nationalism, which flooded our political scenario during the campaign leading to the December 13, 1998 status consultation. Instead, let's keep in mind De Hostos' legacy to think intelligently so as to achieve among us the unity and harmony in an embrace of reconciliation so we could reach a consensus among us to ask the 106 U.S. Congress this year to approve legislation establishing a process under which we, in the exercise of our right to self-determination, can vote in a status referendum for viable, legitimate and realistic decolonization status options as established by the 1960 United Nations Resolution 1541, signed by the U.S., and which were: absolute independence, integration with a sovereign nation (statehood in the, case of Puerto Rico) and, once, a republic, a free association with a sovereign nation. But what cannot be included as a decolonization option is our present status (which is the problem) and a free association option like the one included in the December 13 status consultation, which was bound to be unacceptable to the U.S. Congress because it was outside of the United States' constitutional scope. By the same token, the plebiscite cannot include as an option the announced new definition of the commonwealth status which is the best of two worlds, already rejected by the U.S. Congress.

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