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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
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
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.