José Luís Alberto Muñoz Marín

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José Luís Alberto Muñoz Marín

José Luís Alberto Muñoz Marín (1898-1980), Puerto Rican political leader, was instrumental in gaining self-rule and, later, commonwealth status for his country.

Luis Muñoz Marín was born on February 18, 1898, the son of Luís Muñoz Rivera and Amalia Marín. In 1910, his father was elected resident commissioner, and the family moved to Washington, D.C., where Muñoz was sent to boarding school. He later attended Georgetown University. After the death of his father in 1916, Muñoz returned to Puerto Rico. Muñoz was soon back in Washington as secretary to the new resident commissioner and briefly attended Georgetown Law School.

Muñoz then moved to New York City, where he began to make his living as a writer. He married a Mississippian poet, Muna Lee, in 1919. Shortly afterward, they went to Puerto Rico, where Muñoz joined the Socialist party for a brief period. At the age of 24, A Ninety-eight Percent American in Puerto Rico (1922) was published in The New Republic. On his return to New York City, Muñoz wrote an article about the intense poverty in Puerto Rico which was published in the Nation in 1925 titled Puerto Rico: The American Colony. In another article for The American Mercury (February 1929), he again wrote about the inequity of American denomination of Puerto Rico.

In 1931 Muñoz went back to Puerto Rico, this time to stay. He worked for La Democracia, the newspaper his father had founded. Muñoz joined the Liberal party and in 1932 was elected to the Puerto Rico Senate. During this period he and Carlos Chardón, the chancellor of the University of Puerto Rico, formulated a long-term economic plan, known as the Chardón Plan, which formed the basis for the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration started in 1935. In 1938, Muñoz formed the Popular Democratic party. During this time, Muñoz divorced his wife and married Inés María Mendoza de Palacios.

Running for the Senate under his new party affiliation, Muñoz began to campaign vigorously throughout the island with the slogan "Bread, Land, and Liberty." It was customary that plantation owners and politicians buy the peasant vote at $2 each, a large sum to the poor. Muñoz asked each person not to sell his vote but to lend it to him. "Remember this," he said, "You can have justice, or you can have two dollars. But you can't have both." He won the election and was senator from 1940 to 1948. Among his promises was self-government for Puerto Rico. In 1947 the U.S. Congress consented to self-government, and the first elections for governor were held in 1948. Muñoz easily won because of his outstanding Senate record.

As governor, Muñoz pressed for commonwealth status, and in 1952 Puerto Rico was declared an associated free state. Operation Bootstrap, the continuation of the Chardón Plan, was an economic success story, and Puerto Rico, under Muñoz's leadership, became the showcase for under-developed countries. In 1964 he declined the nomination for governor after serving four terms; instead he ran for the Senate and won. Muñoz passed away in 1980. His daughter, Victoria "Melo" Muñoz followed her father's footsteps, also running for the senate and winning.

Further Reading

The best book currently available in English on Muñoz Marín is Thomas Aitken, Jr., Poet in the Fortress (1964). □