Munoz Marin, Luis: 1898-1980: Governor, Statesman

views updated May 08 2018

Luis Munoz Marin: 1898-1980: Governor, statesman

Widely recognized as "the father of modern-day Puerto Rico," Luis Munoz Marin served as the island's first elected governor from 1948 until early 1965, when he surrendered the governor's mansion to Popular Democratic Party protégé Robert Sanchez Vilella. Although as a young man he had set his sights on a career as a journalist and poet, Munoz Marin soon found himself drawn into island politics. He at first campaigned for independence from the United States but later modified his stand and guided the island to commonwealth status in 1952. Munoz Marin also spearheaded much-needed economic reforms for Puerto Rico and was the architect of Operation Bootstrap, which sharply accelerated economic growth on the island. Thomas Aitken Jr., in his biography of Munoz Marin, Poet in the Fortress, described the Puerto Rican statesman as a combination of opposites: "Poetry and politics, toughness and tenderheartedness, idealism and practicality, the colossal energy of the doer and the contemplative nature of the thinker."

Followed in Father's Footsteps

Jose Luis Alberto Munoz Marin was born on February 18, 1898, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the son of Luis Munoz Rivera and Amalia Marin. His father, considered by many "the George Washington of Puerto Rico," helped Puerto Rico obtain its charter of home rule from Spain in 1897 and served briefly as president of the island-state's home rule cabinet. After the United States put an end to Puerto Rico's home rule in 1899, Munoz Rivera stepped down as president but continued throughout his life to press for Puerto Rican independence. Munoz Marin spent most of his early years in the United States, living in New York City and Washington, D.C., where his father had served as resident commissioner for Puerto Rico from 1910 until his death in 1916. As a boy, Munoz Marin attended Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., and in 1912 enrolled at Georgetown University to pursue pre-law studies. Throughout his childhood, Munoz Marin had been interested in writing, and as a student had freelanced for the Baltimore Sun and several national magazines. In 1917 the aspiring writer published two volumes of poetry, Borrones and Madre Haraposa.

Shortly after his father's death, Munoz Marin dropped out of Georgetown Law School and took a job as secretary to his father's successor as resident commissioner. In March of 1917, while Munoz Marin was serving in that position, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Law, a piece of legislation embodying measures long sought by Munoz Marin's father. Under the law, Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship, as well as most of the basic freedoms granted under the Bill of Rights. The Jones Law also created a Puerto Rican Senate of 19 senators and a 39-member House of Representatives, all of whom were to be elected by popular vote.

In 1918, a year after the Jones Law was signed, Munoz Marin moved from Washington to New York City, determined to make his living as a freelance writer. Not long after moving to the city, he met Muna Lee, a poet from Mississippi. The couple married on July 1, 1919.

At a Glance . . .

Born Jose Luis Alberto Munoz Marin on February 18, 1898, in San Juan, Puerto Rico; died on April 30, 1980, in San Juan; married Muna Lee, 1919 (divorced in 1947); married Ines Maria Mendosa, 1947; children: Luis and Munita (first marriage), Viviana and Victoria (second marriage). Education: Georgetown University and Georgetown Law School. Religion: Roman Catholic. Politics: Popular Democratic Party.

Career: Politician. Secretary to Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., 1916-18; active in Pan American Labor movement; served in secretariat of Pan American Union during Havana Conference, 1929; elected to Puerto Rico's Senate as a Liberal, 1932; elected to Puerto Rico's Senate as founder of Popular Democratic Party in 1940, re-elected in 1944; elected president of Senate in 1941; served as chairman of commission on political status of Puerto Rico, 1946; served as first elected governor of Puerto Rico, 1949-65.

During his years in New York, Munoz Marin contributed articles to the New York Herald Tribune and to La Democracia, the Puerto Rican newspaper founded by his father in 1889. In addition to his freelance work, he translated into Spanish the works of such notable American poets as Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg. Although Munoz Marin and his wife spent the bulk of their time in New York, they paid occasional visits to Puerto Rico. On one such visit in 1920, Munoz Marin joined the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, led by labor leader Santiago Iglesias. It was a dispute with Iglesias over the question of independence for Puerto Rico that four years later drove Munoz Marin from the ranks of the Socialist Party. While Iglesias favored complete independence from the United States, Munoz Marin leaned toward a limited association with Washington, a relationship that he felt would best serve the interests of Puerto Ricans.

Found Himself Drawn into Politics

In 1924 Munoz Marin campaigned aggressively for unsuccessful U.S. presidential candidate Robert La Follette, who ran on the Progressive Party ticket. After La Follette's defeat, Munoz Marin returned to live in Puerto Rico, taking over the reins of La Democracia. As publisher and editor of La Democracia, Munoz Marin left little doubt about where his sympathies lay. His editorials put him squarely in the corner of Puerto Rico's jibaros, the hill country peasants who farmed the island's high country. He also expressed a growing criticism for the American-owned sugar and tobacco companies that exploited Puerto Rico's prime agricultural lowlands, taking the island's natural riches but leaving little in return for an impoverished peasantry.

Four years after his return to Puerto Rico, a hurricane devastated many of the plantations that were growing the island's major cash cropcoffee. Seeing how the hurricane as well as outside exploitation had crippled the economy of Puerto Rico, Munoz Marin felt compelled to enter the political fray in order to see if he could improve the lot of his countrymen. In 1932 Munoz Marin, now a member of the Liberal Party, was elected to the Puerto Rican Senate. During the Great Depression, he used his connections to U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ensure that a steady stream of American dollars flowed to Puerto Rico through the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration. Munoz Marin's success in obtaining massive amounts of U.S. financial aid for the island earned him great popularity among his countrymen.

His hand strengthened by his growing popularity, Munoz Marin led a Liberal Party campaign to unseat the widely disliked Robert Gore as governor of Puerto Rico. Convinced that Puerto Rico's problems were more economic than political or cultural, he helped pushed through legislation to divide large sugar company landholdings and distribute the land to Puerto Rico's peasants. In so doing, he was convinced that his strategy of land distribution was the key to putting Puerto Rico on the path to greater economic self-sufficiency. In Puerto Rico's legislature, Munoz Marin battled tirelessly against members of the Nationalist Party, which was pushing for immediate independence from the United States. Munoz Marin was now convinced that independence would be a disaster for Puerto Rico, which was being sustained by large infusions of American aid.

Left Liberals to Start New Party

Munoz Marin's vehement opposition to independence for Puerto Rico, as well as his support for land reform, eventually brought him into conflict with leaders of the Liberal Party, as well as the American sugar barons. In 1937 he left the Liberal Party and a year later formed the Popular Democratic Party. To gather support for his fledgling party, Munoz Marin organized the island's landless jibaros under the slogan "Bread, Land, and Liberty." In campaigning for the elections of 1940 under the Popular Democratic banner, he struck out at the longtime practice of selling one's vote for two dollars. Campaigning throughout the island, Munoz Marin warned peasants that they could have "justice or two dollars. But you can't have both." He promised that, if elected to the Senate, he would continue his efforts to break up the large landholdings of foreign-based agricultural combines, regulate the sugar industry, improve rural electrification, set a minimum wage, and seek to promote new business on the island.

Munoz Marin was elected to the Puerto Rican Senate in 1940 with the greatest number of votes for any candidate, paving the way for his election to the presidency of the Senate. Despite strong opposition from rival parties, he managed to push through the island's legislature a number of bills to help improve life for the island's jibaros. Bills successfully championed by Munoz Marin included a measure to exempt taxes on all property assessed at $1,000 or less, an elimination of the sales tax coupled with a sharp increase in income taxes, and the establishment of a minimum-wage commission. Teaming with Governor Rexford G. Tugwell, appointed in 1941, Munoz Marin set up the Land Authority, which over the next decade redistributed tens of thousands of acres to the island's peasants. Although Tugwell came under fire for supporting "socialist experiments," Munoz Marin's popularity continued to grow. In the 1944 elections, his Popular Democratic Party captured most of the seats in the island legislature, winning more than twice as many votes as all the other parties combined.

Buoyed by his party's resounding victory at the polls, Munoz Marin began to push for industrialization, convinced that it was the best way to raise the average annual income for his countrymen. He realized that to successfully industrialize the island, there were obstacles he needed to overcome. These included the quota on Puerto Rican sugar, high freight rates on Puerto Rican exports, and the competition from mainland manufacturers who undersold Puerto Ricans whenever they attempted to diversity their industrial base. To address these barriers to greater industrialization, Munoz Marin stepped up his efforts to win greater political autonomy for Puerto Rico. He saw his dream come true in 1947 when the U.S. Congress gave the island the right to elect its own governor. A year later, Munoz Marin became the first popularly elected governor of Puerto Rico. In 1950 Puerto Rico won the right to create its own constitution and have it approved by popular vote. On July 25, 1952, Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States. Its new status gave Puerto Rico its own flag and the right to make domestic laws and elect its own officials without approval from the U.S. Congress.

Served as Governor Through 1964

Reelected to the governorship in 1952, Munoz Marin modified the island's constitution to limit the powers of the governor and ensure minority parties at least one-third of the votes in the island's legislature. As the island grew steadily more prosperous under programs instituted by Munoz Marin, he was returned to office in 1956 and 1960. Under his direction, Puerto Rico had become the richest state in the Caribbean. As more and more industries were attracted to the island, many of Puerto Rico's landless peasants became industrial workers, creating a new middle class. The number of schools and hospitals on the island grew at an exponential rate to meet the growing needs of the island's citizens. However, problems remained, many of them attributable to the island's booming birth rate. Despite Munoz Marin's best efforts, Puerto Rican joblessness topped ten percent. Puerto Ricans unable to find a job on the island migrated by the thousands to the mainland, many of them settling in and around New York City, which had a large Spanish-speaking population.

In recognition of his years of service to the people of Puerto Rico, Munoz Marin in 1963 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The following year he decided not to run for a fifth term as governor, opting instead to run for the Senate and entrusting the governor's job to his Popular Democratic protégé Roberto Sanchez Vilella. In a 1967 referendum, Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly to continue the island's commonwealth status, rejecting the alternatives of state-hood or independence. In the elections of 1968, the Popular Democrats lost control of the island's legislature, signaling the end of the era of Munoz Marin's political domination. Munoz Marin retired from politics in 1970, although he jumped back into the political fray a few years later when the forces favoring state-hood for Puerto Rico once again seemed to be on the ascendancy. Ill health forced him to abandon his independent campaign against statehood in 1979. After suffering a series of heart attacks, Munoz Marin died in San Juan on April 30, 1980. In his book, TruthIsMy Sword: Volume I, Dr. Bo Hi Pak stated at a commemorative service for Munoz Marin, "Luis Munoz Marin could have been a national liberator, but he sought first to fulfill the immediate needs of his people. A man with such practical and immediate goals is not usually seen as a national hero. However, Puerto Ricans remember Luis Munoz Marin because of the sincerity of his commitment."

Munoz Marin's legacy as the father of modern Puerto Rico lives on. It is doubtful that the island's impressive economic strides throughout the latter half of the twentieth century would have been possible without the groundwork laid by Munoz Marin, first as a political activist and later as the island's first popularly elected governor. To honor the enormous contributions he made to the island and its citizens, Puerto Rico's main jetport at San Juan was renamed the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport.

Selected writings

Yo soy aquel que ayer no mas decia; retrato de un colonizado, Ediciones Puerto Rico, 1972.

Luis Munoz Marin: Pensamiento politico, economico, social y cultural, segun exprasado en los discursos oficiales, Corporacion de Servicios Bibliotecarios, 1973.

Mensajes al Pueblo Puertorriqueno: Pronunciados ante las Cameras Legislativas, 1949-1964, Inter American University Press, 1980.

Memorias: Autobiografica publica, 1898-1940, Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, 1982.

Historia del Partido Popular Democratico, El Batey, 1984.



Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Columbia University Press, 2001.

Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 10: 1976-1980, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1995.

Dictionary of Hispanic Biography, Gale, 1996.

Encyclopedia Britannica 2003, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2003.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., 17 vols., Gale, 1998.


"In Memory of Luis Munoz Marin," True Parents Organization, (March 31, 2003).

Don Amerman

Luís Muñoz Rivera

views updated Jun 11 2018

Luís Muñoz Rivera

Luís Muñoz Rivera (1859-1916), Puerto Rican political leader, was instrumental in securing autonomy for his country from Spain in 1897.

Luís Muñoz Rivera was born in Barranquitas on July 17, 1859, the eldest son of Luís Ramon Muñoz Barrios, a leader of the Conservative party, and Monserrate Rivera Vasquez. After attending the elementary school in his town, he was largely self-educated. He wrote a number of patriotic poems and later became interested in editorial writing.

In 1887 Muñoz participated in the assembly that demanded autonomy for Puerto Rico from Spain. In 1890 he founded La Democracia, a newspaper expounding the Autonomist party's platforms. His editorials aroused the Spanish administration and led to lawsuits, but they also aroused the support of the Liberal party. Muñoz was soon a major leader and force within the party. In 1893 he married Amalia Marín. In 1896 he reached an agreement with the Spanish premier, Praxedes Sagasta, that, on his Liberal party's return to power, Spain would grant autonomy to Puerto Rico. The following year the Liberals returned to power; a royal decree of November 25 then granted autonomy to Puerto Rico and Cuba.

In the first Cabinet, formed on Feb. 8, 1898, Muñoz was secretary of grace, justice, and government, the highest post. War between the United States and Spain broke out 7 days later, and on July 25 the United States invaded Puerto Rico. The island was placed under United States military law. On October 18 the transfer of sovereignty to the United States took place, and the Cabinet members resigned, but Gen. Brooks, the first military governor, refused to accept their resignations. The Cabinet continued until 1899, when a second United States general succeeded to the governorship. Muñoz then resigned, organized the Federal party, and founded El Diario de Puerto Rico in 1900. In 1901 he went to New York City and began the English-language newspaper Puerto Rico Herald to call attention to the problems of Puerto Rico.

In 1902 the Unionist party, a fusion of the Federal and Republican parties, was formed, and Muñoz returned to Puerto Rico to campaign for its candidates. In 1906 he was elected to the Puerto Rican House of Delegates. In 1910 he was elected resident commissioner for Puerto Rico to the United States. He then proceeded to learn English, at the age of 50, in order to present his country's needs and desires to Congress. He worked hard on the Jones bill to grant U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans and delivered his most important speech in Congress in favor of it in 1916. That year, on November 15, he died in a suburb of San Juan.

Further Reading

One of the best books on Muñoz Rivera in English is Marianna Norris, Father and Son for Freedom (1967). See also the essays in Philip Sterling and Maria Brau, The Quiet Rebels (1968), and Jay Nelson Tuck and Norma C. Vergara, Heroes of Puerto Rico (1970). □