What Do We Know About the Man Who Created the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico?

What Do We Know About the Man Who Created the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico? nuestro stories

Credit: Nuestro Stories

José Luis Alberto Muñoz Marín was a Puerto Rican journalist, politician, and statesman. He was the first elected governor of Puerto Rico and the man who created the Estado Libre Asociado (ELA) – or Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. 

Many regard him as the "Architect of the Puerto Rico Commonwealth" and the driving force behind Operation Bootstrap. But, Muñoz Marín remains a controversial figure. Some see him as a patriot who lifted the island from abject poverty. In contrast, others see him as the man who sold Puerto Rico out to the United States.  

Muñoz Marín, who died at 82, served four four-year terms as Puerto Rico's governor. Early in his career, he advocated independence for the island. Later, he worked for the island's social and economic progress in partnership with the United States. The concoction came to be known as the ELA.  

Muñoz Marín's Beginnings

Muñoz Marín was the son of statesman, publisher, and patriot Luis Muñoz Rivera – a Puerto Rican poet, journalist, politician, and an important figure in the island's struggle for political autonomy from Spain. 

Read more: This Puerto Rican Cave Was Once Featured in the Pirates of the Caribbean

He was educated in the United States; his father was resident commissioner in Washington, D.C., from 1910 to 1916. 

After serving as secretary to the commissioner, studying law, and writing two books, he returned to Puerto Rico in 1926. Then, he was elected to the Puerto Rican Senate in 1932 and aligned himself with advocates of independence from the United States. 

Because of this alignment, he was expelled from the Liberal Party in 1937. He went on to form the Popular Democratic Party (PPD.) It won its first victory in 1940 and made Muñoz Marín president of the Senate, a post he held until 1948.

What Led Him to Form the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico

His aim was for more home rule under a permanent association with the United States. He favored close political and economic ties with "the United States but with sufficient leeway to permit self-government in the British manner. The only bonds would be foreign relations, currency, customs, and postal service." Or so he wished.  

He believed independence would be economic and political suicide. With statehood, Muñoz Marín argued, Puerto Rico would lose its identity and Spanish heritage.

Muñoz Marín worked closely with the U.S.-appointed governor, Rexford G. Tugwell, of the New Deal to improve housing, farming, and industrial conditions. 

As part of the New Deal, Muñoz Marín launched Operation Bootstrap, based on the 1930s New Deal economic relief reforms and infrastructure, and was successful as a program for rapid economic growth

The United States granted Puerto Rico the right to elect its governor in 1948. Not surprisingly, Muñoz Marín was overwhelmingly elected and reelected in 1952, 1956, and 1960. 

During his governorship, he achieved a lifelong goal of changing Puerto Rico's status to that of a commonwealth

His legacy is problematic - the U.S. sees Muñoz Marín as the man who remade Puerto Rico, while many Boricuas still see him as the man who sold the island to Washington D.C. 's economic miracle propaganda. 

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Susanne Ramírez de Arellano

By Susanne Ramírez de Arellano

Susanne Ramirez de Arellano is a writer and cultural critic who used to be a journalist, television producer, and news director. She lives between San Juan and New York and is, at present, making her first attempt at writing a novel.