Carlos Romero Barceló

Carlos Romero Barceló (born 1932), Puerto Rican political leader, the fifth elected governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and a representative in the U.S. Congress under territorial status, was one of the foremost advocates of U.S. statehood for his country.

Carlos Romero Barceló was born on September 4, 1932, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was reared in a family atmosphere in which public affairs and politics were considered important. His father, Antonio Romero Moreno, was a lawyer and engineer and served as a superior court judge. His maternal grandfather was Antonio R. Barceló, who had been one of Luis Muñoz Rivera's close associates, the first president of the Puerto Rico Senate (elected in 1917) and the founder of the Liberal Party in the early 1930s. His mother, Josefina Barceló, became the president of the Liberal Party shortly after her father's death.

Romero Barceló received his primary education in San Juan private schools and his high school education at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He attended Yale University, from which he received his bachelor's degree in 1953, having majored in political science and economics. He then studied law at the University of Puerto Rico and received his law degree in 1956.

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Founded the New Progressive Party

Upon graduation and until the mid-1960s he conducted a private law practice, specializing in civil cases, mainly damages and torts and corporate and tax matters. His long-nurtured interest in and aptitude for politics and his unswerving commitment to the cause of U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico soon led him into the public arena. In 1965 he joined an organization called Citizens for State 51 and later became its chairman. In 1967 this organization became a part of a new movement, founded by Luis Ferré, called United Statehooders, which was created to campaign for the statehood alternative in the status plebiscite held in July of that year. The following month Romero joined with Ferré in founding the New Progressive Party. Ferré became the party's victorious candidate for governor in 1968.

As a co-founder of the new pro-statehood party, and as one who proved to be a particularly aggressive, outspoken, and hard-working spokesman for the statehood ideology, Romero captured the party's nomination for mayor of San Juan in 1968 and won the post convincingly. During his stint as mayor of San Juan he was also elected second vice-president of the National League of Cities and in 1974 became its president. In 1972 Ferré was defeated by Popular Democrat Rafael Hernández Colón, but Romero handily won re-election in San Juan, and after serving three years as party vice-president he became the undisputed president in 1974. He held this position until 1984.

As head of the New Progressive Party, Romero ran for governor in 1976 and defeated the incumbent, Hernández Colón. In 1980 he won re-election after a hard-fought campaign by only about 3,000 votes. In 1981 Romero was elected chairman of the Southern Governors Association. In the elections of 1984 he lost to Hernández, but he continued as the chairman of the New Progressive Party.

The First Lady during Romero's administration was Kate Donnelly, from Baldwin, New York, whom Romero married in 1966. They had two children, born while Romero was mayor of San Juan. He also had two sons by a previous marriage.

Fought for Statehood for Puerto Rico

Throughout his political career Romero was an undaunted believer in statehood for Puerto Rico and in the compatibility of statehood with Puerto Rican cultural, linguistic, and psychological identity. He was a combative campaigner with a simple, direct, and unpretentious style. Under his direction the statehood cause became an important mass-based movement and the party system was transformed into something radically different from what it was during the time of the domination of the Popular Democratic Party and Luis Muñoz Marín.

After two terms as governor, Romero returned to private practice of law in 1985. One year later, he was elected to the Puerto Rico Senate, where he served until 1988. In 1989 he again was elected President of the New Progressive Party. Romero won a seat in the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress in 1992 with the campaign theme, "On the Road to Equality." As a Representative of Puerto Rico, Romero had all the privileges of any other member of Congress, except the right to vote on the final passage of amendments. In the 104th Congress, he served on the Committee on Resources and the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities. As a delegate, he could vote and deliberate like any other member in those committees. In 1993 (the 103rd Congress) Romero became the first representative of the people of Puerto Rico to obtain limited voting rights in the House. However, this right was taken away by the Republican Party in the 104th Congress.

In 1997 House Bill 856 was proposed by Rep. Don Young of Alaska that would pave the path for Puerto Rican statehood, a dream come true for Romero, who is a cosponsor on the bill. Entitled the "United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, it required that a referendum be held by December 31, 1998, on Puerto Rico's political status for either 1) retention of its Commonwealth status; 2) full self-government leading to independence; or 3) full self-government through U.S. sovereignty leading to statehood. Another inclusion in the bill, which Romero opposed, is that English should be the official language of the Federal Government in Puerto Rico. In a statement before the House in 1997, Romero declared that "It is time for Congress to permit democracy to fully develop in Puerto Rico, (Puerto Ricans) are citizens without political rights, including a vote in Congress."

Romero received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bridgeport in 1977, and received the James J. and Jana Hoey Award for Interracial Justice from the Catholic Interracial Council of New York that same year. In 1981 he was awarded the U.S. Attorney General's Medal.

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Further Reading on Carlos Romero Barceló

There are no books in English dealing specifically with Romero Barceló or his administration. A good source for his activities in the U.S. Congress, including a biography, is the House of Representatives Web site (www.house.gov/romero-barcelo/). For more information on the issue of Puerto Rican statehood and Romero's involvement, refer to the Puerto Rico Statehood Web site (www.puertorico51.org/english/). Some good general works on Puerto Rico contain useful material on Romero and his activities. Examples are Kal Wagenheim, Puerto Rico: A Profile (1970); Jorge Heine and J. M. Garcia-Passalacqua, The Puerto Rican Question, Foreign Policy Association Headline Series #266 (Nov./Dec. 1983); Jorge Heine, ed., Time for Decision (1983), especially chapters 1, 8, and 9; and Raymond J. Carr, Puerto Rico: A Colonial Experiment (1984). Several of Romero's speeches have been published in Vital Speeches of the Day.