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 on Luís Muñoz Rivera

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).

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