Puerto Rican Petitions




  1. The Globe Democrat




Commissioners Ask the President for Relief from Grievances.


American Rule Said to Be but Little Better Than Spanish.


Islanders Want a Local Representative Government, Restoration of Civil Law,

Free Trade with the United States,

Public Schools, Better Currency­

The President Promises Aid.



WASHINGTON, D.C., January 20. The Puerto Rican commissioners, who are now in Washington, President, Julio Henna, Dr. Eugenio Maria de Hostos and Dr. Zeno y Gandia, to seek redress for the people of the Island, had an extended interview with President McKinley today, and presented a set of petitions praying for relief from the Spanish laws and customs with which they are now burdened. Dr. Henna, [ilegible] acted as spokesman, and the President listened with marked attention and much interest to their statement of the condition of affairs on the island. The President made many inquiries regarding the reforms necessary to be enacted to develop social and industrial liberty and secure prosperity to the inhabitants. He accepted their petitions and promised to give the various matters close attention.



Among the petitions is one praying for certain political reforms, wherein the commissioners state that the present insular government, inaugurated under the Spanish regime and still perpetuated under the rule of the Americans, is costing the people of Puerto Rico not less than $100,000 per year, while affording them no benefits.




In its place the petition seeks the appointment of a civil Governor, who shall either be a native Puerto Rican or an American who is able to speak Spanish as well as English fluently, and also that he be aided in the framing of laws for the civil government of the people by a legislative assembly or council composed of fourteen representatives, two elected by the suffrages of the people from each of the seven different provinces of the Island. It is explained that the Puerto-Rican people favor civil rather than military rule, and that such a government for the Island would be in keeping with the American doctrine or taxation based upon representation, and that while it would meet the requirements and needs, as well as the approval of the people of the Island, it could and would be maintained at a far less expense than the present insular government, which is distinctively Spanish. In this connection the commissioners set forth to the President that there are at present practically two governments upon the Island, the American military perniciuos government, which is rigid and exacting, and the insular government, which is insufficient and altogether without merit, a mere relic of Spanish sovereignty.

A reduction of the army on the Island to 300 armed men in each of the seven provinces of the Island, making but 2100 soldiers altogether in the Island, is also asked for as well as the formation of a native militia to be disciplined and commanded by American and Puerto Rican officers.




Another important portion of the petition is the request to have certain clauses of section 9 of article 1 on the Constitution of the United States relative to habeas corpus, attainder, direct taxes, and other provisions extended, so as to be alive over the Island of Puerto Rico, as well as the first ten amendments to the




Constitution of the United States, the liberties provided by which the people seek to enjoy. Without the exercise of these rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the Puerto Ricans explain American rule in the Island of Puerto Rico would be but little better than Spanish rule.

In this connection also the Puerto Ricans ask that they may be allowed to enjoy the privileges of free trade with the United States, pointing out that the constitution prohibits the imposition of any tariff duty or tax upon goods sent from one state into another, and that as Puerto Rico is now under the government and authority of the United States the people of the Island should also enjoy the same privileges in this respect as the people of the United States. The commissioners urge this as one of the most important needs of the Island; that they should be enabled to receive the importation of goods from the United States without the payment of duty, and that their exports should also not be dutiable when entering the United States. The imposition of tariff duties, it is set forth, works as great hardship to the people of the Island.




Another petition asks for a complete revision of the public school system of the Island and the inauguration of the methods now employed in the larger cities of the United States for public instruction. The petition cites that after 405 years of Spanish rule scarce 10 per cent of the population are able to read and write. There are on the island but a few schools, public and private, only two normal; schools and only one institution which is called a college for secondary, or higher education. The people desire that there shall be established at least one public school in each of the seventy three cities and towns of the Island, and also that there be constituted additional normal schools, a school of law, one of medicine, two agricultural colleges and a museum the latter to be located in San Juan. A complete revision of the laws governing instruction is also asked, and that the control of educational matters be placed entirely in the hands of the municipalities.

Other petitions also filed by the commissioners ask for a revision of the monetary system of the island, that the currency





may be placed upon a sound basis, such as will give assurance to capital to seek investment in the industries of the Island. The establishment of an entirely new banking system is also sought,

extension of the United States copyright laws to the Island of

Puerto Rico, and a complete change in the system of local taxation by which a tax is levied upon the products without regard to value of property, and which falls so heavily upon the producing class as to greatly retard production, so that scarce one-twentieth of the productive zone is cultivate.




The condition of the working classes was explained by the commissioner to the President and also their qualification to exercise the right or suffrage, and be accorded the other similar liberties and privileges enjoyed by the people of the United States.

Replying to the commissioners the President stated that it was his intention that the native inhabitants of Puerto Rico should enjoy as much liberty and privileges as the American citizens. The commissioners then called the attention of the President to the fact than native telegraph operators, employees of custom houses and others employed in similar positions had been displaced by officers and soldiers of the American army. President McKinley asserted it as his purpose to see that Puerto­Ricans should become acquainted step by step with the proper system of self-government, serving a period of apprenticeship in the different departments of the government, and declared that they had a right to petition for redress from their grievances. The commissioners explained that it was their understanding that it

was not the duty of the federal government to interfere in some of the matters asked for, but that they felt that the support of the President in the matter of these reforms would greatly aid in bringing them about.




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