EUGENIO MARIA DE HOSTOS’S TEXTS WRITTEN in NEW YORK- INTERVIEWS WITH THE AMERICAN PRESS
- The Sun, New York, Jan. 19, 1899
THE NEEDS OF PUERTO RICO
A commission in Washington to Confer with the President
A Stable Currency Is One of the Most Imperative Needs, They
Say -Then the Tariff Is a Great Burden on the People
Absolute Municipal Freedom Is Asked.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 – Dr. J. J. Henna, Dr. Eugenio Maria Hostos, and Dr. Zeno Candia, members of the Puerto Rico
Commission chosen by the people of the Island to come to Washington and present their needs and requirements to the American Government, are in this city today. They will seek an audience with the President at the earliest date possible, and also with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War, and will confer with an umber of members of the committees of Congress relative to the future policy of the United States toward Puerto Rico and the political and social reforms necessary and requested by the people. Concerning the purposes of the commission, Dr. Hostos said today:
“Many radical reforms are necessary, and to inaugurate them and place the people of the island in a prosperous condition and the various departments of the local government upon a firm basis, it will require considerable time for the wrongs of centuries of misrule must be righted. Therefore the people are anxious that the work of reformation and reconstruction should be
commenced without delay. The people of Puerto Rico welcomed the intervention of the United States and rejoiced when the island was taken by the American army and when it was ceded to the United States by Spain. The people, however, are still suffering from the unjust laws and customs of Spain. Our commission will present to the President a plan for the organization of a local self-government for the Island along lines heretofore pursued by the United States Government, and we believe it will meet with favor.
“One of the most imperative needs of Puerto Rico at the present time is a radical change of financial systems. The present Spanish system, like other Spanish policies, is abominable, and prices are now fictitious and unstable, so that people do not know where they stand, and capital is of course unwilling to make any ventures until there is established a sound system of currency. Puerto Rico is in great need of capital to develop and build up her industries, and she desires to place herself in a position such as will enable her to invite capital with assurance of a lucrative return and absolute security and safety. Again, the banking system on the island is about as imperfect as are all the other
Spanish systems, and reform is needed in this matter, which, of course, will very naturally follow currency reform.
“Just what we shall recommend or ask for in relation to these two questions is not yet decided upon, and will not be until we have had an opportunity to confer with some of the leading financiers in the United States, and also with some Senators and Representatives in Congress. The great need of a change in these two all important matters is apparent to anyone who has been in Puerto Rico or who has studied the conditions existing there.
“Again, one of the most vital matters to Puerto Rico is the matter of the tariff on imported goods. For years the people have suffered from the impost of duties under the Spanish regime, which has raised the price of goods of prime necessity to an abnormal plane. While the American tariff, now operative, may be more equitable, it is nevertheless a great burden to the vast majority of the people of the island. It raises the prices of articles of first necessity far above what the people are able to pay. Between the Spanish and the American tariffs the Puerto Ricans can see little difference. Both work them an injustice. While the
American tariff may be advantageous to the people of the United States, it is not suited to the needs of the people of Puerto Rico. They do need it as a protection to build up their industries. But the enactment of just laws and freedom from Spanish rule they
will be able, with the aid of capital which will flow to the Island, to develop their own resources.
“It must be understood that the chief source of wealth in Puerto Rico is that derived from her agricultural resources. It is what we raise upon the plantations that supports the people, and in exchange for these the people want the manufactures articles, upon which the tariff is high, and owing to the destitution of a majority of the people, these they are unable to purchase. Consequently the agricultural classes, which form a large proportion of the population are in a bad condition. Until some relief is gained in this matter it will be impossible to develop the agricultural industries, and until they are developed the people will not prosper. Large tracts of land are now idle on this account. The tariff operates both ways against the agricultural classes in Puerto Rico. ‘We shall also ask for absolute municipal freedom and reform. There has been some little dissatisfaction over the
establishment of the Government of the municipality of Ponce, but we believe that this can be easily arranged. There are seventy two municipalities in the island, and what is desired for them is local self-government. There is also a great need for educational reform in the island. School facilities are very meager, and we shall present to the President a plan for free public instruction in all parts of the island. This need may perhaps best be illustrated when I state that only about 16 per cent of the population are able to read and write. There are also other reforms of which I am not at liberty to speak now until we have seen the President and some of the other authorities, but which will be made public later. ”