IV PAGES FROM THE HOSTOS DIARY
Madrid, January 23, 1869
To the gentlemen who signed the petition sent to the Provisional Government
Gentlemen: Assuming a patriotic duty that dictates my constant defense of fiU country, on the 19th of this month I visited the President of the Provisional Government to deliver the statement addressed to him.
Since I could not go with Mr. Julio Vizcarrondo, whose work deprived him of the pleasure of rendering this service to his country, I invited Don Manuel Alonso of Guayama and Don Santiago de Oppenheimer. The intellectual and professional work of Mr. Alonso as well as his patriotic service make him worthy of representing his country; no less worthy is Mr. Oppenheimer, who comes from Ponce and is therefore a native representative of his Town.
Since I believe that an account of the meetings held with the President is of political importance; and since I believe that at the present moment words and even insinuations’ have transcendental value, I will report accurately and objectively on the meetings we have held with the Executive Chief in reference to our statement.
Our country should reflect on these meetings.
The first conference, held on the 19th of this month, was brief. Upon presenting the statement, I told General Serrano that its unconditional character was a symptom of the state the country was in. Having no liberties whatsoever, it demands them all; unable to choose any single liberty because they are all equally precious, as [illegible] they ask for everything because they are in need of everything.
In an effort to prove to us that the government plans to extend freedom to the Antilles, the Government Chief spoke to us about the upcoming Electoral Law and described its function. I said that the electoral tax they planned to impose ($25) was too high, and that the number of deputies was insufficient. In reference to the electoral fee, I demonstrated it was excessive by making them see that it would deprive a multitude of individuals from the right to vote, and would also deprive men of intelligence of the right to being elected. When the President objected, I answered that the intelligent but poor people who know the in
telligent men of the country would not be able to give these men representation, since they would be deprived of the right to vote. The President acknowledged the seriousness of our objection, and promised to discuss it in the Council of Ministers. When the President expressed another objection about the number of deputies, Mr. Alonso answered by showing [illegible] the total population of Puerto Rico is smaller, in a [illegible] than that of Cuba, the free population is the same.
We were eager to intercede for the unfortunate people suffering in prisons, and asked for amnesty. Mr. Alonso echoed this noble wish, and I expounded on it by asking that there be an immediate suspension of the sentence imposed on the five noble Puerto Ricans who were deported after being pardoned. The president acknowledged the need to do justice to our petition, and promised to do so. The meeting ended.
Three days later, on Mr. Oppenheimer’s suggestion, we met again with the Chief of the Revolutionary Government.
He spoke about the concessions they had made, assigning us the [illegible] of nine to eleven deputies which appeared in Article One of the Electoral Law published two days before, and about the amnesty granted on our request to [illegible] involved in the Lares insurrection. I pointed out to the President that the concession made in [illegible] Electoral Law was not very liberal; that a reduction of the fee would have been [illegible], since that way we would have obtained not more deputies, but more liberal ones. The President blamed the personal limitations of one of the Ministers for this and other displays of indifference and inertia common in the colonial policy of the revolution. Later, emphasizing his good wishes, the President spoke about amnesty, “from which,” he said with supreme benevolence, “we have only excluded foreigners”. Mr. Hostos did not hide the painful offense he took at this exclusion, and said he did not find the measure to be either political or equitable, adding that there was not even an apparent reason for it since the only person excluded, Mr. Rojas, is not a foreigner. Disclosing personal facts about Mr. Rojas, Mr. Alonso supported the defense made by Mr. Hostos, which demonstrated that for many years now, the noble adoptive son of Puerto Rico could be considered a native son of the Island, since he had lived there from childhood. Mr. Hostos generalized on the idea involved in the above reasoning, and said that the Island could not be grateful for an amnesty which sacrificed one of her defenders, and that Puerto Rico was equally obligated to intercede for Mr. Rojas as for the most beloved of her sons.
And in an effort to make the idea of high political standards prevail, he used the current struggle in Cuba as an example, where a unanimous voice would come out against a pardon which did not extend equal clemency to both foreign and Cuban insurgents. The President, who had
taken note of the information provided by Mr. Alonso about Mr. Rojas, a Venezuelan, and had stated that he agreed with the idea of general amnesty, thought it fit to state that there was no similarity between the personal case of Mr. Rojas-who in fact should be considered Puerto Rican-and the foreigners involved in the Cuban insurrection, “the likes of whom,” he said, ” I believe should be executed”.
The meeting went on, marred by the painful impression left by those words born of a policy of narrow patriotism (a very powerful one however, if it can attract such altruistic personalities as the current President). Mr. Alonso, taking an article published in El Imparcial which denounced the acts of cruel indifference that have made victims [illegible] the sixty dead prisoners, vigorously criticized the governmental system in Puerto Rico, and described the abuses, immoralities, and arbitrary acts which make it up [illegible] of Mr. Rojas, the system, whose warranted lack of popularity he described passionately, getting the President to take note, we don’t know whether to depose it or to avoid its intrigues from getting the deputation they seek. Mr. Alonso also spoke of the despotic intentions underlying the difference between criollos and Spaniards; the latter’s plans of usurping public businesses; he spoke about the letters Rojas wrote to the mayors which caused him to be put under surveillance, and about the voluntary exile this annoying vigilance forced him to accept; about the services rendered by his father, a Spanish soldier, his impoverishment and his love for Spain. Mr. Hostos interrupted him, saying that the aim of the meeting was a high political one, insisting on the fundamental basis for the conference-the state the country was in due to the narrow vision of colonial policy; to the excitement of the President he denounced the flaws in the Electoral Law, declared that’ he would present a statement of protest against it, indicated that the preamble, Article 24, the supplement, and the order accompanying the Law constituted an offense against the dignity of the Antilles, and stated the deep__ discontent he felt about the spirit of Spanish policy, saying it “is not satisfied with wounding our rights, our liberties, our moral and intellectual activity, it also pierces our dignity.” The President showed a desire for conciliation, saying he thought that despite the spirit of the Law, liberal deputies would appear. “But,” he added, “the precedents set by the delegations from America are so harsh, the Antilleans’s vehemence causes so much fear, and there is so much doubt as to whether this vehemence is at the level, and not beyond, of the ideas of government. ..” Mr. Hostos, wanting to dismiss the historic error of attributing to the American delegations what should really be blamed on the political parsimony of the colonial system, and also wanting to explain that in the critical state of Spanish-Antillean relations, only federa
tion, under either a monarchy or a republic, (since the form of government adopted by the Spaniards should not matter to the Antilleans, nor should it influence the autonomous regime a federation would satisfy), said that the American delegation of 1810 had been a model of civilization and conciliation; that the true, immediate and necessary cause for the explosion of sentiments and ideas it produced was colonial history itself. “A regime of silence,” he said, “in which all the moral horrors of tyranny take protection, when the light of [illegible] falls upon it, it is destroyed-the explosion is natural. As to my exaltation, I, who have none when [illegible] the interef3ts of the people, cannot have any, because I know that with my radical scientific theories, you either go where they take you or the matter turns into a problem of whether to be or not to be…”
The President thought this was a declaration of republicanism. He is a man of abundant feelings, but of ideas that are limited to the narrow circle of party politics; like most of his colleagues in government, he is evidently inferior to the revolutionary task imposed on him; he is incapable of realizing that in revolutionary states, being a revolutionary is equal to being conservative; excited by the political passions of the time, wounded by the self-reproach experienced by all honest souls whose; personal means do not match the purpose he has adopted, the President imprudently abandoned himself to an excitement which was uncalled for; he accused Mr. Hostos of directly and personally attacking the Provisional Government and, trying to justify his lack of self-control and composure, (already sufficiently explained by the unconfessed state of excitability that he, along with the rest of the government, has been put in by active Republican propaganda), he heatedly referred to Mr. Hostos’s words criticizing the attacks on the dignity of the Antilles by colonial policy; he spoke of his personal dignity and harshly denied that anyone had the right to protest on behalf of the dignity of the Antilles. The
President was visibly subject to an error of interpretation, and because of his passionate interpretation of Mr. Hostos’s words, had abandoned himself to an abnormal expression of his annoyance at the active opposition of the Republicans, so Mr. Alonso tried to calm him by saying he was not a Republican. Mr. Hostos simply tried to make it clear that he had been misunderstood; he listened calmly to the President, and when he finally became convinced that the official distance separating him from the Government Chief prevented him from making the latter understand the moral distance which stood between them at that moment, he stood up.
A full hour of lessons for the Antilles had passed.
Mr. Hostos, thinking of the Antilles instead of himself, has had the
self-control he needed to gather those lessons, and has summarized them in the following points:
- That the excellent wishes of the President of the Provisional Government in favor of the Antilles are opposed by the inertia of the Overseas Minister, by the ignorance or indifference of the other members of the government, and by his own weakness.
- A categorical statement was made about the incompetence of the Overseas Minister, as well as an implicit one about the evident futility of the efforts for conciliation in the Antilles; since the government, lacking the audacity to rid itself of an incompetent member, continues to deal 0 with the complications brought by his inconsistencies in the Antilles, it naturally follows that the Islands cannot and should not have any faith in the justice of this government, until the time comes when the Antilles themselves are sovereign and are able to accept by agreement the union now imposed on them by force.
- That the President is of the same opinion, since he declared himself as much of a filibustero’ as the natives themselves (if by filibustero we understand, as he said, those who want liberty for the Antilles), and recognized the Antilles’ right to separate if they were denied such liberty.
- That since Antillean interests are placed after all others, to the point that the laws passed for them are the sole work of a single Minister and are unknown to the others until they are published (as is the case with the Electora,! Law, which according to the President neither he nor any other minister knew abbut until after it was published, and he criticized it while the others applauded), the Antilles cannot and should not permit legislation of their laws in this manner, under penalty of dishonor and perpetual slavery.
- That since Antillean administration depends on the discrete election of officials, there cannot be a good administration when an election is made that is “the worst yet”-as the President said-in favor of contemptible persons such as those who remain ilI}. Puerto Rico and those who are sent to Cuba.
- That a mature colony cannot trust a colonial regime which-even under the transforming influence of a revolutionary government-persists on the spirit of reserve and silence seen in the electoral decree signed in December and published at the end of January.
- That Puerto Rico cannot expect anything from a metropolis that treats it, ‘with disdain and makes it liable for the good and the bad occur
. Patriot working for the emancipation of Spain’s overseas possessions., (Translators’ Note) /
ring in Cuba, a metropolis which uses Cuba’s present state as a pretext for denying the rights and freedoms it could have established in Puerto Rico, not only as a duty to justice, but also as a proof that, breaking with [illegible] of despotism, the revolution [illegible] freedom in the Antilles (which it can establish).
- That all the supposed benevolence of the revolutionary government towards Puerto Rico stemmed from the cherished idea that Puerto Rico was less liberal and easier to please than Cuba.
- That the benevolence disappears the moment a native of Puerto Rico declares that the only guarantee his country wants is federation, that is to say, the system in which unity is born of a pact between equal and sovereign states and is maintained by mutual agreement until it is dissolved by mutual agreement.
- That when a chief of government becomes excited when a colonial rejects the attacks directed at his country’s dignity, this country becomes responsible for his indignity in the present and the future if it does not vindicate in time its rights to dignity, which are the rights most sacred and most worthy of vigorous defense.
Since Ponce has been the first to demand liberties, it should learn to demand its inviolable right to dignity.
This is the ultimate admonition sent to you by your commissioners and deduced from an accurate account of the meetings.