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Luis A. Ferre, 99; Ex-Governor Sought Puerto Rico Statehood

October 22, 2003|From Associated Press

Luis A. Ferre, a philanthropist and former governor of Puerto Rico who became the patriarch of the territory's U.S. statehood movement, died Tuesday in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was 99.

Ferre, who had been hospitalized for weeks with pneumonia, died of respiratory failure with his family at his side, said Jose Serra, a spokesman for the family.

The venerated "Don Luis" had played a prominent role in Puerto Rican politics since World War II, chasing the ideal of U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico while overseeing his charitable foundation.

"Puerto Rico has lost a man of principles who dedicated his life to his ideals," said Gov. Sila Calderon, who ordered flags flown at half-staff.

Ferre was a member of the assembly that produced Puerto Rico's 1952 constitution, he founded the pro-statehood New Progressive Party in 1967, and he was governor from 1969 through 1972.

He stayed involved in politics, testifying before U.S. congressional panels in favor of statehood and participating in presidential nominating conventions. He remained chairman of the island's branch of the Republican Party and served as Puerto Rico's Senate president from 1977 to 1980.

"He's a friend, and I like him very much," former President George H.W. Bush told Associated Press on Oct. 10.

Born Feb. 17, 1904, in the southern city of Ponce, Ferre was the grandson of a French engineer who worked on the Panama Canal before settling in Cuba. His father, Antonio, moved to Puerto Rico as a young man and married Maria Aguayo Casals, a cousin of the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who lived in Puerto Rico.

Ferre studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and trained at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was an accomplished classical pianist.

He and his brother started the Puerto Rico Cement Co. in Ponce; it was the source of the family's wealth. Ferre also founded the city's library, opened the Ponce Museum of Art and bought the newspaper, which was on the brink of folding. His son moved the newspaper to San Juan, and El Nuevo Dia is now the island's biggest daily, with a circulation of about 200,000.

It was during his university days, Ferre said, that he developed a passion for the "American way of democracy" and eventual statehood for Puerto Rico, which was seized as war booty from Spain in 1898.

As members of a commonwealth, Puerto Ricans receive some federal benefits, vote in U.S. presidential primaries and do not pay federal taxes.

Puerto Ricans cannot vote for president, however, and they send only one representative to Congress, who can vote only in committee.

Ferre said Puerto Rico's "colonial condition" hindered its ability to participate in federal affairs.

Ferre's first wife, Lorencita Ramirez de Arellano, died in 1970. He is survived by his second wife, Tiody de Jesus; and two children from his first marriage: a son, Antonio; and a daughter, Rosario, the author of "The House On The Lagoon," a 1995 National Book Award finalist.

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