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Luis Munoz Marin: 1898-1980: Governor, Statesman

Left Liberals To Start New Party

Munoz Marin's vehement opposition to independence for Puerto Rico, as well as his support for land reform, eventually brought him into conflict with leaders of the Liberal Party, as well as the American sugar barons. In 1937 he left the Liberal Party and a year later formed the Popular Democratic Party. To gather support for his fledgling party, Munoz Marin organized the island's landless jibaros under the slogan "Bread, Land, and Liberty." In campaigning for the elections of 1940 under the Popular Democratic banner, he struck out at the longtime practice of selling one's vote for two dollars. Campaigning throughout the island, Munoz Marin warned peasants that they could have "justice or two dollars. But you can't have both." He promised that, if elected to the Senate, he would continue his efforts to break up the large landholdings of foreign-based agricultural combines, regulate the sugar industry, improve rural electrification, set a minimum wage, and seek to promote new business on the island.

Munoz Marin was elected to the Puerto Rican Senate in 1940 with the greatest number of votes for any candidate, paving the way for his election to the presidency of the Senate. Despite strong opposition from rival parties, he managed to push through the island's legislature a number of bills to help improve life for the island's jibaros. Bills successfully championed by Munoz Marin included a measure to exempt taxes on all property assessed at $1,000 or less, an elimination of the sales tax coupled with a sharp increase in income taxes, and the establishment of a minimum-wage commission. Teaming with Governor Rexford G. Tugwell, appointed in 1941, Munoz Marin set up the Land Authority, which over the next decade redistributed tens of thousands of acres to the island's peasants. Although Tugwell came under fire for supporting "socialist experiments," Munoz Marin's popularity continued to grow. In the 1944 elections, his Popular Democratic Party captured most of the seats in the island legislature, winning more than twice as many votes as all the other parties combined.

Buoyed by his party's resounding victory at the polls, Munoz Marin began to push for industrialization, convinced that it was the best way to raise the average annual income for his countrymen. He realized that to successfully industrialize the island, there were obstacles he needed to overcome. These included the quota on Puerto Rican sugar, high freight rates on Puerto Rican exports, and the competition from mainland manufacturers who undersold Puerto Ricans whenever they attempted to diversity their industrial base. To address these barriers to greater industrialization, Munoz Marin stepped up his efforts to win greater political autonomy for Puerto Rico. He saw his dream come true in 1947 when the U.S. Congress gave the island the right to elect its own governor. A year later, Munoz Marin became the first popularly elected governor of Puerto Rico. In 1950 Puerto Rico won the right to create its own constitution and have it approved by popular vote. On July 25, 1952, Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the United States. Its new status gave Puerto Rico its own flag and the right to make domestic laws and elect its own officials without approval from the U.S. Congress.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Al Loving Biography - Loved Painting from Early Age to Alice McGill Biography - PersonalLuis Munoz Marin: 1898-1980: Governor, Statesman Biography - Followed In Father's Footsteps, Found Himself Drawn Into Politics, Left Liberals To Start New Party