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Luis Muñoz Rivera, Puerto Rican Patriot

Luis Munoz Rivera, First Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in 1909

Luis Muñoz Rivera (1859-1916)

The Campaign for Puerto Rican Autonomy:

Luis Muñoz Rivera Led From the Front

Luis Muñoz Rivera (1859-1916) was instrumental in gaining Puerto Rican autonomy under Spanish rule. After the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1898, he retired from politics for several years. Elected as Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico in 1909, Muñoz Rivera helped establish American citizenship for Puerto Ricans through the Jones-Shafroth Act. He proposed several amendments before the final passing of the act in 1917.[1][2]

As the only one of the former Spanish colonies to be retained by the United States following the end of the Spanish-American War, some investigation must be made into why Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship and yet the island has not been granted statehood. The fact that Puerto Rico remains a possession over one hundred years later and not an incorporated territory (such as a full-fledged state) has been a matter of great debate. The United States government has been accused of maintaining Puerto Rico as a modern day colony, subjecting its people to American control, exploiting its resources and failing to recognize the right of the Puerto Rican people to self-determination. The fact that the U.S. military and private American companies have benefitted from the island's status lends credibility to the idea of Puerto Rican exploitation at the hands of the United States, although there may be some benefit to the Puerto Rican people as American citizens and as an American territory.

Part of the United States government’s decision to grant citizenship to Puerto Ricans involved undercutting a desire for independence by the Puerto Rican people which was being cultivated by pro-independence parties.[3] Cuba was granted independence by the United States in 1902 at the end of a military occupation following the Spanish-American War. Although only after a bloody war now known as the Philippine-American War (June 1899-July 1902), the Philippines were granted independence on July 4, 1946 following a lengthy process and a series of military conflicts that lasted from 1899 until 1913.[4] In contrast, Puerto Ricans' call for independence was quelled not through military action, but through political pressure and assimilation. This could have been a result of the circumstances surrounding the Philippines and an active effort by the United States to avoid repeating the process of violence, or the differing views of the Puerto Rican elite could have been the lynchpin that led to a more peaceful process.

Establishing an autonomous government for Puerto Rico began prior to the Spanish-American War and was granted by Spain in 1897. The Autonomist Party was created by members of the Liberal Party, including Román Baldorioty de Castro, who would mentor Muñoz Rivera. Under this new organization, the Autonomist party sought to establish a separate government for Puerto Rico while maintaining its political and economic ties to Spain.

Muñoz Rivera was able to garner support for the party through his writings and speeches, appealing to the jíbaro (mountain-dwelling peasant) population.  When the Conservative Party viewed this as a threat and closed down the newspapers printing Muñoz Rivera’s writings, Francisco Cepeda Taborcias, editor of La Revista de Puerto Rico, was eventually jailed for alleged participation in revolutionary conspiracies against the Spanish regime. Muñoz Rivera replaced him as editor. Cepeda then criticized the policies of Muñoz Rivera's mentor, Baldorioty de Castro (who was also jailed along with Cepeda), after being freed from imprisonment. Following this, Cepeda was elected to the position of secretary of the Autonomist Party and Baldioroty de Castro became the honorary president. Angered by such lack of respect for his mentor on Cepeda's part and assumingly by Cepeda's supporters who voted him in, Muñoz Rivera challenged Cepeda to a duel. The challenge was initially accepted, but Cepeda rescinded once preparations began, losing his place in the party’s hierarchical structure as a result. [5]


[1] “Luis Muñoz Rivera", Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995, Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/congress/munozrivera.html.

[2] “Jones Act”. The World of 1898: The Spanish American War. Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/jonesact.html

[3] Muñoz Rivera, Luis”, History, Arts and Archives: United States Representatives, http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/20429?ret=True

[4] Jerry Keenan, Encyclopedia of the Spanish-American & Philippine-American Wars, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, Inc. 2001, p.211-212.[5] "Muñoz Rivera, Luis"