Román Baldorioty de Castro

Román Baldorioty de Castro: Founded the Puerto Rican Autonomist Party. (Library of Congress)

Educator, orator, writer and political figure who worked for autonomy for Puerto Rico and the abolition of slavery. He was a member of the Liberal Reformist Party, which he represented as a deputy in the Court of Cádiz. Along with other political leaders, he founded the Puerto Rican Autonomist Party.

He was born in Guaynabo on February 28, 1822, to a family of humble means. He began his elementary studies in San Juan at the school of teacher maestro Rafael Cordero. He later studied at the Council Seminary, where he earned a scholarship to continue his studies at the Central University of Madrid. In 1851, he earned a degree in physical sciences and mathematics. During his time in Madrid, he joined the Collecting Society of Historical Documents of the Island of San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico, along with José Julián Acosta and Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, among others. He later went to Paris, France, where he studied at the Paris Central School of Arts and Manufacture.

In 1853, he returned to Puerto Rico to dedicate himself to teaching and politics. He was named to the faculty of botany and navigation at the School of Commerce, Agriculture and Seamanship in San Juan and the physics and chemistry faculty at the Council Seminary. In 1870, he joined the ranks of the Liberal Reformist Party, which worked for greater civil liberties for Puerto Ricans, including the abolition of slavery. He belonged to the branch of the party that supported regional autonomy. The same year, he was elected deputy to the Court to represent the party in Cádiz, Spain.

In a speech he gave while in Madrid, he referred to slavery as a crime, and for that he was prohibited from teaching upon his return to the island. When he came back to Puerto Rico in 1873, he founded the newspaper El Derecho in Ponce. He suffered political persecution because of his liberal ideas and writing, so he moved to Santo Domingo, where he founded the Antillano College. He was also named director of the Seamanship School by the government.

In 1878, back on the island, he tried to found a school in Mayagüez, but the governor of the time, Eulogio Despujols, denied him a permit. Two years later, he became director of the Ponce newspaper La Crónica, through which he disseminated his autonomist ideas. In 1886, he wrote the Ponce Plan, which presented a Canadian model of autonomous government, which inspired a new effort among the intellectuals of the city and resulted in the founding in 1887 of the Autonomist Party at La Perla Theater.

That year, called the “terrible year” of 1887, the secret society called “Boycotters” supported a boycott of Spanish-owned businesses and support for Puerto Rican businesses. Spanish Governor Romualdo Palacios responded with regimen of military tribunals and a period of persecution of autonomists. Baldorioty de Castro was accused of distributing seditious propaganda and was jailed at the San Felipe del Morro Fort. Although he was in prison for a short time, his health was affected from then on, and he retired from public life. He died in Ponce on September 30, 1889.

His works largely reflect his political thinking. He was the author of Exposición Universal de París en 1867 (1868), La junta informativa de reformas para Puerto Rico (1869), La interpelación del diputado D. Luis Padial y sus consecuencias (1869), Las facultades omnímodas en 1811 y los diputados de Puerto Rico en 1869 (1871), Bases para la fundación de un Banco de Emisión y Descuento (1871) and Una campaña parlamentaria (1873). He also translated the tragedy Felipe II by Italian poet Alfieri and On Liberty by English politician and thinker John Stuart Mill.

Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 11, 2014.

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