Lawyer, politician, orator and essayist. He participated in the autonomous movement on the island during Spanish rule. With the change of sovereignty that took place in Puerto Rico as a result of the Spanish-American War, he defended the republican cause and the new United States government, which promised progress and freedom. Although he participated in the founding of the Puerto Rico Union Party in 1904, prior to the implementation of the Foraker Act and the colonial regime it implied, he later adopted pro-independence ideals. In 1912, he founded the first pro-independence political party in Puerto Rico, the Independence Party.
He was born in Luquillo on April 22, 1855, the son of a Spaniard, Manuel Matienzo, and an island-born woman, María de la Cruz Cintrón Márquez. At twelve years of age, he went to Spain to complete his education at the Colegio de San Isidoro, the secondary school in Lérida. Later, he studied law in Barcelona and completed his studies in 1875. He established his residence and law practice in Mayagüez. He spent time in prison in 1885 after having been accused of being a Mason.
In 1887, he participated in the assembly convened at La Perla Theater in Ponce by the liberal and liberal reformist leaders of the era. At that meeting, the Autonomist Party was formed. Because of his republican views, he initially rejected Luis Muñoz Rivera’s idea of forming a coalition with one of the parties that supported the Spanish monarchy, but he later adopted the ideas of the autonomist proponents as part of a political strategy to achieve autonomy for the island. The same year, he was part of a committee that was sent to Madrid to forge a pact, which was eventually achieved, with the Spanish Liberal Fusionist Party of Práxedes Mateo Sagasta. A pact with a Spanish party was necessary to guarantee the reforms.
The so-called “sagatista” pact was ratified in Puerto Rico in 1897 in an assembly held at the San Juan Municipal Theater. Its approval led to a division in the Autonomist Party. Those who supported the coalition with the Spanish party formed the Puerto Rican Liberal Fusionist Party and those who did not support it formed the Orthodox or Pure Autonomist Party. The Puerto Rican Liberal Fusionist Party existed until the Autonomous Charter for the island was approved.
After the change of sovereignty in 1898, he supported the presence of the United States in Puerto Rico, as he saw the possibility that the liberal and democratic ideas of the United States could be extended to the island. The same year, he was elected president of the Ponce Court, a position he occupied until 1899. When the Liberal Party (formerly the Puerto Rican Liberal Fusionist Party) joined the American Federal Party (formerly the Orthodox or Pure Autonomist Party), Matienzo joined the Republican Party founded by José Celso Barbosa (1899). The party aspired for Puerto Rico to eventually become a state of the United States.
In 1900, after the approval of the Foraker Act, he was a member of the Executive Council and the Island Board of Education. He was disappointed with the United States government, as it had not extended its policies of progress and democracy to the Puerto Ricans. This led him to propose, without abandoning his republican ideals, a non-partisan organization of Puerto Ricans to lobby for the modification of the Foraker Act. He presented his ideas in 1902 in the Manifiesto al pueblo puertorriqueño. As a result, he left the Republican Party.
In 1904, he was invited to the assembly of the American Federal Party, led by Luis Muñoz Rivera, who had changed his position against a union of Puerto Rican parties and sectors. Matienzo, along with Muñoz Rivera and Manuel Zeno Gandía, among others, created the Puerto Rico Union Party, a diverse organization that joined former autonomists, republicans, labor leaders and other groups under a platform that rejected the colonial regime established by the Foraker Act. The Party demanded an autonomous government for the island. Once the island obtained its own government, it would debate the possibility of becoming a state of the United States or creating an independent nation under the protection of the United States. The latter position was the one supported by Matienzo Cintrón, after having become disenchanted with United States policy.
Under the Union Party banner, Matienzo Cintrón was elected as a member of the House of Delegates in 1904, 1906 and 1908, and was president of the house from 1905 to 1906. He worked for the implementation of social reforms such as the eight-hour work day and the creation of workers’ cooperatives. He opposed the death penalty and supported women’s suffrage and public education in the Spanish language.
Some of his political positions, particularly his criticisms of the U.S.-backed government in Puerto Rico and his pro-independence ideas, were considered radical by many of the members of the Union Party, and he was marginalized in the party. In 1912, after abandoning that party, he founded the Puerto Rico Independence Party along with Eugenio Benítez Castaño.
A year later, on December 13, 1913, he died in his hometown. The town plaza in Luquillo is named for him and a monument in his memory is located there. His prose, his writings on philosophy and politics, are found in various publications of the era, such as La correspondencia de Puerto Rico and La araña, among others.
By the PROE Editorial Group
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 11, 2014.
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