María de los Ángeles Castro Arroyo and Gervasio Luis García, Humanists of the Year 2011
Fresh off the bicentennial of the Constitution approved by the Spanish Cortes in 1812, and close to the anniversary of the death of Ramón Power y Giralt in June of 1813, we decided to take advantage of this generous and undeserved recognition to reconsider and celebrate the work of the Puerto Rican representative and the first vice president of the top Spanish legislative body in the modern era. Power is a character tenaciously and lovingly pursued by María de los ángeles for more than a decade, and her account is the best and strongest we know. So as not to crush you with two lectures, we agreed on one conversation with you, with two voices.

My part is the preamble and the ending, the Spanish and American backdrop that helps us appreciate the extraordinary battles in hostile territory. Remember that Power was in the vortex of two wars of independence: that of Spain against the French and that of the American colonies against Spain.

First is our conviction that the Constitution of 1812 cannot be understood apart from the struggles for independence, nor can those wars be understood apart from the inability of the Cortes to incorporate the democratic demands of the discontented insurrectionists of the Americas. In the minority, Power was one of the firmest and most intelligent voices, sharpened by the prospect of losing the unique opportunity to stop the fracturing of the Spanish Americas and to create another Spanish nation.

It is significant that Rafael Rojas in his recent book, The Republics of Air: Utopia and Disenchantment in the Spanish American Revolution [2009], which won the Isabel Polanco International Prize, passes over the Cortes of 1812 and ignores it in his analysis of the chaotic origin of the first American republics.[1] The opportunity to bring together Spain and its colonies in a united front against the French invaders was squandered. Blaming the disaster in the Americas on Bolivar and other “frustrated” and “melancholy” liberators is to forget the weight of Spain and to look back on Spain’s past with nostalgia.

The Spain in which Power lived – which was also the mother of the rebellious colonies – was not a model nation. Its political history in the 19th century was described by Pierre Vilar as “colorful or distasteful,” a “series of intrigues, comedies and drama.” [2] Manuel Tuñón de Lara is more severe in concluding that from Carlos IV until 1868, the governing powers put “adventures of the heart at the head of the Spanish state.”[3]

Three years after the Spanish fleet was sunk at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805), Spain suffered the Napoleonic invasion. Carlos IV and Fernando VII, who admired and were subservient to the French, ceded the throne in exchange for a residence and income.[4] But the people rebelled and began a war that would also become a revolution against the most corrupt sector of the Spanish monarchy.

The Cortes of Cádiz and the Constitution of 1812, which ushered Spain into modernity, emerged from this struggle between the patriotic nation and the French. The country ceased to be an absolute monarchy of divine rights and became a moderate monarchy that was hereditary but constitutional. The war of Spanish liberation ended in 1813 with the decisive help of the English army, under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley.

In the midst of the shrapnel of the French siege, the Cortes was a great leap forward from the retrograde, multi-secular monarchy. At the same time, in its desire to reconcile the weight of the past with an uncertain promise of the future, it made serious concessions: it declared the Catholic religion to be the exclusive, true and official religion and it denied the right to vote to those from Africa and the lower castes, stripping the majority of people in the Iberian peninsula and the Americas of the right to vote.[5]

Fernando VII returned from France in 1814, and because the treaty with Napoleon (Valençay, December 11, 1813) restored him as king, he suppressed the most significant achievements of the Cortes: he repealed freedom of the press and restored the Inquisition: “The country had entered a fierce and bloody military dictatorship based on exaltation of the monarchy and religion.”[6]

With the support of the church and the landowning aristocracy – untouched by the Cádiz laws – he persecuted and imprisoned the liberals. In 1820, the country tried to slip free of this implacable regime with the progressive military pronouncement by Commander Riego, which restored the Constitution of 1812.[7] But the invasion of 100,000 sons of San Luis, sent by France with the blessing of Santa Alianza, again installed the horror of Fernando VII in 1823. Notable among his atrocities was the suspension of all newspapers, the closure of all the universities and the opening of a bullfighting school, while in the Americas he nailed down the colonial ties with cannon fire.[8] In 1833, a month after the death of the harsh king, the Carlist Wars began, a civil war whose first episode lasted for seven bloody years.


[1] Rafael Rojas, Las repúblicas de aire. Utopía y desencanto en la revolución de Hispanoamérica. México, Taurus, 2009.

[2]Pierre Vilar, Histoire d’Espagne. Paris, Prese Universitaire de France, 1968 p.53.

[3] Dominique Aubier y Manuel Tuñón, Espagne. Paris, Edition du Seuil, 1967, p. 64 y ss.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 279.

[6] Emiliano Fernández de Pineda et alCentralismo, Ilustración y agonía del antiguo régimen (1715-1833). Barcelona, 1982, p.284.

[7] Teniente coronel Rafael de Riego, 1 de enero de 1820 en Cabezas de San Juan, localidad de Sevilla.

[8] Aubrier y Tuñón, Espagne…, p. 68; Miguel Artola, Partidos y programas políticos 1808-1936. Madrid, Aguilar, 1974, 2 vols., I, p. 135.

In broad strokes, this was the damaged and declining Spain that Ramón Power’s Cortes tried to bury constitutionally in 1812. And this was also the situation that gave birth to the American colonies that the mother country was not able to integrate. This is one of the ingredients that help us understand Power’s dream: that it be “declared from today on that those possessions are nothing less than a nation and are integral parts of the Spanish monarchy with equal rights of national representation.”[9]

Power’s utopia did not come out of nowhere. Remember that the first cry for independence in Mexico, by the priest Miguel Hidalgo in 1810, ended with “Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe! Down with bad government! Long live Fernando VII![10] Thus the Mexicans “…declared themselves loyal subjects of the monarch while efficiently undermining the foundation of the monarchy.”[11]

The Cortes of Cádiz, the Constitution of 1812 and the cries for freedom in America were not just armed revolutions, but also ambitious efforts to build new nations. If this was a complex, contradictory and tortured process in Spain and France, to mention just two cases, it is not unusual that it was also that way in the Americas.

This leads us to recall once again how our friend Rafael Rojas refers to the Latin American countries born from the wars as republics of “air.”[12] This is another way of speaking of utopia in its crudest sense and not in its most authentic meaning. In other words, it is utopia as the aspiration to perfection, which nourishes all human efforts toward excelling.

In his analysis of the failure of their ambitious goals, allusions to the “colonial and absolutist inheritance of the Spanish monarchy” are reduced to brief and fleeting mentions. In truth, it is unjust to blame imperial Spain for the tortuous history of the newborn republics. But it is no less just to point out the poor example of the Spanish monarchist and absolutist state. It is also indisputable that the heritage of centuries of colonialism and destructive social and economic structures were little help in building modern nations in the Americas.

Still, in the long term, the republics put down roots in the land by introducing, as José Antonio Piqueras wrote, “new factors in social and political life, loosening chains, creating opportunities, nurturing the idea of citizenship” and “social mobility increased… and it is very unlikely this would have happened under the Spanish constitutional regime.”[13]

Further, in Power’s time, to be modern a nation state had to be built. But in the Americas, how could nations be built from an empire used up and fragmented by geographic gaps and insuperable distances, multilingual and multiethnic, complicated by the slavery of millions of Africans and their descendants, the servitude of millions of indigenous people, and discrimination against the mixed-race and native-born?

In other words, the colonial clay was poor stuff for molding and firing countries with solid democratic institutions and rights, which Europe itself had to do in bloody fits and starts. Power was part of the modest group that set out to address the abysmal lack of resources to build a new Spanish nation. Not only did he have to face the lack of understanding, ignorance and prejudices of his colleagues on the peninsula, but he also had to deal with the enmity of Governor Salvador Meléndez Bruna and his followers in the Cádiz press.


[9] Aída R. Caro Costas, Ramón Power y Giralt, diputado puertorriqueño a las Cortes generales y extraordinarias de España, 1810-1833. (Compilación de documentos). Segunda edición revisada, ampliada y ensayo preliminar por María de los ángeles Castro Arroyo, San Juan de Puerto Rico, Oficina del Historiador Oficial, Publicaciones Gaviota, 2012, p.148.

[10] José Antonio Piqueras, Bicentenarios de libertad. La fragua de la política en España y las Américas. Barcelona, Ediciones Península, 2010, p. 428.

[11] Ibid, p. 429.

[12] Rojas, op. cit.

[13] Piqueras, op.cit., pp. 445-446.

In the tangled setting of the Cortes of 1812, Power immediately positioned himself on the liberal side that faced the challenge of creating a new Spain, a Spain that was inclusive for all: the peninsula and the overseas territories in the Americas and the Philippines. With unquestionable firmness, he worked for reforms leading to the eradication of some of the worst ills of the old regime and to achieve changes throughout the kingdom that he believed were just and urgent. He argued that the most certain remedy for the incipient rebelliousness in the colonies was their integration, under equal conditions, into a constitutional monarchy that allowed regional autonomy.[14]

The backroom dealing at the Cortes was extremely complex. Cádiz, the final redoubt of Spain in the war against the French invaders, was a city under siege that lived under the constant fear of incessant bombardment and faced serious public health problems and a lack of provisions. The climate inside the congress was no less troubled. For the first time, representatives of the colonies and the colonizer met with the goal of designing the order for a modern state. This, by itself, was an extraordinary challenge. The peninsular delegates would have to set aside their prejudices, their fears and the colonial stigma that weighed on the Americans and Filipinos. The latter, in turn, would have to overcome the disinformation and lack of awareness of the peninsula delegates toward their places of origin, the fears awakened by the representative inequality in the terms of the makeup of the Cortes and the resentment for the endless and rotten complaints against the colonial system. In the end, there were more reasons for division than there were common ties.[15]

Some of them faced their lack of understanding among themselves, which was accented in the case of the delegates from the Americas, both between them and the peninsular delegates and among themselves, due to the huge distances between their provinces and the limited contact they had been allowed by the colonial trade scheme. Power was one of the few delegates who knew both worlds.

If that weren’t enough, the Cortes also had to deal with the multiethnic reality of the Americas and the Philippines and the dilemma of how to treat Africans and slavery. Add to that the high number of alternate delegates and the significant existing ideological disagreements in a body in which the majority were novice legislators. The peninsular delegates looked with apprehension on the path to emancipation begun by the first outbreaks of rebellion in the Americas shortly before the inauguration of the Cortes. Facing such adversity, it is admirable they could come to a consensus on a constitution that, with all the limitations that can be pointed to, modernized the exercise of power and public administration in Spain.

Power was a brave and notable voice in the Cortes of 1812, not only on issues related to Puerto Rico, but also for his participation in the liberal sector, which pushed for transformational changes, such as the institution of a constitutional monarchy, separation of powers, freedom of the press (although with concessions to ecclesiastical censorship), abolition of the Inquisition, representational equality between the peninsular and overseas provinces with racial limitations, and the poorly named universal suffrage, which excluded women and blacks. He ably defended the rights of the Americas on economic and political issues, demanding, among other things, free trade, the end to colonial tyranny and regional administrative autonomy. We have to remember that at that time, proposals of autonomist character were at the vanguard and were not well received by the moderate and conservative sectors of the Cortes and the Regency Council, which considered them a step toward emancipation.[16]

The debates in the Cortes were made even more complicated because some of the delegates from the Americas – including those from Cuba, Guatemala and Perú – came face to face with the ill will of the governors of their own provinces, who did everything possible to put obstacles in the way of their work as delegates. Plus, Power had the burden of being pursued with singular rage by the Captain General of Puerto Rico. In other words, from the time he was elected delegate, Power was in a constant struggle on two fronts: against his adversaries in the Cortes and the press in Cádiz, and against the island commander who harassed him until his death.

Our Captain General, Salvador Meléndez Bruna, was no lightweight to be trifled with. He was born in Seville in 1764, eleven years before Power, and died in Cádiz in 1828. A sailor, like the Puerto Rican, during the 1790s he participated in various expeditions to explore the coasts, conduct surveys and perform other scientific experiments on the coast between Acapulco and the Gulf of Nicaragua. He is credited with creating a map of the Gulf of Fonseca in the Pacific, which is still the source of conflict among El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. He also assisted the board charged with moving the port of Acapulco. At the end of the decade, he found himself in the Philippines, as commander of 12 ships and two land batteries (1797), and later was the military and political governor of Zamboanga in Mindanao (1798-1801). In the early years of the 19th century, he appeared in Cádiz and in 1805 he participated in the Battle of Trafalgar, where he earned his promotion to a captain in the navy. He was awarded the Great Cross of Isabel and the Cross of Saint Hermenegild and was a Knight of Santiago.[17] If that were not enough, he had brothers in influential positions. Power’s adversary, therefore, came from a recognized ancestry, which worked in his favor in the conflict with the Puerto Rican.


[14] Cf. María de los ángeles Castro Arroyo, “La lealtad anticolonial. Ramón Power en las Cortes de Cádiz” en Caro Costas, op.cit., pp. .1-34.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., pp. 6-8, 32-34.

[17] Documentos para la formación de la hoja de servicios de Salvador Meléndez Bruna en Biblioteca José M. Lázaro, Colección Puertorriqueña / Colecciones Particulares / Expedientes de los gobernadores españoles / Salvador Meléndez y Ruiz / Exp. 2, pp. 364-369. [Transcripción a maquinilla]. Además, “Busquen a Salvador Meléndez”en http://www.el salvador.com/especiales/honduras/nota4.html.

Meléndez Bruna arrived in Puerto Rico on June 30, 1809, to replace Governor Toribio Montes (1804-1809), who wasted no time in making the new resident of La Fortaleza an enemy of Power. Thus began a tortuous story of conflict and mistrust between the powerful captain general and the Puerto Rican delegate. Power’s first quarrels were with Montes. Perhaps they were set off by the obvious friendship between Power and the Field Marshal Ramón de Castro, the Marquis of Lorca and Baron of San Pedro, former captain general from 1796 to 1804, and hero of the victory over the British in 1797.[18] Known for a “hard temperament”[19] and “integrity, fairness and a love for justice” – as he was described in a portrait by Campeche for the San Juan Council — Castro had authorized the free entry of grains in the face of the threat of the British siege,[20] and, during his rule, proposed free trade, the suppression of tithes and a reduction in land rights, among other reforms.[21] At the end of his term, he extended his stay on the island from 1805 to 1808 during the official review of his term in command.[22]

The election of Power to the Central Governing Board on July 17, 1809, did not please Montes, who had tried to stop it.[23] It is clear that Power was already in the governor’s sights because of his liberal ideas, because Montes accused him before the Central Board of having the “intention of dividing and causing dissent in the government.”[24] Additionally, he kept him off the island by sending Power as part of the help from Puerto Rico for the Dominican rebellion against the French.[25]

As a result, Power was elected while he was patrolling the port of Santo Domingo.[26] Upon his return to Puerto Rico at the end of the war, a proclamation was circulated on August 18, 1809, in the name of the Dominican leader Juan Sánchez Ramírez, thanking the Dominican exiles, civil population and military bodies of Puerto Rico for their support. It did not mention Montes.[27] Not long after, in a letter to the Governing Board on September 28, 1809, he refuted allegations by Montes that the terms of surrender that had ended the war only favored the British collaborators. Montes reacted by telling Meléndez Bruna that Power’s election had been rigged.[28]

Meléndez Bruna, who had been the one to notify Power of his election and at first appeared to be pleased by it, changed his attitude after the accusations by Montes and soon challenged the election in a letter to the Central Board. With the distinctions and honors granted to Power by the Council and the ecclesiastical leadership, hierarchical and protocol rivalries flourished between the two personalities and grew into hostility.

In reality, behind the allegations between the two throbbed an issue much more serious than protocol and show: it was based on the central issue of who personified the supreme power in the province, whether it was the elected representative to the Supreme Board, the representative body of the sovereignty of the nation, or the all-powerful captain general designated by the old regime. Each one claimed to represent the sovereign power, which presumed recognition as the highest power in the province.[29] Undoubtedly the captain general and governor felt vulnerable and threatened by the pre-eminence of Power’s appointment.[30]

Another conflict arose when Power, aware of the limitations he could face in the Governing Board’s deliberations because of his background, requested that he be allowed to take a specific secretary. The chosen man, Esteban de Ayala (born in San Juan in 1778, three years after Power), was well regarded as the supervising accountant for the mail service, had studied in Madrid, had a reputation as a learned man and benefited from Power’s friendship and confidence, probably cultivated while Power defended the transit between Puerto Rico and Spain.[31] Meléndez Bruna raised every possible objection: he claimed that no delegate to the Board had the right to a particular secretary and that Ayala could not be separated from his duties without the consent of the monarch. He even said that because Ayala was of mixed race, he would not represent the white majority well.[32]

After many unpleasant incidents, Power won the controversy with the resignation of Ayala from his position and with the firm intervention of the post master, Tomás Hernández, in October of 1809. However, the governor persisted in blocking the appointment and in December of the same year, 1809, he sent Ayala abroad to work in Havana.[33] He remained there until the middle of April in 1810.[34] But destiny finds its own roads. In January of 1810, the Regency Council replaced the Supreme Board and, on April 17, through a combined process of nomination and selection, Power was again elected as a delegate. Then the Spanish Secretary of State got approval of Ayala’s appointment. It should also be mentioned that he distinguished himself in tasks he undertook for the Cortes and in 1834 was elected a delegate on his own merits.

Meléndez Bruna did not take this defeat well, and it was joined by another that was more painful for his ego and strong temper. In February of 1811, he was stripped of the omnipotent and unlimited powers he had been granted on September 4, 1810, as a preventive measure after the rebellion in Caracas in a royal decree Power criticized as “barbarous, arbitrary, despotic, tyrannical and detestable.”[35] His ardent speech led the Cortes to revoke the royal order immediately and it also led to the first of several articles against the delegate written by defenders of the captain general in the local newspapers. Some months later, on November 28, 1811, the delegate won approval of a set of reforms known as the Power Law. It addressed many of the demands he had made to improve the situation in Puerto Rico, but above all it relieved the captain general of his charge as superintendent of the Royal Treasury and ended the monopoly on food imports that the governor controlled, depriving him of a lucrative and illegal income. [36]


[18] Delfina Fernández Pascua, Ramón Power y Giralt y las Cortes de Cádiz. San Juan de Puerto Rico, Consulado General de España, MAPFRE, 2012, pp. 34-35.

[19] ádám Szászdi Nagy e István Szászdi León-Borja, Los gobernadores en la época de Campeche.San Juan de Puerto Rico, MAPFRE, 2012, P. 137.

[20] Ibid., pp. 132-133.

[21] José Campeche y su tiempo. Nueva York, 1988, p. 192; Tomás Sarramía, Los gobernadores de Puerto Rico. Publicaciones Puertorriqueñas, Inc., San Juan de Puerto Rico, 1993, pp. 82-87;

[22] Szászdi y Szászdi , op.cit., p. 129.

[23] Fernández Pascua, op.cit., pp. 34-39.

[24] Ibid, p.39-40.

[25] Ibid; Piqueras, op.cit., p. 252. El mando de la flotilla se pensó en un principio para el teniente de fragata Martin Espino. Sobre la guerra y la ayuda enviada por Puerto Rico alentada por exiliados dominicanos, cf. Fernando Picó, One frenchman, four revolutions. General Ferrand and the peoples of the Caribbean. Princeton, Markus Wiener Publishers, 2011, pp. 65-96.

[26] El proceso combinaba la nominación de un candidato por parte de cada cabildo y luego un sorteo entre ellos que se celebró en la Fortaleza.

[27] Alejandro Tapia y Rivera, Vida del pintor puertorriqueña José Campeche y Noticia histórica de Ramón Power. 2da ed., San Juan de Puerto Rico, s.e., 1946, pp.65-69. Sánchez Ramírez estuvo exiliado en Puerto Rico entre 1803 y 1807, por lo que es posible que él y Power se conocieran durante ese tiempo.

[28] Fernández Pascua, op.cit., pp. 40, 47-48.

[29] Piqueras, op.cit., pp.280-286.

[30] Caro Costas, op.cit., Carta del capitán general a Power sobre el nombramiento de su secretario particular, 19 de octubre de 1809, doc. 77, pp.247-249; Piqueras, Bicentenarios…, pp280-286María de los ángeles Castro Arroyo, “La lealtad anticolonial. Ramón Power en las Cortes de Cádiz” en Caro Costas, op.cit., p.29.

[31] Caro Costas, op.cit., Carta de Power al capitán general sobre el nombramiento de su secretario particular, 14 de octubre de 1809, doc. 75, pp.238-240 / Carta de Power a la Junta Central Suprema y Gubernativa, 14 de octubre de 1809, doc. 76, pp.240-247,.

[32] Fernández Pascua, op.cit., p.48.

[33] Biblioteca José M. Lázaro, Colección Puertorriqueña / Colecciones particulares / Expediente de los gobernadores españoles / Salvador Meléndez y Ruiz / cartapacio 2 / fol. 417, Carta de Meléndez Bruna al Ministro de Ultramar [Jun] Salazar, 16 de diciembre de 1809. [Copia transcrita a maquinilla].

[34] Biblioteca José M. Lázaro, Colección Puertorriqueña / Colecciones particulares / Expediente de los gobernadores españoles / Salvador Meléndez y Ruiz / cartapacio 2 / fol. 418, Carta de Power a Esteban de Ayala, 15 de abril de 1810. [Copia transcrita a maquinilla].

[35] Caro Costas, op.cit., Representación pidiendo a las Cortes se anulase la Real Orden de 4 de septiembre de 1810 y cualquiera otra semejante que se hubiese expedido para los dominios de España o América, 15 de febrero de 1811, doc. 39, pp. 165-170; Discurso de Power impugnando las acusaciones vertidas en un papel impreso en Cádiz titulado “Primeros sucesos desagradables en la isla de Puerto Rico consecuentes a la formación de la Junta Soberana de Caracas”, 20 de agosto de 1811, doc. 84, pp. 253-259.

[36] Ibid., Power informa al Ayuntamiento de San Juan sobre las reformas económicas aprobadas para Puerto Rico, 28 de noviembre de 1811, doc. 47, pp. 198-205.

Despite the attacks he was subjected to in the press, Power did not back down in denouncing the excesses by Meléndez Bruna: the persecution, destitution and punishment of members of the Council and other civil and religious officials; the violation of laws approved by the Cortes; the shady dealings and misappropriation of funds from the treasury, such as those related to the purchase of cargo from a ship through a tax on businesses in San Juan; and payments to his children from the public treasury.[37] Additionally, he accused him of intervening in the elections of the delegates to the Cortes in 1813, ordering some soldiers to vote for certain people.[38]

The governor was vengeful, and not only tried to delay and discredit Power’s labors in the Cortes, but also once and again interrupted the delegate’s direct communication with the island councils. Above all, what caused the greatest problem for Power was the retention of the per diem that the San Juan Council had committed to sending him for his expenses in Cádiz. Meléndez Bruna sabotaged this in various ways, leading to complaints from the delegate.[39] Also, despite the findings of the Cortes in favor of Power, Meléndez Bruna and his family were influential people and despite the serious allegations presented against him by Power, by the council members in San Juan and even by the delegate from Coahuila, José Miguel Ramos de Arispe, he was not removed from his post. He continued governing Puerto Rico until 1820.

The constant disputes with the abusive captain general served as the framework for Power repeatedly expressing his ideas in the Cortes against tyranny and other excesses, and other long-standing issues in the overseas colonies, contradictory and incongruous abuses that originated in the Cortes.[40] And our delegate repeated to exhaustion which was the road to follow to keep Spain united: wise laws and managers of integrity. As he said in his own words:

Let us not fool ourselves. To keep the people in peace and quiet, to prevent all kinds of ills that can occur, there are only two means that are certain and effective: wise laws and officials of integrity who are learned and zealous in being the first to respect those laws. Good laws we have, without doubt. But in terms of the officials, the entire nation knows how little care the previous governments took in selecting those who have the qualities needed for the difficult job of leading the Americas … [41]

In the end, the clash between Power and Meléndez Bruna reproduced at a personal level the two visions that fed the main debate in the Cortes: the disconnect between the Spain the Puerto Rican delegate wanted, open to modernity, inclusive, liberal, more democratic and egalitarian, and the retrograde, authoritarian Spain that favored the old regime forever, as represented by Meléndez Bruna.

In the search for that Spain for all, Power broke as much as possible from the narrow and stingy imperial framework. Imagine this Puerto Rican in Cádiz under the bombardment of the French army, amid hunger and epidemics, speaking out to the Spanish power structure. In this theater of military and political war, Power converted the complaints of the Puerto Rican councils into a denouncement of the entire colonial construct.

Thus, he demanded equal rights: “those born in overseas or European territories are equal in rights to those born in Spain…” [42] On the basis of this equality, he demanded freedom to grow crops, free trade, the elimination of state monopolies, the freedom to exploit the mines, equality in pubic employment, in the church and in the army.[43]

In this battle of ideas and words, Power turned to his powerful rhetorical skills, which compensated for his scarce true power in terms of numbers, wealth and political influence. From this arose his impassioned defense of the Constitution of 1812. His unconditional defense of the constitution masked his deep disillusionment with Spain, both past and present. The constitution ensured life, honor, freedom, property and security. And at the same time he reminded us that “…with it, the most abominable colossus of despotism has been brought down, the ominous despotism that leads us to the very edge of the deepest abyss…”[44] It was another way of saying that if these principles were not met, we would return to the “horrendous monster of arbitrariness.” And, to disarm the most suspicious conservatives, he supported the words of the Bishop of Mallorca: “Now we are free and soon we will be Spaniards.”[45]

Power also knew that to make the Americans Spaniards, Spain had to hear the complaints and protests about colonial practices. Above all, it had to take note of the cries of protest that echoed through all corners of the ruled lands. As an expert tight-rope walker, the Puerto Rican delegate raised a discussion of the insurrection in Caracas, which he, playing innocent, referred to as the “incidents in Caracas.” Power alleged, with feigned ignorance, that he did not have firsthand information about the rebellion, but based on his previous visits to Venezuela he could affirm “the deeply felt evidence of its unstained patriotism and loyalty.”[46]

These “incidents” were not exclusive to Caracas, Power said, because they also were seen in Quito, in La Paz and in Buenos Aires. And he reaffirmed: “The Americas, unfortunately, have suffered the worst of despotism and tyranny, and the government leaders have sought nothing more than the pursuit of opulence through all means imaginable…” [47]

Now, how is it this man from the islands dared to impugn the order of things? Simply and calculatedly, Power took advantage of the fact that Spain was a country occupied by foreign troops and was up in the air over the rebellions in the Americas. That is why, in desperation, the home country did the unthinkable, that which Britain did not do with its 13 colonies: seat the colonists in the parliament with voice and vote.

That is what allowed Power to still be an optimist who believed that the storm clouds and first lightning bolts of American anger would dissipate in the new Spain. The nation is the solution: “declare today that these possessions are nothing less than the same nation and that all are part of the Spanish monarchy with equal rights to national representation…”[48] He proposed, as a first step, the “blamelessness of Caracas” and a declaration of “a general amnesty… that relieves the fears of timid souls and removes all pretext for any kind of turbulent temperament…” [49]

In this way, Power returned to his first dream when he arrived in Spain, to be part of the effort to create a new Spanish nation. At the least, the Cortes made the words heritage, nation, and people a permanent part of society. These were necessary elements for Spain to cease being “a motley collection of kingdoms and dominions, with subjects speaking various languages … and subject to significant differences in terms of the law and taxation…” [50]

In summary, Spain learned what the Americas learned: the nation is a puzzle, and putting it together in a hurry, in the short term, is a devilish task. Trying to make a stable and democratic nation out of unconnected pieces in a risky and precarious arrangement was beyond the political capabilities and the economic resources of the budding nation-state.

A year after the Constitution of 1812 was approved, the Americas rebelled without amnesty, Meléndez Bruna continued ruling on the island and Power asked the San Juan Council – a month before he died – for the per diems the governor denied him. Said Power: “Ill and without resources in a foreign land, I cannot be indifferent to the forgetfulness with which I have been abandoned to the saddest fate…” [51]

In this Spain that he still did not feel was his nation, the constitution that Power came to call “the most legal government that can exist on earth” still ruled.[52] But Power and the Cortes saw different purposes. For the Spanish liberals, the Constitution of 1812 meant modernizing the monarchy with the unequal inclusion of the Americas. For Power, modernizing meant decolonizing the islands and the continent. That was his wager. In losing it, Spain lost its empire and set back its modernity.

Forced to imagine what this Puerto Rican man would do, the son of a Basque and a Catalan, a navy captain pushed into political compromise in the repressive and bankrupt Spain that came later, without a constitution and with Fernando VII presiding over an empire in flames, I would follow the hunch of the historian beside me: “Under an absolutist regime,” said María de los ángeles, “what could a liberal soldier who had vehemently and uninhibitedly attached colonial tyranny do? […] “he would be forced to look for a graceful solution. […] with the political solution cloudy, loyalty would look toward liberty.”[53]


[37] Caro Costas, op.cit., Artículo comunicado por Power al redactor general del Diario Cívico de La Habana, 14 de agosto de 1812, doc. 93, pp. 277-282.

[38] Congreso de Diputados, Diario de Sesiones. 2da ed., Madrid, Imprenta de J.A. García Acosta, 1870, 9 vols., edición digital, Acta de la sesión ordinaria de las Cortes de 29 de enero de 1813.

[39] Cf. las cartas de Power al Ayuntamiento de San Juan en Caro Costas, op.cit., docs. 51, 54, 55, 62, 65, 66, 68, 71, 72.

[40] Biblioteca José M. Lázaro, Colección Puertorriqueña / Colecciones particulares / Expediente de los gobernadores españoles / Salvador Meléndez y Ruiz / cartapacio 2 / fol. 410, Carta de Power a las Cortes, 15 de junio de 1812 [transcripción a maquinilla].

[41] Caro Costas, op.cit., Contestación de Power al papel publicado bajo el título de “Primeros sucesos desagradables en la isla de Puerto Rico…” , 22 de agosto de 1811, doc. 86, pp., 261-264.

[42] Ibid., Power presenta moción sobre la igualdad de derechos entre españoles americanos y peninsulares, 14 de octubre de 1810, doc. 28, p. 144.

[43] Ibid., Proposiciones que hacen al Congreso nacional los diputados de América y Asia, 16 de diciembre de 1810, doc. 29, pp. 145-147.

[44] Ibid., p. 227.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Caro Costas, op.cit., Reflexiones de Power acerca del estado presente de la América y sobre las medidas que deben adoptarse, Año de 1811, doc. 31., pp. 149-150.

[47] Ibid., p. 148.

[48] Ibid., p. 149.

[49] Ibid., p. 150.

[50] José álvarez Junco, Mater Dolorosa. La idea de España en el siglo XIX. Madrid, Taurus, 2001, p.75.

[51] Ibid., p, 232.

[52] Ibid., pp. 150-151.

[53] Castro Arroyo, “La lealtad anticolonial… en Caro Costas, op.cit, p.34.

 

 

Author: Castro García y
Published: April 28, 2015.

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