Government and Finances
The reorganization of government was one of the crucial issues encountered by the new civil administration. Previous institutions were abolished to institute the republican structure of North American democracy, the executive, legislative and judicial branches were established.
Administrative power was presided by the governor, with an eleven member Executive Council, five members to be natives of the Island. The Governor appointed W. H. Hunt secretary, J.H. Hollander auditor, J.R. Garrison commissioner of interior, W. B. Elliot attorney, James Harlan, M.G Baumbagh education commissioner. The native advisors were Jose C. Barbosa, Rosendo Matienzo Cintron, Manuel Camunas, Andres Rosas y Jose de Diego, who resigned shortly thereafter.The Council had the power to approve franchises and permits crucial to future developments.
The courts had been reorganized under military rule, preliminary instance and instruction tribunals were eliminated, with those functions assigned to other courts. Municipal courts were retained, with two new judges to attend criminal cases. Five district courts were established.
One of the first tasks of the first civil government was to enable the election of 35 representatives to the legislature. Although the governor praises the diligence of the body, he also comments on its inefficiency in approving projects and expressed preference for the Council for being more adept at parliamentary procedures and making decisions.
The political situation in 1900 was polarized between the Republican Party, headed by Dr. Jose C. Barbosa, and the Federal Party with Luis Muñoz Rivera as leader. Governor Allen notes in his report that both parties had in their platforms: loyalty to the United States, the goal of a territorial government and eventually statehood, universal suffrage and free schools. The Republican Party had been recently created, adhering to North American ideals, the Federal Party defended autonomy, decentralization, the establishment of local banks and was known for its rhetoric.
Early discontent with the new arrangement began to be manifested in 1900, when the Federal Party withdrew from elections, denouncing the preference of the governor for the Republican Party. The response of the governor was clearly stated : ” The Federal Party is subservient to a discontent leader and follows him in his persistent obstruction to North American policy in the Island, attempting to annul the tax law, inflaming public opinion against fair and reasonable taxes with virulent attacks to members of the executive.”
No Credit for Agriculture
The political temperature began to rise when the Executive Council denied the legislative petition for a 3 million credit to restore agriculture after the devastation resulting from hurricane San Ciriaco, polarizing opposition between northerners and locals. Regarding that issue, the governor declared:
“One of the great advantages of the financial situation of Porto Rico, once civil government was established, was to be free of floating debt. This favorable condition has not changed, the Island is not obligated by contracts and has not incurred in debt that could not be payed with available funds. The explanation for that is the availability of a 2 million dollar fund to face the cost of permanent improvements otherwise obtained from public loans.
Through the generous act of Congress of returning 2 millions dollars of funds acquired by customs, it has been possible to make general spending on the Islands schools and construction of highways without adding a cent to current spending. Not all resources of this fund have been spent to provide reasonable necessities of the Island in some time and there will be no occasion for an insular loan, even for the noble purposes of constructing schools and roads.
It would be manifestly bad financial practice to assign the actual tax income the cost of permanent improvements as school buildings and construction of highways whose beneficiaries are to be future generations. On the contrary, it would be wise to attempt to use Porto Rico’s public credit until its tributary system is securely established and its financial policies have gained recognition for their stability and conservatism.
An unsettling aspect of the financial situation of Porto Rico is the periodic demand of an insular loan of 3 million dollars to alleviate agriculture. To that effect the Legislature submitted a project but the conservative sense of the Executive Council prevailed.
Such a proposition does not respond to intelligent or conservative feelings. As in all demands of a free bank, there is an insistence of it as a panacea for all evils.Some agricultural interests are going through the hard times that inevitably accompany development, but the remedy is the extension of private, not recurring to public credit.”
Based on arguments of conservative and reasonable financial policy the governor assured the strangling of the economy that made way for his subsequent interests.. Aware of the hurricane’s devastation, as well as the imminente need for schools, his denial of funds is no less than petty, his arguments insensible and lacking the most basic compassion for misery. Doings that led Munoz Rivera to label him a tyrant.
Governor Allan left office with two copies of his report, one for President MacKinley and another for the Morgan Bank in Wall Street. The next part attempts to establish how Charles H. Allen became the Sugar Baron, and it all started on our enchanted Island.
Copyright 2015 by José M. Umpierre. All photos in this blog are in the public domain.