This book deals with a crucial period in the history of Puerto Rico: 1892 to 1897. The island liberals had founded in 1887 the Autonomist Party which demanded for Puerto Rico the greatest possible decentralization within the national unity. Nevertheless, Spain vacillated in regard to the solution of the political status of the Antilles; therefore, the matter was still open in 1892. The conservatives, or the “hundred-fifty-percent” Spaniards, played on Spain’s fears, declaring over and over that autonomy would bring independence to the islands, thus getting the metropolitical support. It was easy for them therefore, to elect the majority of the deputies sent by Cuba and Puerto Rico to the Spanish parliament as well as the local municipal and insular offices.
The autonomists, on the other hand, spent their energies debating not only over the convenience of allying with political parties in Spain which could bring them out of their political impotence, but also over the specific Spanish party to which they could make the alliance. Foremost in this process stood Luis Muñoz Rivera, who since the Autonomist Assembly of 1887 was working up his reputation as the leader of the liberals. He tried to convince old and young autonomists of the futility of waiting for the advent of the Spanish republic to be able to attain political power, and to make clear the convenience of an alliance with one of the ruling parties which alternated in the use of the political power. Muñoz Rivera attained his goal in 1897, although other circumstances such as the Cuban revolt and the diplomatic pressure of the United States precipitated the decision made by the Spanish liberal, Práxedes Mateo Sagasta to oblige himself to sponsor autonomy for Cuba and Puerto Rico when he was in power. The period ends nevertheless with an uneven division of the autonomists; for, a minority refused to abide by the alliance made.
The leader of this minority was Dr. José Celso Barbosa, who declared that the Autonomist ideal had been betrayed due to the fact that one of the provisions of the alliance required a change in the name of the party: from Autonomist to Liberal. Be that as it may, the fact is that the report of the Alliance Commission was submitted to a general assembly of the Party, and the majority was willing to acquiesce in Sagasta’s request. The division—on the eve of the invasion of the island by the United States—set up the political climate in the post-invasion years.
The book is an excellent source of primary documents—most of them transcribed in full. The political thought of Muñoz Rivera can be traced in the articles he published in his newspaper, “La Democracia,” quoted by the author verbatim. Nevertheless, the personal interpretation of the facts is practically absent. Although the author gives references which could clear up controversial issues, he leaves their interpretation and comparison to the reader.