Luis A. Ferré-Aguayo, philanthropist, former governor of Puerto Rico and leader of the Island's statehood movement, died on Tuesday, October 21, 2003 at the age of 99.
Ferré, a highly successful businessman, was born in Ponce, on February 17, 1904. In 1924 he obtained a degree in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition, he trained at the New England Conservatory of Music, becoming an accomplished classical pianist. A lover and promoter of the arts, he founded the Ponce Art Museum.
In the political arena, Ferré ran for mayor of Ponce in 1940 on the Puerto Rican Tripartite Unification ticket, and for Resident Commissioner in 1948 as the candidate of the Statehood, Socialist and Reform parties. In 1951 he was elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention that led to the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952. In the 1952 general election he was elected Representative at-large for the Puerto Rican Statehood Party. In 1956, 1960 and 1964 he was the Republican Party of Puerto Rico (PER) candidate for governor.
In 1967, Ferré broke with his brother-in-law and PER party leader Miguel Ángel García-Méndez due to differences concerning the PER's participation in the status plebiscite held that year. Ferré, who was opposed to a boycott proposed by García-Méndez, founded Estadistas Unidos (United Statehooders) to campaign for statehood in the 1967 plebiscite, in which an overwhelming majority of voters supported the Commonwealth formula. However, statehood won a higher percentage of votes than the PER in the 1964 election. Estadistas Unidos then organized the New Progressive Party (PNP) under Ferré's leadership.
In 1968, Ferré was elected governor under the slogan "Esto tiene que cambiar" ("This must change".) However, his triumph was largely due to a split in the PPD, which culminated in the departure from the party of then-governor Roberto Sánchez-Vilella, who ran for re-election as the candidate of the People's Party (PP). Although Sánchez-Vilella came in a distant third place, the PP vote was much larger than the PNP's narrow victory margin over the PPD.
Nonetheless, the PNP victory in 1968 marked the beginning of a new era. After twenty-eight years of PPD political hegemony, Puerto Rico developed a two-party system, under which the PPD and the PNP have been alternating in power, in a succession of more or less closely fought electoral contests. Since 1968, there have been only two elections - 1972 and 1996 - in which the winning party has prevailed by more than five percentage points; in both instances, the ruling party was defeated in the following election.
In 1972 Ferré ran for re-election, but then-Senate president and PPD leader Rafael Hernández-Colón defeated him. In 1974 Ferré retired as PNP president. He was elected Senator at-large in 1976 and 1980, presiding the Senate from 1977 to 1981. In 1984 Ferré ran for a Ponce district Senate seat, but he lost the election.
Ferré did not run for elective office after 1984, but he remained active in politics as chairman of the U.S. Republican Party's local branch. In addition to taking part in successive PNP electoral campaigns, he continued to promote statehood for Puerto Rico. However, Puerto Rican voters rejected statehood in status plebiscites held in 1993 and 1998.