Luis A. Ferré played a prominent role in Puerto Rican politics after World War II, chasing the ideal of U.S. statehood. He was 99.
BY IAN JAMES
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Luis A. Ferré, a philanthropist and former governor of Puerto Rico who became the patriarch of the territory's U.S. statehood movement, died Tuesday. He was 99.
Ferré, who had been hospitalized for weeks with pneumonia, died of respiratory failure, with his family at his side, said José Serra, a spokesman for the family.
Ferré was the uncle of former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferré.
The venerated ''Don Luis'' had played a prominent role in Puerto Rican politics since World War II, chasing the ideal of U.S. statehood for Puerto Rico while overseeing his charitable foundation.
''Puerto Rico has lost a man of principles who dedicated his life to his ideals,'' said Gov. Sila Calderón, who ordered flags flown at half-staff.
San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini called Ferré ``an engineer of dreams and an executor of great works.''
Ferré was a member of the assembly that produced Puerto Rico's 1952 Constitution, he founded the pro-statehood New Progressive Party in 1967 and was governor from 1969 through 1972, when he lost to pro-commonwealth candidate Rafael Hernández Colón.
He stayed involved in politics, testifying before U.S. congressional panels in favor of statehood and participating in presidential nominating conventions. He remained chairman of the island's branch of the Republican Party and served as Puerto Rico's Senate president from 1977-80.
''He's a friend, and I like him very much,'' former President George Bush told The Associated Press on Oct. 10.
Born Feb. 17, 1904, in the southern city of Ponce, Ferré was the grandson of a French engineer who worked on the Panama Canal before settling in Cuba. His father, Antonio, moved to Puerto Rico as a young man and married María Aguayo Casals, a cousin of the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who lived in Puerto Rico.
Ferré studied engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and trained at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was an accomplished classical pianist.
SOURCE OF WEALTH
He and his brother started the Puerto Rico Cement Co. in Ponce, the source of the family's wealth.
Ferré also founded the city's library, opened the Ponce Museum of Art, and bought the newspaper, which was on the brink of folding. His son moved the newspaper to San Juan, and El Nuevo Día -- with a circulation of about 200,000 -- is now the island's biggest daily.
It was during his university days, Ferré said, that he developed a passion for the ''American way of democracy'' and statehood for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Ricans receive some federal benefits, vote in U.S. presidential primaries and do not pay federal taxes. They cannot vote for president, however, and send only one representative to Congress who can vote only in committee.
KEPT HIS DREAM
Statehood lost in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998, but Ferré never abandoned his dream.
''I hope I will live to see a final meeting of the minds between Puerto Rico and statehood,'' Ferré said after the 1998 vote. ``But if I don't live that long, I am certain it will happen.''
Ferré's first wife, Lorencita Ramírez de Arellano, died in 1970. He is survived by his second wife, Tiody de Jesús; and two children from his first marriage: a son, Antonio; and a daughter, Rosario, the author of The House On The Lagoon, a 1995 National Book Award finalist.
Ferré's body will lie in state at the Capitol in San Juan today.
He will be buried in Ponce on Thursday.