I have been an unrelenting supporter of my country. A loyalty that was embedded in me from an early age when my family escaped the island prison of Communist Cuba, and came to the land of the free and the home of the brave. The land of milk and honey. The land of self-determination, personal freedom and life changing opportunity. A land where your creativity, perseverance and work ethic, allowed you to become whatever you dreamed of becoming.
All America asked of you in return was to become an American. Respect its traditions. Learn the language. Adapt but without forgetting your culture, just simply merge it with America’s. I still remember that first day in America when my father simply said: “Become Americans.” One day, after I turned 18, my father a successful medical doctor by profession, noticed how I was becoming more attentive to politics and he then told me something else: “Don’t trust the Republicans, much less the Democrats.”
I didn’t know what he meant as he didn’t elaborate, but over the years as I have gained knowledge and wisdom, it wasn’t necessary as another perspective of the United States has emerged from the shadows. This is a perspective that is troubling. A perspective that has made me a cynic. A perspective that has been intentionally left out of the history books because of the inherent discomfort and exposure to the fact that the United States, once a colony itself, which shed the yoke of an oppressive empire to become a beacon of freedom, has devolved into an empire itself, contradicting all of it’s founding principles. I will speak today of Puerto Rico, but there are other examples for another time.
When we think of Puerto Rico, we think of “La Isla del Encanto,” (the island of enchantment), but we don’t think of robber barons, nor the usual suspects to include John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt. But one robber baron has gone underappreciated: the man who stole Puerto Rico. His name was Charles Herbert Allen, the first U.S. civilian governor of Puerto Rico. He served only 17 months, but that was all he needed to perform one of the most spectacular crimes of the 20th century.
Allen hailed from Lowell, Massachusetts—famous for child labor and textile mill sweatshops. Though he never was in the military, he loved to dress in military regalia and have people address him as “colonel.” He arrived in Puerto Rico on April 27, 1900, like a Roman conqueror with a naval cannon salute, the 11th U.S. Infantry Band and a division of armed soldiers behind him. He marched through San Juan and into the Governor’s mansion. Allen had been a congressman, a bureaucrat and commissioner of prisons for Massachusetts. But in Puerto Rico, he finally became a businessman. A robber baron, actually.
He raided the island treasury by raising taxes, withholding municipal and agricultural loans, and freezing all building repair and school construction funds. He subsidized US-owned farm syndicates and issued no-bid contracts to US businessmen, for roads built at twice the old cost. He created new offices and salary lines—all staffed by U.S. bureaucrats. The original currency was devalued and replaced by the Dollar causing Puerto Ricans to lose half their wealth overnight. By the time he left office, nealy all the 11 members of the governor’s Executive Council were U.S. expatriates. But this is not the end of the story. Not by a long shot.
On September 15, 1901, after Allen resigned as governor, he headed straight to Wall Street, where he joined the House of Morgan as vice president of both the Morgan Trust Company and the Guaranty Trust Company of New York. Then he returned to America’s newest colony, Puerto Rico, and the island’s misfortune expanded by building the largest sugar syndicate in the world, and his hundreds of political appointees in Puerto Rico provided him with land grants, tax subsidies, water rights, railroad easements, foreclosure sales and favorable tariffs.