Carlos Romero Barceló, a staunch defender of the Puerto Rican state and governor of the island from 1977 to 1985, died Sunday evening at the age of 88, his family said in a statement.
In March, his family said he was in fragile condition due to bacterial infections.
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierulisi has declared a 30-day mourning period.
The island’s most prominent pro-state leaders have expressed their condolences on social media to mark his influence on their movement. “We have lost a leader in the search for equality,” tweeted resident commissioner Wanda Vázquez Merced, a non-voting congressman from Puerto Rico.
Alfonso Aguilar, President of the Latin American Partnership for Conservative Principles, tweeted: “Today, #PuertoRico and our nation lost a great leader and patriot, the former governor #CarlosRomeroBarcelo … ‘Until the very end he fought for full equality of the American citizens of Porto Rico. It was an honor to know him and to work alongside him. “
Prior to becoming governor, Romero Barceló was mayor of San Juan from 1969 to 1977. He was also resident commissioner of the island from 1993 to 2001. During this time, he supported the elimination of section 936, l corporate tax exemption that has helped establish US manufacturing facilities on the island and a catalyst for thousands of jobs. Instead, he pushed for a state, a quest he pursued over decades.
Controversy over Cerro Maravilla
On social media, Romero Barceló’s death drew criticism from those who pointed out that he was governor during one of the island’s most controversial incidents – the Cerro Maravilla affair. Two young independence activists were ambushed and killed on top of a mountain; one was on his knees when he was shot.
Authorities initially said police acted in self-defense during a shootout and Romero Barceló praised the police actions. But the police version was disproved and 10 police officers were sentenced to prison, including two convicted of second degree murder. Although federal investigations have found no evidence that Romero Barceló’s office was aware of the plans for the police ambush, the former governor has been blamed by many for the incident.
“Young men, you can rest in peace now,” wrote one Twitter user Xavier Burgos, mirroring what others have written on Twitter.
Romero Barceló comes from a political family; his grandfather Antonio R. Barceló was the first president of the island’s Senate. Although Romero Barceló – like his grandfather – advocated Puerto Rican independence as a youth, he became a member of a group advocating for the creation of a state in the late 1960s that formed the basis of the New Progressive Party, one of the two main political parties on the island.
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