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Teodoro Moscoso

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Teodoro Moscoso

Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico’s Operation Bootstrap by Alex W. Maldonado tells us about the life of Teodoro Moscoso, the architect of the “economic miracle” which most experts did not believe could happen in Puerto Rico.

Teodoro Moscoso was born in Barcelona on November 26, 1910. His mother, named Alejandrina Mora Fajardo, was a Spaniard from the Balearic island of Majorca. His father, also named Teodoro, was a pharmacist. He wanted to have a son that could help him accomplish, a branch of pharmacies through Puerto Rico. Moscoso attended school in New York and became a good English speaker. He graduated from Ponce High School; soon after this, he was attending the Philadelphia School of Pharmacy. After studying there for 3 years he insisted to his father, to transfer him to the University of Michigan. He wanted to go there because it offered liberal arts courses which he wanted to study. After graduation in 1932 Moscoso returned to Ponce to work at his father’s pharmacy. He married Gloria Sánchez Vilella, sister of future Puerto Rico governor Roberto Sánchez Vilella (1965-1969).

Pharmacy work bored Moscoso, and in the mid 1930’s when the Ponce Housing Authority (PHA) was about to lose a two million dollar grant, Pedro Juan Rosaly, a PHA board member approached Moscoso’s father and asked if his son could help. Moscoso’s command of the English language was what drew the interest of PHA officials. Moscoso saved the grant and from 1937 to 1941 he build nearly one thousand housing units, clearing many Ponce slums in the process.

It was Moscoso’s work at PHA which captured the interest of the newly appointed governor of Puerto Rico, Rexford G. Tugwell. Tugwell was a member President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s brain trust, a group of well educated, committed Americans who went to Washington during the Great Depression to try to lift the nation out of the economic crisis. After a chance meeting when Tugwell visited Moscoso’s pharmacy in Ponce, Teodoro went to work in La Fortaleza as assistant for housing. The title was a formality in order to get Moscoso a salary for his work, but the actual duties were far broader.

Another important event in Teodoro Moscoso’s life occurred in the summer of 1940 when Moscoso met Luis Muñoz Marín. Muñoz vision and unique personality convinced Moscoso, who became a member the recently founded Popular Democratic Party(PDP). This was the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership which in the long run transformed Puerto Rico from a rural-agricultural society to a mostly industrial and urban one. The island’s first factory was the glass bottle plant which was made to put the rum, a growing industry in Puerto Rico, in bottles. Also a cardboard plant was made to supply boxes for shipping the rum. Despite the failure in the glass factory, they kept on with the cardboard mill proposal and added two factories to the list: clay products and shoes. The lack of success of government owned industrial enterprises motivated Moscoso to arrange for their sale to private investors and to look for other alternatives to stimulate the development of the island’s economy.

The new approach to lift the island from conditions of extreme poverty included: federal and local tax exemption for industries operating in Puerto Rico, “a massive exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island, equally massive programs on the island to vastly improve education, health, sanitation, and housing, plus `carefully selected industrialization’.” (p. 54) With the development of hotels and tourism and improvements in roads, ports, and airports the framework for Puerto Rico’s “economic miracle” was completed. With the establishment of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in 1952, the island had a political vehicle to carry out economic reform.

Another brilliant idea of Moscoso was the selling of Puerto Rico as an excellent place to invest in industrial enterprises. The government of Puerto Rico hired stateside public relations companies to place ads in business and financial magazines with the message “that there were very big profits to be made in Puerto Rico.” (p.109)

Moscoso’s success in Puerto Rico captured the attention of President John F. Kennedy who named him ambassador to Venezuela, in May of 1961. Later, in November of that same year. President Kennedy named Moscoso coordinator of the Alliance for Progress. The alliance was described by President Kennedy “as` probably the most difficult assignments the United States has ever undertaken’. Moscoso’s two years of running the Alliance were a heart-stopping, roller-coaster experience of accomplishment and exhilaration but also one of disappointment and frustration.”(p. 172) After the death of President Kennedy in November of 1963, Moscoso was removed from his post in December 14 of that year in one of Lyndon Johnson’s first administrative changes as President.

Moscoso went back to Puerto Rico to take care of his personal business’ for several years. He returned to government service to head Fomento, the agency in charge of Puerto Rico’s industrial promotions and economic development, in 1973. This second round as administrator of Fomento was filled with problems, frustrations, and insatisfaction for Moscoso. The oil crisis of the mid 1970’s hurt Puerto Rico’s economy badly. It cost the 1976 elections to governor Rafael Hernandez Colon, Moscoso’s boss.

Teodoro Moscoso again retired to private life and performed the role of elder statesman well into the 1990’s. Moscoso is one of the persons responsible for the transformation of Puerto Rico. “By the beginning of 1990’s... average family income, $1,495 in 1950, was now $22,000. Life expectancy increased from 61 years in 1950 to 75 years; where there was one doctor per 4,108 persons in 1950, now the ratio was one doctor per 335 persons... As The Economist described it, Bootstrap produced `one century of economic development... in a decade’.”(p. 230) There is no doubt that Puerto Rico owes a lot to the leadership of Teodoro Moscoso, who died on June 15, 1992.

This book was good for me. It taught me about the most important period in the history of Puerto Rico. I recommend this book for people interested in modern Puerto Rican history.

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