Carlos Romero Barceló, who served as Governor of Puerto Rico and Resident Commissioner during a political career lasting over 40 years, died on May 2, 2021, at the age of 88.
Romero Barceló was born in 1932 in San Juan. His grandfather, an associate of Luis Munoz Rivera, was president of The Puerto Rico Senate, and his mother was president of the Island’s Liberal Party (which is no longer in existence). His father was a superior court judge. Politics and public service were important in his family.
He moved to New Hampshire for prep school and earned his undergraduate degree from Yale. He returned to Puerto Rico for his law degree and entered private practice.
In 1965, Romero Barceló took on a leadership position in the statehood group Citizens for State 51, and helped to found the PNP, or National Progressive Party. Representing the PNP, in 1968 he became Mayor of San Juan. In 1976, he won the race for Governor of Puerto Rico.
Romero Barceló was known for his commitment to financial self-sufficiency for Puerto Rico, focusing on education, vocational training, agriculture plans to produce food for the Island, and a universal minimum wage.
After two terms as governor, Romero Barceló returned to private law practice, but soon found himself back in political leadership. He served in The Puerto Rico Senate until 1988.
From 1993 to 2001, Romero Barceló was the resident commissioner for Puerto Rico. The resident commissioner is the congressional representative of the territory. This individual can introduce legislation and speak in Congress, but cannot vote on legislation pending before the House of Representatives.
As Puerto Rico’s only representative in Congress, Romero Barceló put statehood at the top of his list of priorities. However, he also worked on a number of other issues that still concern Puerto Rico’s leaders, including removing the Medicaid cap for Puerto Rico (and the other territories), veterans’ benefits, environmental conservation, and a range of actions supporting health and education.
In 1997, he worked with Don Young (R-AK) on the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, which called for a federally-sponsored referendum on Puerto Rico’s political status. The bill passed the House but not the Senate. During his continued efforts to resolve the status question, Romero Barceló said, “Puerto Rico’s relationship to the nation as a colony, as an unincorporated territory, is a shadow on the democratic image of the country. The United States has to solve this problem, together with us.”
Since 2017, Romero Barceló was a member of the Shadow Delegation, a group of Puerto Rican leaders standing in for the two senators and five congresspeople who would represent Puerto Rico as a state.
Romero Barceló received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.
He founded the Carlos Romero Barceló Foundation, a cultural awareness organization, and received the James J. and Jana Hoey Award for Interracial Justice from the Catholic Interracial Council of New York in 1977. In 1981 he was awarded the U.S. Attorney General’s Medal.
Governor Pierluisi announced a 30 day mourning period for the Island. “Puerto Rico is mourning,” he said. “In a weekend of loss of life, last night a great leader and public servant left to dwell with the Lord: Don Carlos Romero Barceló. Don Carlos gave the best of himself to Puerto Rico as mayor of San Juan, senator, resident commissioner, and governor, and he fiercely defended the postulates of equality and statehood for American citizens on the island. I recognize the effort of Don Carlos because I know firsthand all his work throughout our recent history from the resident commissioner seat, from La Fortaleza, and always. To all of his family, but especially to his wife Kate, to his children Carlos, Juan Carlos and Melinda, my sincere condolences for such an irreparable loss.”