Family offers details of funeral for pro-statehood advocate and former Gov. Romero Barceló

By The Star Staff

Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló, who died Sunday at age 88, will be cremated per his wishes following several ceremonies this week, his daughter Melinda Romero Donnelly said.

Romero Donnelly said a formal ceremony for her father will take place at the Capitol in Puerta de Tierra on Wednesday for the general public.

On Thursday morning, Romero Barceló’s remains will be transferred to the San Juan mayor’s office in an ecumenical act and in the afternoon, his coffin will be transferred to La Fortaleza for a religious ceremony that will be attended by Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia.

On Friday, there will be a family mass and final farewell ceremony.

“Our father’s wish was to be cremated and this will happen after a family mass on Friday, May 7. Likewise, his preference was that donations be sent in lieu of flowers to the Carlos Romero Barceló Foundation,” Romero Donnelly said in a written statement. “I must reiterate the gratitude that our family feels for the expressions of affection from all the people who loved my father. The same goes for Governor Pedro Pierluisi, legislative presidents Rafael ‘Tatito’ Hernández and José Luis Dalmau and the mayor of San Juan Miguel Romero for their solidarity.”

Pierluisi on Monday declared 30 days of mourning and ordered all Puerto Rico and U.S flags to fly at half-mast in honor of Romero Barceló. San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero Lugo also decreed 30 days of mourning.

“Puerto Rico is in mourning. In a weekend of loss of life, [Sunday] a great leader and public servant left to dwell with the Lord: Don Carlos Romero Barceló,” Pierluisi said. “Don Carlos gave the best of himself to Puerto Rico as Mayor of San Juan, Senator, Resident Commissioner, and Governor, and fiercely defended the postulates of equality and statehood for American citizens on the island. I recognize Don Carlos’ effort because I know first-hand all his work throughout our recent history from the resident commissioner’s office, 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 sincerest condolences for such an irreparable loss.”

Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón echoed the governor’s condolences to Romero Barceló’s widow, adding that “Don Carlos was a strong, robust and determined man who always remained [present] in the ideological life of the statesman and the important affairs of Puerto Rico.”

“For me it has been a privilege to meet him, admire him and even differ from him with arguments and respect,” she said.

Romero Barceló, who was the grandson of the first president of the Puerto Rico Senate -- Antonio R. Barceló -- was mayor of San Juan between 1972 and 1976 and served as governor for two four-year terms between 1977 and 1984. He served as a senator in 1986 to later be elected resident commissioner from 1993 to 2000.

His death comes after he was hospitalized in March for sepsis and a urinary tract infection, but the cause of his death has not been announced.

He was the son of Josefina Barceló, the first woman to preside over a major political party in Puerto Rico.

Romero Barceló, an avid supporter of Puerto Rico statehood within the United States of America, became involved with the “Partido Estadista Republicano,” the forerunner of the New Progressive Party. He was one of the founding members of the New Progressive Party in 1967. The following year he was elected mayor of San Juan, succeeding the legendary Felisa Rincón de Gautier and becoming the first popularly elected mayor of San Juan, since previous mayors were elected by the San Juan City Council, not directly by the electorate.

During his second term, in 1973, he became the first Hispanic to become vice president of the National League of Cities and in 1974 became president of the organization. He served as mayor until 1976 when he defeated the incumbent governor of Puerto Rico, Rafael Hernández Colón, who also died a few years ago on May 2.

Romero Barceló as governor brought well received economic resolutions to the island during his terms in office, emphasizing the island’s tourism potential. However, during his administration the economy recovered sluggishly, with unemployment dropping to 17% in 1979 from 19% in 1975, a disappointing 2% decline. The economy did not fully recover, and the island’s government services deteriorated during his term in office. Moreover, his statements declaring as heroes the policemen who carried out the notorious Cerro Maravilla murders of two young pro-independence activists damaged his image.

In 1980, Romero Barceló was elected for a second term as governor by a margin of 3,037 votes, again over Hernández Colón. The 1980 gubernatorial elections were among the closest in Puerto Rican history, requiring the intervention of the island Supreme Court to rule whether improperly cast ballots should be counted.

In his second term Puerto Rico was badly hit by a severe recession starting in 1980 and ending in 1983. The unemployment rate drastically rose to 25% in 1983, the highest since the Great Depression.

Romero Barceló is frequently associated with the Cerro Maravilla killings in 1978 in which the two young activists were killed at the hands of rogue members of the Puerto Rico police after being lured by the police to a mountainous area that housed communications and television towers. The tragic incident was investigated several times by the island Justice Department and U.S. officials. In 1984, 10 police officers were indicted and found guilty of perjury, destruction of evidence, and obstruction of justice, with four being convicted of second-degree murder.

Following a legislative investigation, there was never any evidence indicating that Romero Barceló was in any way involved in the killings.

He sought reelection for a third term in 1984 but was defeated by Hernández Colón. In 1986, he was elected by his party to fill a vacancy in the island Senate, a position for which he did not seek re-election in 1988. Instead, he returned to his private law practice and shortly thereafter merged his law firm with Del Toro & Santana, where he practiced until his election as Puerto Rico’s delegate to the U.S. Congress in 1992, a position he held again twice.

During his tenure as resident commissioner Romero Barceló campaigned for statehood, successfully proposed to Congress the derogation of the Section 936 tax incentives for local U.S. subsidiaries and endorsed the Young Bill, which sought to call a referendum to resolve Puerto Rico’s political status. In 2000, he sought a third term in Washington, D.C. but was defeated by former Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá.

During his later years, Romero Barceló continued to lobby for statehood.

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