Former Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló passed away on Sunday night, as confirmed by his daughter, Melinda Romero Donnelly. He was 88 years old.
"At 9:30 p.m. today, Sunday, May 2, 2021, in the hand of my mother, my son Cristopher and I, my father passed away. We appreciate all the prayers that were kept throughout this process. We ask for a little time to assimilate everything and we will soon be offering more information," she wrote.
In October 2020, Romero Barceló had been hospitalized for bilateral pneumonia as a result of heart failure. At that time, he was hospitalized for 26 days. Last month, the former governor's status worsened over two infections. His daughter had said at that time that his health was “very delicate.”
Romero Barceló was one of the most comprehensive and controversial politicians in Puerto Rico's political history.
He was born in Santurce on September 4, 1932 and studied at Yale University and the University of Puerto Rico, where he graduated from Law. His maternal grandfather, Antonio R. Barceló, was the first president of the Senate.
His political and professional career has always been linked to the search for statehood for Puerto Rico. The first elective office he won was in 1969 when he became mayor of San Juan under the newly created New Progressive Party (NPP), the party currently in power in the Executive Branch. He held this position until 1976.
Romero Barceló's first term as governor is inevitably tied to the crime committed against pro-independence activists Carlos Soto Arriví and Arnaldo Darío Rosado, who were murdered on the Cerro Maravilla hill on July 25, 1978. This case has captured the island's attention for decades. Investigations were carried out in the Legislature to determine the possible link of Romero Barceló with the murders, as well as the negligence of the authorities involved.
He was re-elected to the post of governor in 1980 and in 1984 he was defeated by the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) and Rafael Hernández Colón became governor.
Between 1985 and 1988, he held an NPP vacancy in the Senate. In 1989, he was elected again as president of the NPP and joined a dialogue committee on status created by Hernández Colón from La Fortaleza.
Presence in Congress
In 1992, he assumed office as the first governor of the island who later served as resident commissioner, or Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in the U.S. Congress.
In Washington, he was appointed to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Education, where he sought to advance the issue of statehood for the island. Like others after him, he sought fund parity for Puerto Rico, particularly on Medicaid allocations.
Romero Barceló, affiliated with the Democratic Party in the U.S. mainland, was re-elected in 1996 and kept the title until 2000. In 1997, the Republican Congressman from Alaska, Don Young, filed the Young Project that proposed to hold a status referendum endorsed by Congress, a mechanism that has not yet become a reality.
The bill was then approved in the House, but it did not pass the Senate screen.
Pierluisi Decrees Mourning Period
On Monday morning, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi —who is also of the NPP and served as resident commissioner for three terms— decreed 30 days of mourning over Romero Barceló's passing and for the U.S. and Puerto Rico flags to fly at half mast.
"Puerto Rico is mourning. 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," Pierluisi stated.