Rafael Hernández Colón, 82, Ex-Governor of Puerto Rico, Is Dead

Rafael Hernández Colón, 82, Ex-Governor of Puerto Rico, Is Dead

After holding several government posts, he was elected to the Senate in 1968 and became its president in 1969.

He was just 36 when he was first elected governor.

The governorship of Puerto Rico has historically flip-flopped between supporters of statehood and supporters of commonwealth status. (Advocates of independence, though often vocal, have been relatively few in number.)

Opponents of commonwealth status argue that it is a form of colonialism under which residents, among other things, cannot vote in presidential elections.

Mr. Hernández Colón, though, maintained that remaining as a commonwealth, especially if that status were strengthened in Puerto Rico’s favor, could afford the best of both worlds, providing the benefits of being part of the United States (including federal aid) but allowing for cultural independence.

Though his efforts to renegotiate commonwealth status stalled, he had some economic successes in his second stint as governor. One was a so-called twin-plant initiative, in which participating companies built one plant in a Caribbean country to do the unskilled work on a product and another in Puerto Rico to do the finish work.

Mr. Hernández Colón’s first wife died in 2003. He is survived by his wife, Nelsa López, and four children from his first marriage, Juan Eugenio, Jose Alfredo, Rafael and Dora.

Representative Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat who was born in Puerto Rico and served under Mr. Hernández Colón as director of the Department of Puerto Rican Community Affairs in the United States, called him “one of the giants” of modern Puerto Rican political history.

“Early on, Rafael recognized that Puerto Ricans everywhere, on the island or the mainland, are one family,” she said in a statement. “He worked relentlessly during his three terms as governor of Puerto Rico — and well beyond — to advance values of freedom and political inclusion for all Puerto Ricans.”

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