CORRADA-DEL RÍO, Baltasar

CORRADA-del RÍO, Baltasar
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
1935–

Biography

Baltasar Corrada-del Río began his career as a leading human rights advocate in Puerto Rico and quickly became one of the island’s most influential Resident Commissioners. A leading figure in the Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party, or PNP) and a champion of Puerto Rican statehood, Corrada-del Río took an active interest in the concerns of minority citizens nationwide. Having helped found the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), he worked to ensure that Puerto Ricans and Hispanic Americans everywhere had access to important federal programs. “To me,” he said toward the end of his career in the House, “it is quite an honor to be able to represent the interests of the Hispanic community.”1

Corrada-del Río was born on April 10, 1935, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, to Rómulo Corrada and Ana María del Río. He attended the Morovis public grammar school until he was 13 and graduated from Colegio Ponceño de Varones high school in 1952. He immediately enrolled at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences four years later. He remained at the university and completed a law degree in 1959. That year he married Beatriz A. Betances. They had four children: Ana Isabel, Francisco Javier, Juan Carlos, and José B.2  

Corrada-del Río was admitted to the bar in 1959, quickly made partner at a leading firm, and began a long and distinguished legal career. Unlike many Resident Commissioners, Corrada-del Río shied away from electoral office early on and often accepted leadership positions behind the scenes. In 1969, for instance, as the island’s administration faced accusations of political suppression, Corrada-del Río was appointed to Puerto Rico’s civil rights commission, which he chaired from 1970 to 1972.3 In 1970 alone he was a member of the Advisory Committee to the Archbishop of Puerto Rico on Drug Abuse; the Puerto Rican Medical Association’s Council of Public Health; and the Puerto Rican Bar Examination Board, having been appointed by the island’s supreme court.4

By the mid-1970s, Corrada-del Río was one of the island’s most respected human rights lawyers, known as “one of the bright young men of the New Progressive Party.”5 He wrote a regular column for El mundo, a leading island newspaper, and served as a member of the PNP’s executive committee and as chairman of its committee on political status.6  

Just 41 years old in 1976, Corrada-del Río had undergone a meteoric rise to become the PNP’s frontrunner for Puerto Rico’s House seat in Washington. After he was formally nominated, Corrada-del Río faced incumbent Popular Democrat Jaime Benítez in the general election that year. Benítez was a well-known educator who had won by a landslide in 1972, but the island’s economy had gone into a tailspin since his victory. “We think our chances are quite good,” Corrada-del Río told the Baltimore Sun as Election Day neared.7 In one of the closer elections in recent memory, he defeated Benítez by only 2.9 percent.8

When Corrada-del Río arrived in Washington, he broke with precedent to caucus with House Democrats. Since 1971, when Resident Commissioners won the right to vote in committee, they had essentially been required to join a mainland party caucus. New Progressives had loose ties to the GOP, and Jorge L. Córdova-Díaz, the last PNP official to serve in Washington, had elected to sit with Republicans. In the next Congress, Benítez, who was a member of the Partido Popular Democrático (Popular Democratic Party, or PPD), had caucused with Democrats to maintain parity. But Corrada-del Río broke that pattern, telling the Washington Post in 1977 that he was a “longtime Democrat.” Paired with his membership in “the militantly pro-statehood wing of the [PNP],” Corrada-del Río’s affiliation led him to support a strong federal state and its attendant public programs. “I like the Democratic Party[’s] stand on social and economic issues,” he said around the time of his swearing-in, “and feel I can accomplish a lot more for Puerto Rico by siding with the Democrats.”9 Corrada-del Río was appointed to the Committee on Education and Labor and the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, both traditional posts for Resident Commissioners. In mid-October 1977, the House appointed him to the Select Committee on Population, citing a need to study “the causes of changing population conditions and their consequences for the United States and the world.”10

Corrada-del Río’s tenure in the House marked a new chapter in the island’s relationship with the federal government, reinvigorating the New Progressives’ push for statehood. Corrada-del Río favored the outgoing Gerald Ford administration’s decision to delay action on statehood, noting that he preferred “to be in power when these matters were decided.” He refused to support any statehood measure originating in Congress that was not supported by an island plebiscite, and he criticized commonwealth supporters who fought to keep the government at a distance, only to structure insular policy around federal appropriations.11 “Federal funds … must be understood and used as a complement and not as a substitute for Puerto Rican efforts,” he said in a statement that dovetailed with his pro-statehood position.12 Corradadel Río promised that statehood would do little to impinge on Puerto Rico’s unique culture. “We would continue doing the same things we do now,” he said in 1977, “thinking, speaking, and praying in Spanish, without underestimating the importance of being bilingual.… In other words, we would continue practicing and enriching our customs, our traditions and our culture.”13

For much of his first term in the 95th and 96th Congresses (1977–1981), Corrada-del Río defended Puerto Rico’s participation in federal social programs, standing firmly in the vanguard of what became the PNP’s standard policy in Washington: to convince Congress to treat Puerto Rico as if it were a state, especially regarding appropriations for education, Social Security, and labor. He opposed any cuts in food stamps, arguing such a decision “flies in the face of equal justice under law,” particularly on “an island suffering the pains of a deep recession,” he said a month later.14 He championed bilingual education; sought to protect the benefits of disabled veterans living in U.S. territories; pushed to establish a minimum wage scale for Puerto Rico that was comparable to the mainland’s; and actively backed raising the budget for executive agencies that helped Puerto Rico’s rural communities, including the Farmers Home Administration, the Rural Electrification Administration, and the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service.15

While only a handful of Corrada-del Río’s bills ever made it out of committee, his activism resonated well beyond the Beltway, and his participation in the national fabric of Hispanic political activism surpassed his predecessors’. “Hispanics,” he pointed out in 1979, “are becoming a force in almost every State and in almost every congressional district.”16 A founding member of the CHC, Corrada-del Río sought to reach an even broader audience by organizing the group Hispanic American Democrats (HAD).17 As with the CHC, Corrada-del Río used HAD to push for greater political leverage. “If we Hispanics are to make it in the United States we must obtain an entrance to the front door of the economic temple,” he said. “And that can hardly be arranged if we lack the political means, which is voter registration and the age-old practice of getting to the polls on voting day.”18

A large part of Corrada-del Río’s agenda concerned Puerto Rico’s education system. In 1979 he supported a bill to create the U.S. Department of Education, a cabinet-level agency, to oversee the quality of the nation’s schools and expand access to bilingual instruction “so that the high hopes … engendered in the hearts and the minds of those who need it are not thwarted.”19 Corrada-del Río’s more notable successes included increasing federal funding for Puerto Rico’s schools by more than $50 million and helping to augment the amount of money set aside by the government for college scholarships.20

In the buildup to the 1980 election, party infighting threatened to undercut the PNP’s control over the insular government and nearly cost Corrada-del Río a second term. He found himself an unwitting pariah after Puerto Rico’s secretary of state refused to attend an honorary dinner with President James Earl (Jimmy) Carter because he objected to a proposed immigration measure that was somewhat controversial. News of the secretary’s snub traveled quickly, and while most PNP officials supported the president’s rebuke, Corrada-del Río feared it might undermine communication between San Juan and Pennsylvania Avenue.21 The Resident Commissioner publicly admonished the PNP administration for condoning the gesture, and while the party faithful responded in kind, Corrada-del Río tried to work past the criticism before Election Day.22 He stumped on his record in the House, taking credit for sustaining the island’s public works programs and school system with federal money.23 Corrada-del Río complained about his opponents’ “negative and confusing” campaigns attacking him for creating a “dependence” on federal funding, or “a welfare mentality.” “One of the biggest errors we hear is that federal aid breeds dependence,” Corrada-del Río responded. “We maintain these funds have been a blessing, not a substitute for our own development.”24

Corrada-del Río won re-election by less than 1 percent in 1980, and ended up fighting many of the same battles he fought in his first term.25 He was more vocal on the House Floor in his second term, fighting for access to food stamps and encouraging his colleagues to invest in the Caribbean Basin, even as the Ronald Reagan administration considered cutting billions from the national budget.26 “Linked firmly to the U.S. economy, there is an axiom in our island that when Uncle Sam sneezes, Puerto Rico gets pneumonia,” Corrada-del Río said in 1981.27 In the scramble for federal aid, he warned that if the House targeted the island for block grants and across-the-board cuts—and it eventually did—Puerto Ricans would be singled out as “second class citizens … not deserving of equal treatment.”28

With island unemployment still hovering above 20 percent, Corrada-del Río tried to help bolster the federal aid received by Puerto Rican sugar farmers, tuna canners, and rum sellers.29 Hoping to protect both employers and employees, he took a firm stance on unauthorized labor, sponsoring an amendment to an unsuccessful immigration bill that required businesses to verify their employees’ citizenship or face stiff penalties.30 He also worked to extend unemployment benefits while backing the Job Training Partnership Act (H.R. 5320), which he described as a “comprehensive, coordinated approach to employment training,” especially for underserved communities.31 He continued to push for broader access to bilingual education and sought to bolster Puerto Rico’s food stamp program, as he had for the past seven years.32

Corrada-del Río retired from the House at the end of the 98th Congress (1983–1985), opting not to run for re-election. Elected to serve Puerto Ricans, he took pride in promoting the concerns of Hispanic Americans throughout the United States.33 The next year, Corrada-del Río was elected mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital and largest city, and served as the president of the PNP. In 1988 he waged an unsuccessful campaign for governor of Puerto Rico. Corrada-del Río was later appointed the island’s secretary of state and eventually served as an associate justice on Puerto Rico’s supreme court.34 He has since retired from public service.

Footnotes

1Congressional Record, House, 98th Cong., 2nd sess. (13 September 1983): 23913.

2Baltasar Corrada to Denver Dickerson, Joint Committee on Printing, Congressional Directory Office, 23 November 1976, textual files of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Office of the Historian, U.S. House of Representatives (hereinafter referred to as textual files of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress).

3“Puerto Rican Action on Equal Rights Urged by Law Panel,” 22 August 1971, Washington Post: A18.

4Baltasar Corrada to Denver Dickerson, Joint Committee on Printing, Congressional Directory Office, 23 November 1976, textual files of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

5Henry L. Trewhitt, “Steamy Reception Looms for Ford at Puerto Rican Summit,” 23 June 1976, Baltimore Sun: A2.

6Baltasar Corrada to Denver Dickerson, Joint Committee on Printing, Congressional Directory Office, 23 November 1976, textual files of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; William Claiborne, “Puerto Rican Officials Fear New Upswing of Terrorism,” 25 March 1975, Washington Post: A4.

7Trewhitt, "Steamy Reception looms for Ford at Puerto Rican Summit”; Interview with Jaime Benítez, Former Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, “Should Puerto Rico Be a State?: No,” 11 April 1977, U.S. News & World Report: 47.

8“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.

9John Van Hyning, “Confronting an Island’s Ills: Statehood Issue, Economic Depression Face New P.R. Governor,” 2 January 1977, Washington Post: 3.

10Congressional Record, House, 96th Cong., 1st sess. (21 March 1979): 5800; Garrison Nelson, Committees in the U.S. Congress, 1947 to 1992, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1994): 193.

11Warren Brown, “Time May Run Out on Ford: Puerto Rico Bill Lagging,” 4 January 1977, Washington Post: A1; James Nelson Goodsell, “Puerto Rico Struggling over Future,” 27 July 1977, Christian Science Monitor: 9; Dave Smith, “Vote Dispute Leaves Puerto Rico in Limbo,” 29 November 1980, Los Angeles Times: B1.

12Beatriz Ruiz de la Mata, “Tripping over Puerto Rico’s Bootstraps,” 12 August 1979, Boston Globe: 45.

13Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 95th Cong., 1st sess. (25 July 1977): 24837.

14Congressional Record, House, 95th Cong., 1st sess. (21 June 1977): 20150; Congressional Record, House, 95th Cong., 1st sess. (20 July 1977): 24090.

15Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 95th Cong., 1st sess. (6 December 1977): 38632; Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 95th Cong., 1st sess. (4 April 1977): 10330. See also Congressional Record, House, 96th Cong., 1st sess. (16 July 1979): 18765; Harry Turner, “Corrada ‘Proud’ of Helping P.R. Land U.S. Funds,” 5 October 1980, San Juan Star: 6; “Corrada Asks P.R. Labor Force to Repudiate Torres’ Wage Plan,” 6 October 1980, San Juan Star: 8; Congressional Record, House, 95th Cong., 1st sess. (20 June 1977): 19802.

16Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 96th Cong., 1st sess. (15 December 1979): 36371.

17David Vidal, “Puerto Rico Aide Sees Statehood Hurt by Ford,” 5 January 1977, New York Times: 12; “Hispanic Group Asks Carter for More Jobs,” 2 March 1977, New York Times: 14.

18Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 96th Cong., 1st sess. (15 December 1979): 36373.

19Congressional Record, House, 96th Cong., 1st sess. (7 June 1979): 13971; Congressional Record, House, 96th Cong., 1st sess. (12 June 1970): 14474.

20Harry Turner, “Corrada ‘Proud’ of Helping P.R. Land U.S. Funds,” 5 October 1980, San Juan Star: 6.

21Quotation from Harry Turner, “Corrada Gnashes at ‘Immaturity’ of Vazquez No-Show,” 2 October 1980, San Juan Star: 1. On response by party, see Harold J. Lidin, “NPP Faithful Rake Corrada for Blast at Vazquez,” 3 October 1980, San Juan Star: 3.

22Harry Turner, “Corrada Won’t Back Down in Flap over Vazquez Snub,” 4 October 1980, San Juan Star: 3.

23Turner, “Corrada ‘Proud’ of Helping P.R. Land U.S. Funds.”

24Harry Turner, “Corrada Claims PIP Desertions, No-Shows hurt NPP,” 7 November 1980, San Juan Star: 6; Manny Suarez, “3 Resident-Commissioner Hopefuls Square Off in Debate,” 24 October 1980, San Juan Star: 6.

25“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present,” http://history.house.gov/Institution/Election-Statistics/Election-Statistics/.

26Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (16 December 1981): 32367–32368.

27Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (13 March 1981): 4397.

28Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (25 June 1981): 14090; Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (26 June 1981): 14570. On food stamps and Puerto Rico, see Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (25 June 1981): 14089–14091; Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (26 June 1981): 14569–14570; Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (22 October 1981): 24868–24871; Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 2nd sess. (2 June 1982): 12767–12772.

29Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (2 October 1981): 22950–22951; Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 2nd sess. (17 December 1982): 31890–31891, 31899, 31906, 31923, 31926, 31929; Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 1st sess. (15 October 1981): 24207–24208.

30Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 2nd sess. (18 December 1982): 32168–32169.

31Congressional Record, House, 98th Cong., 1st sess. (29 September 1983): 26426; quotation in Congressional Record, House, 97th Cong., 2nd sess. (4 August 1982): 19340.

32Congressional Record, House, 98th Cong., 2nd sess. (2 March 1983): 3589–3590; Congressional Record, Extension of Remarks, 98th Cong., 2nd sess. (30 June 1983): 18392; Congressional Record, House, 98th Cong., 2nd sess. (15 November 1983): 32716.

33Congressional Record, House, 98th Cong., 2nd sess. (13 September 1983): 23913.

34Manny Suarez, “Ex-Governor’s Bid Complicates Puerto Rico Race,” 8 November 1987, New York Times: 41; Hearing before the House Subcommittee on Insular and International Affairs of the Committee on Natural Resources, Articles of Relations for U.S. Territories, 103rd Cong., 2nd sess. (24 May 1994): 41; Lance Oliver, “Political Battles Start New Year in Puerto Rico,” 13 January 1997, Orlando Sentinel: A6.

View Record in the Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress

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Bibliography / Further Reading

"Baltasar Corrada-del Río" in Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-2012. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of the Historian and the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington: Government Printing Office, 2013.

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Committee Assignments

  • House Committee - Education and Labor
  • House Committee - Interior and Insular Affairs
  • House Committee - Select Committee on Population
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