Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico's Operation Bootstrap

Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico's Operation Bootstrap

Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico's Operation Bootstrap

Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico's Operation Bootstrap


"Fascinating.... (Maldonado's) extensive interviews of Moscoso are unique and help make this a highly original work.... He deserves this amount of attention as the man who, next to Luis Munoz, was the dominant figure in the Puerto Rico renaissance of the 1950s." -- Thomas L. Hughes, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


San Ciriaco was more than a killer hurricane: Father Juan Perpiñá y Pibernat, the Spanish-born capitular vicar of the Catholic Diocese of Puerto Rico, was convinced that it was an evil omen.

Born in Africa on August 2, 1899, the monstrous tropical storm crossed the Atlantic in five days, tore into the West Indies, cut a highway of destruction through the length of Puerto Rico, turned north toward the Bahamas, smashed into Florida on August 13, continued up the East Coast of the United States, veered and crossed the Atlantic again, passing south of the Azores to finally die in the Mediterranean.

Alone and bewildered in the diocese's main office in Old San Juan, Father Perpiñá y Pibernat attempted to understand what had happened. In his twenty-eight years in the Antilles, the Spanish priest had experienced tropi- cal storms but none like this. The reports of death and destruction from the clergy throughout the island overwhelmed him. Two-thirds of the churches and chapels were demolished. As he attempted to write, his hand trembled. He described the horror of whole families trapped in their wooden homes, swept by the raging floods, terrified children crying out desperately for help, the houses collapsing, entire families disappearing in the water, the unearthing of hundreds of bodies of men, women, and children who sought shelter in buildings they considered safe, now buried under gigantic mud slides. Days after the hurricane, he wrote, ships entering Ponce harbor still found bodies floating in the bay.

Father Perpiñá y Pibernat added the deaths reported by the priests and other religious sources and determined that San Ciriaco had taken 8,000 souls. The actual count was 3,369 people killed, most by drowning. Many poor souls, he thought, perished celebrating what they believed was the end of the storm; abandoning the shelters, they attempted to return to their homes, lured by the treacherous calm of the storm's eye.

But the purpose of the twenty-seven-page letter was not to describe what had happened but to explain why.

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