Rafael Hernández Colón

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Rafael Hernández Colón
SS R.Hernandez Colonjpg.jpg
4th & 6th Governor of Puerto Rico
In office
January 2, 1973 – January 2, 1977
Preceded by Luis A. Ferré
Succeeded by Carlos Romero Barceló
In office
January 2, 1985 – January 2, 1993
Preceded by Carlos Romero Barceló
Succeeded by Pedro Rosselló
6th President of the Senate of Puerto Rico
In office
Preceded by Samuel R. Quiñones
Succeeded by Juan J. Cancel Ríos
Personal details
Born Rafael Hernández Colón
(1936-10-24) October 24, 1936 (age 81)
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Political party Popular Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Lila Mayoral
(m. 1959–2003; her death)
Nelsa López
(m. 2004–present)
Profession Lawyer

Rafael Hernández Colón[a] (born October 24, 1936 in Ponce, Puerto Rico) is a Puerto Rican politician who served as the fourth Governor of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico from 1973 to 1977 and as the sixth Governor of Puerto Rico from 1985 to 1993 for a total of three terms.[1] An experienced politician, Hernández holds the record for being the youngest Governor of Puerto Rico, having won his first term at the age of 36. Hernández is also the person who has run for governor the most times, a total of five. During his terms as governor, Hernández Colón's administration was known for trying to invigorate the Puerto Rican economy as well as defending the current political status of the island.

Early years and education[edit]

Hernández Colón was born October 24, 1936 in Ponce, Puerto Rico, to Rafael Hernández Matos and Dora Colón Clavell. Rafael and Dora married in 1934 and had three children. Rafael was the oldest. Rafael had two brothers Jose A. (born 1939) and Cesar A. (1942).[2] Hernandez Colon graduated from Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania, then obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University in 1956 where he graduated with honors. In 1959, he obtained his degree in law from the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, graduating magna cum laude and as valedictorian of his class. Between 1961 and 1965 he was lecturer on civil procedure at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in Ponce.

Political career[edit]

Hernández Colón affiliated himself with the Popular Democratic Party (Peoples´ Democratic Party, with Socialist roots), or Partido Popular Democratico (PPD). He served as Associate Commissioner of Public Service under the governorship of Roberto Sánchez Vilella. In 1965 he was named Secretary of the Department of Justice.

President of the Senate[edit]

Hernández Colón was elected to the Senate of Puerto Rico in the 1968 elections, in which his party retained control of the Senate but lost the governorship and House of Representatives. As President of the Senate, Hernández Colón became the Popular Democratic Party's President and main opposition leader. As a Senator, he proposed a constitutional amendment to lower the minimum voting age to 18, which passed in 1970. He also spearheaded efforts to persuade Congress to stop bombing practices in the island of Culebra. On the issue of political status, he opposed Governor Ferré's creation of an Ad Hoc Committee for the Presidential Vote, alleging that it was a misleading effort to enhance the island's current Commonwealth status in accordance with the results of the 1967 status plebiscite. In 1972, he successfully ran for Governor of Puerto Rico, defeating the incumbent by approximately 95,000 votes, or 7.3%. He remains the last PDP gubernatorial candidate to win with over 50% of votes.

First term (1973-1977)[edit]

During his first term, the island was wracked by recession, induced by the 1973 oil crisis, which hit Puerto Rico particularly hard because of the many businesses that were directly related to petroleum processing in Puerto Rico. After enacting austerity measures and tax increases, the economy recovered by 1976.

In 1973, he appointed, alongside President Nixon, an Ad Hoc Committee for Puerto Rico to enhance Puerto Rico's Commonwealth status pursuant to the people's mandate in the 1967 elections. The Committee rendered a report and proposal for a Compact of Permanent Union Between Puerto Rico and the United States that expanded Puerto Rico's autonomy over local affairs, expanded its right to participate in international matters, created a mechanism to object to the automatic application of federal laws, and allowed for the election of a delegate to the U.S. Senate.[3] President Ford, who replaced Nixon, did not react to the Report until after the 1976 elections, when he proposed statehood for the island. According to Hernández Colón, his delayed response was due to political pressure by island Republicans, who supported Ford in his primary against Ronald Reagan.[3] Nevertheless, the Compact was approved by the House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs.[3]

In 1974, Time Magazine recognized Rafael Hernandez Colón as one of the world's young leaders.

Hernández Colón, Treasury Secretary Salvador Casellas, and Resident Commissioner Jaime Benítez successfully lobbied Congress for Section 936, which created a tax incentive for U.S. corporations that established in Puerto Rico. The incentive remained active until 1996, when Congress enacted a phase-out that ended in 2006. Its elimination is often credited as one of the main causes for Puerto Rico's current fiscal and economic crisis.[4]

Hernández Colón also signed Law No. 80 of 1976, which required just cause for terminating employment. In 2018, Law 80 became a hotly-debated issue when the governor proposed its elimination.[5]

Hernández Colón lost in 1976 to then Mayor of San Juan, Carlos Romero Barceló by 3%.[6] He lost again to Romero Barceló in 1980, however, by a slim margin of approximate 3,000 votes, or 0.2%.

Second and third terms (1985-1993)[edit]

Hernández Colón ran again against Romero Barceló in the November 1984 elections and was victorious by about 54,000 votes (48 to 45% respectively). He again won re-election in 1988 election, besting his main rival Baltasar Corrada del Río by 49 to 46% ([1]).

As part of his 1984 electoral campaign, Hernandez Colon released a musical album with Puerto Rican country music titled "Ahora Es Que Vamos" ("Here We Go Now").[7]

During this time Puerto Rico experienced an economic boom with GDP growth at 5% during the years 1987-1989 the highest since Operation Bootstrap and the Economic Boom in the United States. Unemployment dropped drastically in his term from an all-time high 25% in 1983 to 12.0% in 1990. He lost popularity with the controversial Pabellon de Sevilla that was an attempt of a representation of Puerto Rico at the Universal Exposition of Seville in 1992. In Janunary 1992 Hernández announced that he would not seek re-election. On January 11, Hernandez Colón resigned as President of the Popular Democratic Party, the post he held for 23 years. Senator Victoria Munoz Mendoza succeeded Hernandez Colon as president of the party and would later become a gubernatorial candidate herself.

Family life[edit]

Hernández Colón married to Lila Mayoral Wirshing on 24 October 1959. In early 2003, Lila Mayoral Wirshing, died of cancer. Hernandez Colon and Mayoral Wirshing had four children: Rafael, Jose Alfredo, Dora Mercedes and Juan Eugenio. Juan Eugenio Hernandez Mayoral became a senator in the Puerto Rico Senate. Hernández Colón subsequently married attorney Nelsa López in late 2004. He has his main residence in his hometown of Ponce, in the historic downtown district.


Rafael Hernández Colon has published various works specializing in law. Among his works are "Procedimiento Civil: Trayectoria Historica de la Autonomia Politica Puertoriqueña" and "Nueva Tesis" (ISBN 84-599-6756-5) which discusses the Puerto Rican Commonwealth's political relationship with the United States.

Currently, Hernández Colón maintains distance from public political engagement, but continues to be involved in Puerto Rico's political affairs assisting active politicians. He occasionally appears at official events. For example, in December 2011, he publicly admitted before the Senate of Puerto Rico that "the U.S. Congress can do as it wishes with Puerto Rico."[8]

Some[who?]political analysts speculate that Hernández still exerts a sizeable control over the PDP's party structure, which may rival the current PDP president's.


In 2011, creation of the Rafael Hernández Colón Gubernatorial Library was started by the foundation by the same name. It will be located in the Ponce Historic Zone, in barrio Cuarto, just blocks from Plaza Las Delicias.[9] The Library is expected to open its doors in 2015.[10]


Hernández Colón has been granted honoris causa degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Seton Hall University. He also has an honorary degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, where he served as a law professor in the university's Law School.

In 1985, Hernández Colón was awarded the Order of Merit of Duarte, Sánchez and Mella by the government of the Dominican Republic. In 1987 he was awarded the Cross of Isabel the Catholic by king Juan Carlos I and the government of Spain. That same year he was awarded the "Grand Cordón del Libertador" by the government of Venezuela, the Harvard Foundation Award, and the Spirit of the Caribbean Award. In 1989 he was awarded the Olympic Order Award.

On October 18, 1991 at the Campoamor Theater in Oviedo, Spain, Hernandez Colón received the Principe de Asturias de las Letras award that was granted to Puerto Rico by Felipe de Borbón.


  1. ^ This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Hernández and the second or maternal family name is Colón.


  1. ^ Rafael Hernández Colón. Archived 2012-07-09 at the Wayback Machine. Encyclopedia Puerto Rico. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  2. ^ Flickr picture of bench at Hernandez Colon's residence in Ponce. Flickr. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Hernández Colon, Rafael (2011). Hacia la meta final: El Nuevo Pacto. San Juan: Editorial Calle Sol. p. 87. ISBN 9780982947302.
  4. ^ Schoen, John W. (2017-09-26). "Here's how an obscure tax change sank Puerto Rico's economy". CNBC. Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  5. ^ "Firme Rosselló en la derogación de la Ley 80". El Nuevo Dia (in Spanish). 2018-05-24. Retrieved 2018-06-05.
  6. ^ "Romero Takes Governor Oath In Puerto Rico". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. AP. 3 January 1977. p. 4. Retrieved 3 September 2010.
  7. ^ http://www.ebay.com/itm/RAFAEL-HERNANDEZ-COLON-EN-EL-84-PARTIDO-POPULAR-DEMOCRATICO-LP-MINT-SEALED-/222056159697?hash=item33b39419d1:g:dPMAAOSwoBtW6eSM
  8. ^ RHC admite congreso puede hacer lo que quiera con el ELA. Archived 2012-01-11 at the Wayback Machine. El Sur a la Vista. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 14 December 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  9. ^ Biblioteca. Fundación Biblioteca Rafael Hernández Colón. Ponce, Puerto Rico. 2010. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  10. ^ Sin arbitrio la Fundación Biblioteca RHC. Reinaldo Millán. La Perla del Sur. Ponce, Puerto Rico. Year 31. Issue 1526. Page 6. 27 February 2013. Retrieved 27 February 2013.

See also[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Luis A. Ferré
Governor of Puerto Rico
(1st Term)

Succeeded by
Carlos Romero Barceló
Preceded by
Carlos Romero Barceló
Governor of Puerto Rico
(2nd Term)

Succeeded by
Pedro Rosselló
Preceded by
Samuel R. Quiñones
President of the Senate of Puerto Rico
Succeeded by
Juan Cancel Ríos
Legal offices
Preceded by
José Trías Monge
Secretary of Justice of Puerto Rico
Succeeded by
Hector Reichard De Cardona