The last American consul in Puerto Rico: Phillip C. Hanna.

Author:Berry-Caban, Cristobal S.
Position:Biography
 
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Rarely do consular officers have an opportunity to influence the diplomatic stage. Usually their role is parochial and limited to facilitating commercial relations and trading relationships of their fellow citizens with the host country. The consular service has traditionally been the "service" arm of the State Department. Historically, the welfare and protection of fellow Americans was the basic justification for establishing an official presence overseas. Thus, in 1790 the US named its consuls abroad while by 1791 only five diplomatic missions existed. By 1830, the disparity was even greater: 141 consulates and only 15 diplomatic missions. On November 27, 1815 John Warner of Delaware was appointed "Agent of Commerce and Seamen" in San Juan, Puerto Rico (1)

Philip C. Hanna embraced his position as a consular official with zeal and ultimately played an important role in the Spanish-American War that culminated in the annexation of Puerto Rico to the emerging American empire. As consul, Hanna was expected to protect the lives and property of citizens of the US in foreign countries, and, to some degree, to promote their welfare. "The consul is a business officer," wrote one author. "[H]e should be intelligent and patriotic--thoroughly American in sympathy-- goes without saying." To be an efficient consul, his background should also include "business training, experience of consular duties, and special fitness for the locality to which he is sent." (2)

Hanna's upbringing prepared him well for the role of consul. Born in Waterloo, Iowa, on June 27, 1857, Philip Hanna's early years remain sketchy. Hanna's family was deeply rooted in the Midwest. His father, George Washington Hanna, was the first settler of European descent in Black Hawk County, Iowa. Although the senior Hanna sometimes engaged in mercantile trade in nearby Waterloo, farming was his principle vocation. (3)

Physically, Philip Hanna portrayed a rather dashing figure. A tall, slender young man, with an aquiline nose, a smooth face and a pair of gray-blue eyes, Hanna was educated in Iowa public schools. Although raised as "an evangelist of the Free-Will Baptist church," upon graduation from high school he became a Methodist minister. (4), (5), (6)

This upbringing proved more than adequate. "[b]eneath the layer of Christian moralism," commented Richard Van Alstyne "is the shrewdness of the Puritan merchant." (7) Thus, it seems no coincidence that Hanna would also engage in banking. This combination of religion and capitalism would later play a key role during Hanna's posting in Puerto Rico.

A distant cousin of Hanna was the tough and brilliant Republican Senator Marcus Alonso Hanna; another relative was Congressman Jeremiah (Jerry) Rusk of Wisconsin. Emulating both his cousins, Hanna joined the Republican Party.

At age 34, Hanna began his consular career. His first assignment in 1891 was in La Guaira, Venezuela. Hanna arrived to find a Venezuelan government in the midst of political turmoil.

Beginning in 1870, for all practical purposes, Venezuela was ruled by Antonio Guzman Blanco. In 1889 there was an open revolt against him and he was forced to flee the country taking refuge on the Dutch island of Curacao. For the next several years, as civil war again erupted Venezuela remained in crisis.

The seaport town of La Guaira was the commercial lifeline to Venezuela's capital, Caracas. In September 1892, an army officer supporting one of the factions, decided that the quickest way to acquire much needed monies, so that he could pay his troops, was to take it away from those who had it. (8), (9)

He proceeded to arrest 85 of the wealthiest people in La Guaira. The majority of those arrested were foreign born merchants, of which seventeen were consular representatives from Russia, France, Belgium, Hawaii and nearly every Latin American country. Each prisoner was informed on the price expected to ensure their freedom. The ransoms requested were based on the supposed wealth of the prisoners or their ability to get money quickly through friends.

Only Hanna, and a young Spanish naval Lieutenant Antonio Eulate y Fery, afterward famous as commander of the Vizcaya, an armored cruiser nearly sunk during the Battle of Santiago de Cuba in 1898, escaped this predicament. From the prison fortress, Hanna received a note informing him that a naturalized American citizen was being held for ransom.

His consular dispatch closed by the local authorities, Hanna was unable to reach the American Ambassador in Caracas for instructions. He tried cabling Washington, but the local telegraph operator refused to send it. (10)

In a bold gesture, Hanna approached the troops lounging in front of the fortress, demanding the immediate release of the prisoners. The officer in command replied that it was impossible unless the ransoms were paid:

"If you don't let them out," said Hanna, "I will land troops and take charge myself."

The general only shrugged his soldiers. It was a bluff and he knew it.

Hanna left and went at once to the harbor, in the hope that a Red D line steamer or an American gunboat might be there to provide assistance. There was none such. Only a small Spanish coast patrol boat, the Jorge Juan, was there commanded by Lieutenant Eulate. Enraged, Hanna asked Eulate if he would land some marines. He told Hanna that he would help and if necessary "blow the prison to hell...."

The Spanish vessel trained it three guns on the prison fortress and gave it a blank volley. Hanna again approached the general holding the prisoners; this time he presented a twenty minute ultimatum. Time ticked by. Shortly before the time was nearly up the prisoners were released.

While this incident was hardly noticed in Washington, it provided Hanna first-hand experience on the critical role consular officers must sometimes undertake. Hanna's Venezuelan escapade ultimately resulted in his recall by the Department of State. Nevertheless, Hanna was commended by the Venezuelan government.

Hanna returned to Iowa where the Venezuelan government appointed him their consular representative in Des Moines. Shortly thereafter he returned to US consular duties and briefly served as consul to Trinidad.

Upon returning to the states from Trinidad, Hanna asked to return to the Caribbean. During a Senate recess, President William McKinley appointed Hanna as the United States Consul at San Juan, Puerto Rico. (11)

Hanna was anxious to assume his new post. Cabling Washington, Hanna requested that he "be allowed to proceed directly to ... San Juan, Puerto Rico, without going to Washington." (12)

On October 21, 1897, Hanna and his wife, Lulu May Cornick, arrived in Puerto Rico. After presenting his credentials to the island's Governor-General, he assumed his duties. Several months later in December 1897, President William McKinley officially appointed Hanna as United States Consul at San Juan, Puerto Rico. (13)

The consulate was located at Number 2 Santo Cristo Street, several blocks away from the Governor's Palace known as the Fortaleza, and a short walk from the main Plaza de Armas. Anchored in the middle of the street where it curves eastward is the small chapel of Santo Cristo de la Salud built in 1753 were legend has it that a rider miraculously survived after plummeting over a steep precipice. (14)

Rent was $95.00 a quarter and Hanna found the consulate in disarray. Furniture needed repair and replacing and the consulate had unpaid expenses including a Post Office Box rental ($2.18), newspapers ($2.80), light ($12.80), postage ($21.91), and even ice ($14.30). (15)

During Hanna's two years as the island's consul, Puerto Rico progressed from a Spanish colony becoming an autonomous territory only to see it revert back to colonial status under an American military regime.

Puerto Rico appears on the blue of the Antillean map between North and South America as an almost invisible point. The island is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles and is approximately 90 mile across in an east-west direction and 30 miles wide between the north and south coasts. Its geographical position astride the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea historically made the island a frequent port of call for Europeans en route from the Old World to the New.

The Spaniards first came as conquistadores in search of wealth. But some chose to settle and thereby established a pattern of emigration that continued until the end of the 19th century. Spanish emigrants were known as peninsulares because they were born on the Iberian Peninsula. Their children, born in the New World were called creoles. This distinction was important because peninsulares regarded themselves as 'pure-blooded' and therefore superior to creoles. Moreover, Spanish imperial rule was dedicated to ensuring that the peninsulares retained a privileged status dominating the government, the Church, the military and commerce. (16)

Hanna confronted a Puerto Rican society four centuries old and in the early stages of capitalist development. The young creole bourgeoisie was composed mainly of landowners of small and medium-sized holdings that cultivated and processed coffee, tobacco and sugar cane.

The urban middle classes were integrated by connections between government employees and retail businessmen closely linked to Spanish political and commercial interests. A small number of craftsmen and industrial workers were spread out across the island but had yet to coalesce into an urban work force. But, the vast majority of the population was mostly illiterate landless agricultural workers and subsistence farmers.

Slavery existed until the late 19th century. (17) There was a small free colored population, but it was economically and socially consigned to the bottom of society. (18) Life was harsh for people of color and discontent showed itself in occasional slave uprisings but more commonly in a general lawlessness and banditry that was a regular feature of rural areas...

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