MAYAGUEZ, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Miguel Angel Garcia Mendez, a longtime leader of the movement to make Puerto Rico a U.S. state, died at a Mayaguez hospital on Tuesday, his 96th birthday.
A former Puerto Rico senator and congressman, Garcia Mendez helped found the Republican Statehood Party -- precursor to today's pro-statehood New Progressive Party -- in 1948. An attorney and prominent businessman, he also founded Western Bank and was an owner of the now-defunct El Imparcial newspaper.
``We have lost the life and company of a distinguished figure in Puerto Rican history,'' said Gov. Pedro Rossello, current head of the New Progressive Party. Rossello declared a three-day official period of mourning.
Born on Nov. 17, 1902, in the northwestern town of Aguadilla, Garcia Mendez was the youngest leader of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives, serving between 1932 and 1940. He later was elected senator.
As head of the Republican Statehood Party, Garcia Mendez boycotted a 1967 vote in Puerto Rico over the island's political relationship with the United States, saying he objected because the results would be non-binding. The vote was won by supporters of the island's status as a U.S. commonwealth.
Luis A. Ferre, a fellow party member who split with Garcia Mendez over the vote and was elected governor of the island in 1968, recognized Garcia Mendez's ``tireless struggle'' for ``political equality'' for Puerto Ricans in a statement Tuesday.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but cannot vote for president or for members of Congress.
At Rossello's urging, Puerto Ricans will again hold a non-binding vote on the island's political status on Dec. 13.
Garcia Mendez is survived by two daughters. His wife, Freddery Ramirez de Arellano, died several years ago.
Garcia Mendez's body was to lie in state on Wednesday at the Capitol building in San Juan. Burial was set for Thursday in Mayaguez.
Cirilo Toro Vargas
Publicado en el Internet: 20 de noviembre de 1998.
Información actualizada: 15 de octubre de 2000.