In 1945, war-torn Europe was in great need. American ships transported goods to help Europe rebuild after World War II. One example was cattle in the newspaper photo below, sent by the Heifer Project to Poland. These cattle traveled in a Liberty Ship named after Santiago Iglesias Pantín, Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico from 1933 to 1939.
In 1945, as now, the Heifer Project provided food-producing animals as a more permanent solution to hunger. The founder of the project, Dan West, was frustrated by his experiences as an aid worker in the Spanish Civil War. He was also inspired to come up with a better way to help people in need. The video below has more detail about the military roots of the organization.
The very first shipment by the Heifer project went to Puerto Rico. It was a pilot project to make sure that shipping livestock would be practical. When it was a success, the next shipment was half a dozen bulls bound for Greece.
The heifers delivered to Poland at the close of WWII were distributed to people who would benefit from a steady source of food. The USS Santiago Iglesias brought hope to people whose lives were shattered by the war.
Santiago Iglesias Pantín
Santiago Iglesias Pantín was a statehood activist. He was also a staunch labor supporter, and served as the General Organizer for the American Federation of Labor and secretary of the Pan-American Federation of Labor. He served in the Puerto Rico Senate for multiple terms.
As Resident Commissioner, the single non-voting representative for Puerto Rico in the U.S. Congress, Iglesias Pantín worked for the right of Puerto Ricans to elect their own governor. He didn’t see that change while he was in service, but it did come about in 1947. Other reforms championed by Iglesias Pantín were included in the Puerto Rico Constitution of 1952.
He was wounded in an assassination attempt by an independence supporter during his term as Resident Commissioner in the U.S. Congress, but went on to serve until his death three years later. In 1943, a Liberty Ship was named after him.
It was this ship that brought the first Heifer Project cattle to Poland in 1945.
Puerto Rico’s military service
Santiago Iglesias Pantín served his country and his territory in the legislature. Many more men and women from Puerto Rico have served in the U.S. military. 18,000 new citizens served in World War I; 65,000 in World War II; 61,000 in the Korean War; 48,000 in the Vietnam War; 10,000 during the Gulf War; and more than 25,000 are currently on active duty.
Over 90,000 veterans of U.S. military service now live in Puerto Rico. These men and women cannot vote in presidential elections for their own Commander in Chief. They still have the single, non-voting representative in Congress that Santiago Iglesias Pantín was in the 1930s.
To honor these service men and women today, we should tell our representatives in Congress that it is time for statehood for Puerto Rico.