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Jaime Benítez, 92, Educator and Puerto Rican Politician


June 1, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Jaime Benítez[PHOTO: Copyright Library of Congress]

Jaime Benítez Rexach, a former chancellor and president of the University of Puerto Rico who from 1972 to 1976 was the island's nonvoting representative in Congress, died on Wednesday in a hospital in San Juan. He was 92.

Under Mr. Benítez, who became chancellor in 1942, the University of Puerto Rico increased significantly in size and quality, becoming one of the finest institutions of higher education in the Spanish-speaking world.

An overhaul of the university's statutes in the year Mr. Benítez took over laid the basis for the changes by sharply reducing political interference in university affairs.

The student body grew from about 5,000 to more than 40,000 by the time Mr. Benítez stepped down. The schools of medicine, dentistry and architecture were added and regional campuses established.

As chancellor, Mr. Benítez also attracted many distinguished scholars and artists who had left Spain in its civil war, including the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset and the Nobel Prize-winning poet Juan Ramón Jiménez.

A close associate of the political leader Luis Muñoz Marín, who became Puerto Rico's first elected governor in 1949 and helped achieve commonwealth status for it in 1952, Mr. Benítez drafted the Bill of Human Rights included in the new Constitution, which recognized citizens' social and economic rights as well as their human rights.

The two men fell out in 1957, however, when Mr. Muñoz declared his "loss of confidence" in Mr. Benítez and accused him of using his university position to build a rival political movement to his own Popular Democratic Party, or P.P.D. They were publicly reconciled before the 1960 elections.

In 1966, the university statutes were changed again to permit greater political activity on the campus and Mr. Benítez was effectively kicked upstairs to the new and less powerful post of university president, which he gave up in 1971.

The next year he was elected on the P.P.D. ticket to a four-year term as Puerto Rico's resident commissioner in Washington, effectively representing it in the House of Representatives, where he sat as a Democrat though without a vote. His 1976 re-election bid was unsuccessful.

Born on the island of Vieques on Oct. 29, 1908, Mr. Benítez studied law at Georgetown University and political science at the University of Chicago. He joined the University of Puerto Rico faculty as an associate professor of social and political science in 1931.

He is survived by his wife, the former Lulu Martinez; two daughters, Clotilde and Margarita, of Washington, and a son, Jaime, of Albany.

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