The Weekly Quill — ‘M’ is for “Mousseau” & “Munis”

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The Quill Intelligence Interview Series

From Mummies to Muscovites to Mayans, smallpox wiped out entire populations. The scourge’s transmission rate was 40%; it did not quibble with class distinction. The first known royal taken by the disease was Pharaoh Ramses V, who died in 1157 B.C. The Peloponnesian War(riors) infected Athens in 430 B.C. and eliminated a fifth of its population. Smallpox then traveled along trade routes from Carthage. Troops returning from campaigns in the Near East brought the disease to Rome in the winter of 165-166 A.D.; it decimated its army and took down as much as one-third of the Empire’s inhabitants. Europe’s Middle Ages were a particularly lethal era. From there, it traveled to the Americas and claimed more Aztec and Inca people than the Spanish Conquistadores. Europe did not, however, export and expunge the disease. Towards the end of the 18th century, smallpox accounted for nearly 400,000 deaths every year, including five kings. In the last 100 years before the World Health Organization declared it eradicated in 1980, the disease is estimated to have claimed a half a billion lives, a number that exceeds the combined total of deaths in all world wars.

One of the peoples nearly destroyed by smallpox were the Taíno, hunter-gatherers who settled what they called Borinquén more than 1,000 years before the Spanish arrived on the Caribbean island of roughly 3,500 square miles that is the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles. In his second expedition to the Indies in 1493, Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain, renaming it San Juan Bautista. He was followed in 1508 by Juan Ponce de León, who founded the first European settlement in Caparra, near a bay on the island’s northern coast. The renaming of this “rich port,” or Puerto Rico, occurred in 1521. Smallpox had no use for the island’s riches and viciously destroyed the vast majority of the Taíno. By the 16th century, Spain began to import slaves from Africa to farm sugar cane, ginger, tobacco and coffee.

San Juan was also rendered an impervious military outpost featuring La Fortuleza, a fortified palace for the governor, and San Felipe del Morro and San Cristobál forts that fended off attacks by the British, Dutch and French. Full autonomy under Spanish rule was never to be. The freedom fights spurred on by the effort culminated in an uprising in the mountain town of Lares in 1868. Though the lost rebellion is still commemorated in “El Grito de Lares” every year, independence has never come to Puerto Rico. The United States did manage to occupy Puerto Rico in July 1898. In the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the brief war later that year, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines and Cuba to the U.S.

In the years leading up to World War I, Puerto Rico was granted various degrees of autonomy. And though 18,000 were drafted into the Great War, it was not until the years following World War II, that Congress passed an act making way for Puerto Ricans to elect their own governors. In 1952, Puerto Rico became an official U.S. commonwealth, which granted other powers of self-government and the ability to create its own constitution.

That particular juncture is where this week’s guest interview, John Mousseau, enters the picture. He is CEO and Director of Fixed Income at Sarasota-based Cumberland Advisors. And though he knows the economy and the markets as well as any of the experts on whom we rely, he made his bones in the municipal bond trenches and is one of the nation’s most astute voices in this arena. As is the case with any municipal bond guru worth his or her salt, over the course of the last few decades, “Moose” as he is fondly referred to, can recite most of the laws by which Puerto Rico is governed in his sleep.


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