Born in Ponce in 1862, Degetau studied in Spain; he earned a degree in civil and canon law at the Central University of Madrid in 1888. Shortly before graduation, he founded the newspaper La isla de Puerto Rico dedicated to his ideas of reforming the Spanish colonial regime. After his return to Puerto Rico, he became an active member of Muñoz Rivera's Autonomist Party; in 1895 he went back to Spain to argue for political autonomy for the island. After Spain granted autonomy to Puerto Rico in 1898, he represented the island in the Spanish Cortes.
He returned to Puerto Rico in 1898 and was named Secretary of the Interior in the first cabinet formed under U.S. rule. The following year he was named to the Insular Board of Charities. Degetau was elected Resident Commissioner to the U.S. Congress in 1900 and again in 1902. He authored a bill to make Puerto Ricans citizens of the United States, but it was defeated. After he stepped down from his post in 1905, he traveled to Europe and amassed a substantial art collection.
Upon his return to Puerto Rico, he lived in Aibonito as the administrator of a coffee plantation. He also devoted his energies to the founding of the Pan American University in Puerto Rico to which he donated his art collection. His literary works include El secreto de la domadora (1886); Que Quijote!, Cuentos para el camino (1894), Juventud (1895); La Injuria (1893).
For additional information about Federico, see the publication Hispanic Americans in Congress, 1822-1995 linked below.