History of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico

The history of Puerto Rico began with the settlement of the archipielago of Puerto Rico by the Ortoiroid culture, sometime between 3000–2000 BC. Other tribes, such as the Igneri and Arawak Indians, populated the island between 120 and 1000 AD. At the time of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World, the dominant indigenous culture was that of the Taínos. The Taíno culture died out during the latter half of the 16th century because of exploitation, war and diseases brought by the Spanish.

Located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico was the key to the Spanish Empire since the early years of the exploration, conquest and colonization of the New World. The smallest of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico was a major military post during many wars between Spain and other European powers for control of the region during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The island was a stepping-stone in the passage from Europe to Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and the northern territories of South America. Throughout most of the 19th century and until the conclusion of the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the last two Spanish colonies in the New World and served as the final outposts in Spanish strategies to regain control of the American continents.

In 1898, during the Spanish–American war, Puerto Rico was invaded and subsequently became a possession of the United States. The first part of the 20th century was marked by the struggle to obtain greater democratic rights from the United States. The Foraker Act of 1900, which established a civil government, and the Jones Act of 1917, which granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship, paved the way for the drafting of Puerto Rico's Constitution and the establishment of democratic elections in 1952. However, the political status of Puerto Rico, a Commonwealth controlled by the U.S., remains an anomaly, more than 500 years after the first Europeans settled the island.



Pre-colonial Puerto Rico

Further information: Taíno
Taíno village at Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center in Cuba
Taíno village at Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center in Cuba

The settlement of Puerto Rico began with the arrival of the Ortoiroid culture from the Orinoco region in South America. Some scholars suggest that their settlement dates back 4000 years[1]. An archeological dig at the island of Vieques in 1990 found the remains of what is believed to be an Ortoiroid man (named Puerto Ferro man) which was dated to around 2000 BC.[2] The Ortoiroid were displaced by the Igneri, a peaceful tribe from the same region that arrived on the island between 120 and 400 AD.[3]

Between the seventh and eleventh century Arawak Indians are thought to have settled the island. During this time the Taíno culture developed, and by approximately 1000 the Taíno culture had become dominant. Taíno culture has been traced to the village of Saladero at the basin of the Orinoco River in Venezuela.[4] They arrived at Puerto Rico by migrating across the Lesser Antilles. At the time of Columbus' arrival, an estimated 30-60 thousand Taíno Amerindians, led by cacique (chief) Agüeybaná, inhabited the island which they called Boriken, meaning "the great land of the valiant and noble Lord".[5] The natives lived in small villages led by a cacique and subsisted on hunting, fishing and gathering of indigenous cassava root and fruits. When the Spaniards arrived in 1493, conflicts with raiding Carib Indians, who were moving up the Antilles chain, were taking place. The domination of the Taíno culture on the island was about to end as the Spanish arrival would mark the beginning of their extinction, however, their culture is strongly embedded in Puerto Rican culture today. Musical instruments such as maracas and güiro, the hammock, and words such as Mayagüez, Arecibo, iguana, huracán (hurricane) represent some examples of the legacy left by the Taíno culture in this world.


Spanish rule (1493–1898)


Beginning of colonization

Christopher Columbus, Italian explorer credited with the discovery of Puerto Rico
Christopher Columbus, Italian explorer credited with the discovery of Puerto Rico

Christopher Columbus set sail from Cádiz for his second voyage on September 25, 1493 with 17 ships and 1,200-1,500 men.[6] On November 19, 1493, he landed on the island, naming it San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The first settlement, Caparra, was founded on August 8, 1508 by Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, who later became the first governor of the island.[7] The following year, the settlement was abandoned in favor of a nearby islet on the coast, named Puerto Rico (Rich Port), which had a suitable harbor. In 1511, a second settlement, San Germán, would be established in the southwestern part of the island. Sometime during the 1520s, the island took the name of Puerto Rico while the port became San Juan.

Colonization took shape as encomienda settlements, where settlers enslaved Taínos as laborers and these, in return, were provided with military protection.[1] To stop the exploitation of the indigenous people and because of pressure by the Roman Catholic Church the Burgos' Laws, which modified the encomiendas into a new system called repartimientos, were issued on December 27, 1512 by Ferdinand II of Aragon.[8] However, the laws were mostly ignored and reality was more akin to abject slavery. In 1511, the Taínos revolted against the Spanish. It is claimed that cacique Urayoán, as planned by Agüeybaná II, ordered his warriors to drown Diego Salcedo to determine whether or not the Spaniards were immortal. After drowning Diego, they kept watch over his body for three days to confirm his death.[9] The revolt was easily crushed by Ponce de León and within a few decades much of the native population had been decimated by disease, violence, and a high occurrence of suicide.[1]

The Roman Catholic Church, realizing the opportunity to expand its influence, also "colonized" the island. On August 8, 1511, Pope Julius II established three dioceses in the New World, one in Puerto Rico and two on the island of Hispaniola under the archbishop of Seville.[10] The Canon of Salamanca, Alonso Manso, was appointed bishop of the Puerto Rican diocese. On September 26, 1512, before his arrival on the island, the first school of advanced studies was established by the bishop.[11] Taking possession in 1513 he became the first bishop to arrive in America. Puerto Rico would also become the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World during the reign of Pope Leo X and the general headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition in the New World.[12]

As part of the colonization process African slaves were introduced to the island in 1513. Over the years, following the decline of the Taíno population, many more slaves were brought to Puerto Rico. However, the number of slaves in the island paled in comparison to those in neighboring islands. Also, at this early time of colonization attempts were made to wrestle control of Puerto Rico away from Spain. The Caribs, a raiding tribe of the Caribbean, attacked Spanish settlements along the banks of the Daguao and Macao rivers in 1514 and again in 1521 but each time they were easily repelled by the superior Spanish firepower. However, these would not be the last attempts to wrestle control of Puerto Rico. The European powers quickly realized the potential of the newly discovered lands and attempted to gain control of them.


European threats

Further information: Military history of Puerto Rico#Europeans fight over Puerto Rico
View across the bay of San Juan of Fort San Felipe del Morro
View across the bay of San Juan of Fort San Felipe del Morro

Sparked by the possibility of immense wealth the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries saw many attempts by the European powers to wrestle control of the Americas away from Spain. This, in turn, led to many invasions of the island of Puerto Rico. These invasions had varying degrees of success but in the end, all failed to maintain permanent control of the island. In 1528, the French, recognizing the strategic value of Puerto Rico, sacked and burned the southwest town of San Germán.[13] They also destroyed many of the island's first settlements, including Guánica, Sotomayor, Daguao and Loíza, before the local militia forced them to retreat. The only settlement that remained was the capital, San Juan.

Spain, also recognizing the strategic value of Puerto Rico, began the fortification of the inlet of San Juan in the early 16th century. In 1532, construction of the first fortifications would begin with La Fortaleza ("the Fortress") near the entrance to San Juan bay.[14] Seven years later the construction of massive defenses around San Juan began, including Fort San Felipe del Morro astride the entrance to San Juan bay.[14] Later, Fort San Cristóbal and Fort San Jerónimo also garrisoned troops and defended against land attacks. These forts were built with a financial subsidy from the Mexican mines. In 1587, engineers Juan de Tejada and Juan Bautista Antonelli redesigned Fort San Felipe del Morro; these changes still endure today.[15]

Sir Francis Drake, English privateer that, in 1595, mounted an unsuccessful attack on San Juan
Sir Francis Drake, English privateer that, in 1595, mounted an unsuccessful attack on San Juan

On November 22, 1595, English privateer Sir Francis Drake, with 27 vessels and 2,500 troops, sailed into San Juan Bay in an attempt to loot the city.[16] Even though San Juan was set ablaze, they were unable to defeat the entrenched forces in the forts. With the knowledge of Drake's failure to overtake the defenses of the city by sea, on June 15, 1598, the British Navy led by George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, landed troops from 21 ships to the east in Santurce. Spanish resistance was met while Clifford and his men were attempting to cross the San Antonio bridge (from an area known today as Condado) into the islet of San Juan. Nonetheless, the British conquered the island and held it for several months. They were forced to abandon the island owing to an outbreak of dysentery among the troops. The following year Spain sent soldiers, cannons, and a new governor, Alonso de Mercado, to rebuild the city of San Juan.

The 17th century and 18th centuries saw more attacks on the island. On September 25, 1625, the Dutch,under the leadership of Boudewijn Hendrick (Balduino Enrico), attacked San Juan, besieging Fort San Felipe del Morro and La Fortaleza. Residents fled the city and the Spanish, led by Governor Juan de Haro were able to repel the Dutch troops from Fort San Felipe del Morro. In their retreat the Dutch set the city ablaze. Meanwhile, the fortification of San Juan continued. In 1634, Philip IV of Spain fortified Fort San Cristóbal, along with six fortresses linked by a line of sandstone walls surrounding the city. In 1702, the English assaulted the town of Arecibo, located on the north coast, west of San Juan, with no success. In 1797, the French and Spanish declared war on the United Kingdom. The British attempted again to conquer the island, attacking San Juan with an invasion force of 7,000 troops and an armada consisting of 64 warships[17] under the command of General Ralph Abercromby. Captain General Don Ramón de Castro and his army successfully resisted the attack.[18]

Amidst the constant attacks the first threads of Puerto Rican society emerged. A 1765 census conducted by Lt. General Alejandro O'Reilly showed a total population of only 44,883, of which 5,037 (11.2%) were slaves. This constitutes a low percentage when compared to the other Spanish colonies in the Caribbean. In 1786, the first comprehensive book of Puerto Rico was published by Fray Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra. The book, titled Historia Geográfica, Civil y Política de Puerto Rico, was published in Madrid, and constitutes a complete history of Puerto Rico from the time of its discovery in 1493 until 1783.[19] The book also presents a first hand account of Puerto Rican identity, including music, clothing, personality and nationality among other topics.


Early 19th century

Royal Decree of Graces, 1815, which allowed foreigners to enter Puerto Rico
Royal Decree of Graces, 1815, which allowed foreigners to enter Puerto Rico

The 19th century brought many changes to the status quo of Puerto Rico. Some of these changes were of a political nature while others related to Puerto Rican society. In 1809, the Spanish government, in opposition to Napoleon, was convened in Cádiz in southern Spain. While still swearing allegiance to the king, the Cortes invited voting representatives from the colonies. Ramón Power y Giralt was nominated as the local delegate to the Cádiz Cortes. The Power Law soon followed, which designated five ports for free commerce, Fajardo, Mayagüez, Aguadilla, Cabo Rojo and Ponce, and also established economic reforms in the interest of developing a more efficient economy.[20] In 1812, the Cádiz Constitution was adopted, dividing Spain and its territories into provinces, each with a local corporation or council to promote its prosperity and defend its interests, and granted Puerto Ricans conditional citizenship.

On August 10, 1815, the Royal Decree of Grace was issued, allowing foreigners to enter Puerto Rico (including French refugees from Hispaniola), and opened the port to trade with nations other than Spain. This was the beginning of an agriculture-based economic growth, with sugar, tobacco and coffee being the main products. The Decree also gave free land to anyone who swore their loyalty to the Spanish Crown and their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church. Thousands of families from all regions of Spain (particularly Asturias, Catalonia, Majorca and Galicia), Germany, Corsica, Ireland, France, Portugal, the Canary Islands and other locations, escaping from harsh economic times in Europe and lured by the offer of free land, soon immigrated to Puerto Rico. However, these small gains in autonomy and rights were short lived. After the fall of Napoleon, absolute power returned to Spain which revoked the Cádiz Constitution and reinstated Puerto Rico to its former condition of a colony, subject to the unrestricted power of the Spanish monarch.

Aside from the integration of immigrants to Puerto Rican culture other events further changed Puerto Rican society. On June 25, 1835, Queen María Cristina abolished the slave trade to Spanish colonies. In 1851, Governor Juan de la Pezuela Cevallos founded the Royal Academy of Belles Letters. The academy licensed primary school teachers, formulated school methods, and held literary contests that promoted the intellectual and literary progress of the island. In 1858, the telegraph was introduced into the island with the assistance of Samuel Morse when he installed a line in the town of Arroyo at Havienda La Enriqueta.


Struggle for autonomy

Lares revolutionary flag, used in the unsuccessful Grito de Lares (Lares Uprising)
Lares revolutionary flag, used in the unsuccessful Grito de Lares (Lares Uprising)

The later half of the 19th century was marked by the Puerto Rican struggle for autonomy. A census conducted in 1860 revealed a population of 583,308. Of these 300,406 (51.5%) were white and 282,775 (48.5%) were colored (which included Blacks, Mulattos and Mestizos).[21] The majority of the population was illiterate (83.7%) and lived in poverty. The agriculture industry, which at the time was the main source of income, was hampered by lack of roads, rudimentary tools and equipment and natural disasters, such as hurricanes and droughts. The economy also suffered from increasing tariffs and taxes imposed by the Spanish Crown. Furthermore, Spain had also begun to exile or jail any person who called for liberal reforms.

On September 23, 1868, hundreds of women and men in the town of Lares, stricken by poverty and political estrangement from Spain, revolted against Spanish rule seeking Puerto Rican independence. El Grito de Lares ("Lares Cry" or "Lares Uprising") was planned by a group led by Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances, at the time exiled to the Dominican Republic, and Segundo Ruiz Belvis. Dr. Betances had founded the Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico (Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico) in January 1868. The most important figures in the uprising were Manuel Rojas, Mathias Brugman, Mariana Bracetti, Francisco Ramirez Medina and Lola Rodríguez de Tió. The uprising, although significant, was easily crushed.

Román Baldorioty de Castro, one of Puerto Rico's first abilitionists
Román Baldorioty de Castro, one of Puerto Rico's first abilitionists

As a result of the Grito de Lares political and social reforms occurred toward the end of the 19th century. On June 4, 1870, as a result of the efforts of Roman Baldorioty de Castro, Luis Padial and Julio Vizcarrondo, the Moret Law is approved, in which liberty was given to slaves born after September 17, 1868 or over 60 years old and on March 22, 1873, the Spanish National Assembly officially abolished, with a few special clauses,[22] slavery in Puerto Rico. In 1870, the first political organizations on the island were formed as two factions emerged. The Traditionalists, known as the Partido Liberal Conservador (Liberal Conservative Party) and led by José R. Fernández, Pablo Ubarri and Francisco Paula Acuña, advocated assimilation into the political party system of Spain. Meanwhile, the Autonomists, known as the Partido Liberal Reformista (Liberal Reformist Party) and led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, José Julián Acosta, Nicolás Aguayo and Pedro Gerónimo Goico advocated decentralization away from Spanish control. Both parties would later change their names to Partido Federal Reformista (Reformist Federal Party) and Partido Español Incondicional (Unconditional Spanish Party), respectively. In March 1887, the Partido Federal Reformista was reformed and named the Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Autonomist Party). It tried to create a political and legal identity for Puerto Rico while emulating Spain in all political matters. It was led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, José Celso Barbosa, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón and Luis Muñoz Rivera.

The struggle for autonomy came close to achieving its goal when on November 25, 1897, the Carta Autonómica (Autonomic Charter), which conceded political and administrative autonomy to the island, was approved in Spain. It allowed the island to retain its representation in the Spanish Cortes, and provided for a bicameral legislature.[23][24] That same year, the Partido Autonomista Ortodoxo (Orthodox Autonomist Party) would be founded, led by José Celso Barbosa and Manuel Fernández Juncos. On February 9, 1898, the new government officially began. Governor General Manuel Macías, who had no authority to intervene in civil and political matters unless authorized to do so by the Cabinet, inaugurated the new government of Puerto Rico under the Autonomous Charter which gave town councils complete autonomy in local matters.[23] However, the partially autonomous government would be short lived as Puerto Rico was about to be invaded by the United States of America in the onset of the Spanish-American War.


Invasion of 1898

U.S. 1st Kentucky Volunteers in "Porto [sic] Rico", 1898
U.S. 1st Kentucky Volunteers in "Porto [sic] Rico", 1898

On March 10, 1898, Dr. Julio J. Henna and Robert H. Todd, leaders of the Puerto Rican section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, began to correspond with United States President William McKinley and the United States Senate in hopes that they would consider including Puerto Rico the intervention planned for Cuba. Henna and Todd also provided the U.S. government with information about the Spanish military presence on the island. On April 24, Spanish Minister of Defense Segismundo Bermejo sent instructions to Spanish Admiral Cervera to proceed with his fleet from Cape Verde to the Caribbean, Cuba and Puerto Rico.[23]

In May, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the United States Fourth Artillery was sent to Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military forces to the U.S. government that would be useful for an invasion. On May 10, Spanish forces at Fort San Cristóbal under the command of Capt. Angel Rivero Mendez in San Juan exchanged fire with the USS Yale under the command of Capt. William C. Wise. Two days later on May 12, a squadron of 12 U.S. ships commanded by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan, causing panic among the residents. On June 25, the USS Yosemite blocked San Juan harbor. On July 18, General Nelson A. Miles, commander of U.S. forces, received orders to sail for Puerto Rico and to land his troops. On July 21, a convoy with nine transports and 3,300 soldiers, escorted by USS Massachusetts (BB-2), sailed for Puerto Rico from Guantánamo.[23] General Nelson Miles landed unopposed at Guánica, located in the southern coast of the island, on July 25, 1898 with the first contingent of American troops. Opposition was met in the southern and central regions of the island but by the end of August the island was under United States control.

On August 12, peace protocols were signed in Washington, DC. U.S. and Spanish Commissions met in San Juan on September 9, to discuss the details of the withdrawal of Spanish troops and the cession of the island to the United States. On October 1, an initial meeting is held in Paris to draft the Peace Treaty and on December 10, 1898, the Treaty of Paris is signed (ratified by the U.S. Senate February 6, 1899).[25] Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico and its dependent islets to the United States, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for $20,000,000.[23] General John R. Brooke became the first United States military governor of the island.


Under United States control (1898 - present)


Military government

U.S. 45-star flag, used by the United States in the invasion of Puerto Rico and also the official flag of Puerto Rico from 1899 to 1908.
U.S. 45-star flag, used by the United States in the invasion of Puerto Rico and also the official flag of Puerto Rico from 1899 to 1908.

After the signing and ratification of the Treaty of Paris of 1898 Puerto Rico came under the military control of the United States of America. This brought about many changes which are still in effect today. The name of the island was changed to Porto Rico (the name was changed back to Puerto Rico in 1932) and the currency was changed from the Puerto Rican peso to the United States dollar.[26] Freedom of assembly, speech, press, and religion were decreed and an eight-hour day for government employees was established. A public school system was begun and the U.S. Postal service was extended to the island. The highway system was enlarged, and bridges over the more important rivers were constructed. The government lottery was abolished, cockfighting was forbidden, and a centralized public health service established.[3] Health conditions were poor with high rates of infant mortality and numerous endemic diseases.

The beginning of the military government also marked the creation of new political groups. The Partido Republicano (Republican Party) and the American Federal Party were created, led by José Celso Barbosa and Luis Muñoz Rivera respectively. Both groups supported the annexation to the United States as a solution to the colonial situation.

Disaster also struck as two hurricanes ravaged the island in August, Hurricane San Ciriaco on August 8, and another unnamed hurricane on August 22. Approximately 3,400 people died in the floods and thousands were left without shelter, food, or work.[27] The effects on the economy were devastating as millions of dollars were lost due to the destruction of the majority of the sugar and coffee plantations.


Foraker Act of 1900

The first Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, established in 1900
The first Supreme Court of Puerto Rico, established in 1900

The rule of the military government in Puerto Rico was short lived. It was disbanded on April 2, 1900 when the US Congress enacted the Foraker Act (also known as the Organic Act of 1900), under sponsorship of Senator Joseph B. Foraker.[28] This act established a civil government and free commerce between the island and the United States. The structure of the insular government included a governor appointed by the president, an executive council (the equivalent of a senate), and a legislature with 35 members, though the executive veto required a two-thirds vote to over-ride. The first appointed civil governor, Charles Herbert Allen, was inaugurated on May 1, 1900.[28] On June 5, President McKinley appointed an Executive Council which included five Puerto Rican members and six U.S. members.[29] The act also established the creation of a judicial system headed by the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico and allowed Puerto Rico to send a Resident Commissioner as a representative to Congress.[28] The Department of Education was subsequently formed, headed by Dr. M. G. Braumbaugh (later governor of Pennsylvania). Teaching was conducted entirely in English with Spanish treated as a special subject. However, both Spanish and English were official languages in the island. On November 6, the first elections under the Foraker Act were held and on December 3, the first Legislative Assembly took office. Federico Degetau takes office in Washington as the first Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico on March 14, 1901.

The new political status sparked the creation of more political groups in the island. In 1900, the Partido Federal (Federal Party) and the Partido Obrero Socialista de Puerto Rico (Socialist Labor Party of Puerto Rico) were founded. The former campaigned for Puerto Rico to become one of the states in the United States while the latter followed the ideals of the Socialist Labor Party of America. Four years later, in 1904, Luis Muñoz Rivera and José de Diego restructured the American Federal Party into the Partido Unionista de Puerto Rico (Unionist Party of Puerto Rico) with the intention of fighting against the colonial government established under the Foraker Act. In 1909, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, Manuel Zeno Gandía, Luis Llorens Torres, Eugenio Benítez Castaño, and Pedro Franceschi founded the Partido Independentista (Independence Party). It was the first political party whose agenda was the independence of Puerto Rico.

The status quo was again altered in 1909 when the Foraker Act, due to weaknesses and a small crisis in Puerto Rico's government, was modified by the Olmsted Amendment. This Amendment placed the supervision of Puerto Rican affairs in the jurisdiction of an executive department to be designated by the president.[30] In 1914, the first Puerto Rican officers, Martin Travieso (Secretary) and Manuel V. Domenech (Commissioner of Interiors), were assigned to the Executive Cabinet, allowing islanders a majority. A 1915 delegation from Puerto Rico, accompanied by the Governor Arthur Yager, traveled to Washington to ask Congress to grant the island more autonomy. This delegation and speeches made by Resident Commissioner Luis Muñoz Rivera in Congress, coupled with political and economic interests, led to the drafting of the Jones Act of 1917.


Jones Act of 1917

The Jones Act was approved on December 5, 1916, and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on March 2, 1917.[31] The law made Puerto Rico a United States territory which is "organized but unincorporated". It also granted U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans.[31] The Act allowed conscription to be extended to the island, which sent 20,000 soldiers to the U.S. Army during the First World War. The Act also divided governmental powers into three branches: executive (appointed by the President of the United States), legislative, and judicial. The legislative branch was composed by the senate, consisting of 19 members, and a house of representatives, consisting of 39 members.[31] The members of the legislature were freely elected by the Puerto Rican people. A bill of rights, which established elections to be held every four years, was also created. The Act also made English the official language of the Puerto Rican courts.

On October 11, 1918, an earthquake occurred, with an approximate magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale and was accompanied by a tsunami reaching 6.1 metres (20 feet) in height.[32] The epicenter was located northwest of Aguadilla in the Mona Canyon (between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic).[32] This earthquake caused great damage and loss of life at Mayagüez, and lesser damage along the west coast. Tremors continued for several weeks.

Picture by journalist Carlos Torres Morales of the Ponce Massacre, March 21, 1937
Picture by journalist Carlos Torres Morales of the Ponce Massacre, March 21, 1937

As a consequence of the Jones Act and the establishment of elections, a new political party, the Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Nationalist Party), was founded on September 17, 1922. In the 1930s, the Nationalist Party, led by Pedro Albizu Campos withdrew from political participation and increased conflict arose between their adherents and the authorities. They attacked Blanton Winship, the appointed Governor of Puerto Rico, Elisha Francis Riggs Chief of Police, and Robert A. Cooper Judge of the Federal Tribunal in Puerto Rico. On February 23, 1936, two Nationalists Hiram Rosado and Elias Beauchamp, in retaliation for the "Rio Piedras Massacre", killed Police Chief Riggs in San Juan. They were apprehended and summarily executed at police headquarters. On July 31, 1936, Pedro Albizu Campos, Juan Antonio Corretjer, Clemente Soto Vélez and other Nationalists were sentenced to 6-10 years in federal prison. Later, in 1937, police opened fire at a Nacionalista de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rican Nationalist) Party parade, known as the "Ponce Massacre"; 20 people were killed and 100 wounded.

Sugar cane plantation, the main employers in Puerto Rico until the Great Depression
Sugar cane plantation, the main employers in Puerto Rico until the Great Depression

In the 1920s the economy of Puerto Rico was booming. The drastic increase in the price of sugar, Puerto Rico's principal export, brought increasing revenues to the island. As a result the island's infrastructure was steadily upgraded. New schools, roads and bridges were constructed. The increase in private wealth was reflected in the erection of many residences, while the development of commerce and agriculture stimulated the extension of banking and transport facilities. The high infant mortality death rate of the late 19th century declined steadily, thanks in large measure to basic public health programs. However, the economic growth would come to a screeching halt in 1929 when the United States stock market crashed.

The Great Depression hit the island hard. At the time, agriculture was the main contributor to the economy.[33] Industry and commerce slowed during the 1930s as well.[34] The depression was further aggravated when on September 27, 1932, Hurricane San Ciprián struck the island. Exact figures of the destruction are not known but estimates say that 200-300 people were killed, more than a thousand were injured, and property damage escalated to $30-50 million.[35] The agricultural production, the principal economic driver for the island, came to a standstill. However, the decline of the economy would not end there. A new federal minimum wage law of 25 cents an hour took effect in 1938. As a consequence, two thirds of the island's textile factories closed because worker productivity was below that level.


Establishment of the Commonwealth

After World War II social, political and economical changes began to take place that have continued to resonate until today. The end of World War II saw the beginning of a two decade migration to the continental United States, mainly to New York. The main reasons for this were an undesirable economic situation brought by the Great Depression and the heavy recruitment made by the U.S. armed forces and U.S. companies.[36] Currently more than 2 million Puerto Ricans live abroad. Political changes began in 1946 when President Truman designated the first native as governor of Puerto Rico, Commissioner Resident Jesús T. Piñero, and when one year later the United States Congress passed an act allowing Puerto Ricans to vote for their own governor. The first elections under this act were performed on November 2, 1948. Luis Muñoz Marín, president of the Puerto Rican senate, successfully campaigned and became the first democratically elected Governor of the island on January 2, 1949. In the 1950s, an ambitious industrialization project dubbed Operation Bootstrap was launched under governor Muñoz Marín. It was coupled with agrarian reform (land redistribution) that limited the area that could be held by large sugarcane interests. Operation Bootstrap enticed U.S. mainland investors to transfer or create manufacturing plants by granting them local and federal tax concessions, but maintaining the access to U.S. markets free of import duties. Another incentive was the lower wage scales in the densely populated island, which had a rising urban unemployed population. The program accelerated the shift from an agricultural to an industrial society.[37] The 1950s saw the development of labor-intensive light industries, such as textiles; later manufacturing gave way to heavy industry, such as petrochemicals and oil refining, in the 1960s and 1970s.[38] Muñoz Marín's development programs brought some prosperity for an emergent middle class. The industrialization was in part fueled by generous local incentives and freedom from federal taxation, while providing access to continental U.S. markets without import duties. As a result, a rural agricultural society was transformed into an industrial working class.

Flag of Puerto Rico, created in 1895 and officially adopted in 1952
Flag of Puerto Rico, created in 1895 and officially adopted in 1952

On July 4, 1950, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Act 600, which allowed Puerto Ricans to draft their own constitution establishing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The U.S. Congress had granted commonwealth status on Puerto Rico that enhanced Puerto Rico's political status from protectorate to commonwealth. This, coupled with Muñoz Marín's reversal on not pursuing Puerto Rican Independence angered some Puerto Ricans. On late October 1950, a group of Puerto Rican nationalists, led by Pedro Albizu Campos, staged several revolts, the most successful of which is known as the Jayuya Uprising. The revolts included an attack on the governor's mansion, La Fortaleza, the United States Capitol and at Blair House, where nationalists attempted to assassinate United States President Harry S. Truman. These acts led Muñoz to crack down on Puerto Rican nationalists and advocates of Puerto Rican independence. The actions by both Muñoz and the United States' Government would later be determined as infringing on constitutional rights.[39][40] On July 25, 1952, the Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved by voters in a referendum, and the island organized as the Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico).[41] That same year marked the first time that the Flag of Puerto Rico could be publicly displayed.[42]

The Partido Estadistas Unido (United Statehooders Party) was founded by Luis A. Ferré to campaign for statehood in the 1967 plebiscite. On July 23, 1967, the first plebiscite on the political status of Puerto Rico was held. Voters overwhelmingly affirmed continuation of Commonwealth status (Commonwealth–60.4% Statehood–39%; Independence–0.6%).[43] Other plebiscites have taken place to determine the political status of Puerto Rico, one in 1993 and another in 1998. Both times, although by smaller margins, the status quo has been upheld.[44] However, the U.S. constitution does not mention this avenue of status, hence legally the island remains territory of the U.S. under congressional supervision. Estadistas Unidos organized the Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party) under Ferré's leadership. The party campaigned for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state in the Union. Luis A. Ferré was elected governor on November 5, 1968, with 43.6% of the vote, the first time a pro-statehood governor has received a majority. The New Progressive Party, the Popular Democratic Party and the Independence Party constitute the current established political parties in the island.

Present-day Puerto Rico has become a major tourist destination and a leading pharmaceutical and manufacturing center. Still, Puerto Rico continues to struggle to define its political status. Even though Puerto Rico was granted local autonomy in 1952 it remains a territory of the United States. This ambiguity continues to spark political debates which dominate Puerto Rican society. Economically, Puerto Rico has recently seen its credit rating downgraded to Baa2 by Moody's Inverstor Services with the possibility of more downgrades happening in the near future.[45] This has led to fiscal reforms to reduce government spending, increase revenues and balance the budget.

On 25 October 2006, the Puerto Rico State Department conferred to Juan Mari Brás the Puerto Rican citizenship, thought to have been long dead since 1917. The Puerto Rico Supreme Court and the Puerto Rican Secretary of Justice determined that the Puerto Rican citizenship in fact existed and was recognised in the Puerto Rican constitution, as in the Insular Cases (Casos Insulares in Spanish) of 1901 through 1922 of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Puerto Rican State Department is working on the protocol it will follow to grant the Puerto Rican Citizenship to Puerto Ricans.


See also


Notes and references



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Rouse, Irving. The Tainos : Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus ISBN 0-300-05696-6.
  2. Mahaffy, Cheryl (January 28, 2006). Vieques Island - What lies beneath. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved on February 11, 2006.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Blackburn Moreno, Ronald (February 2001). Brief Chronology of Puerto Rico. ASPIRA Association, Inc.. Retrieved on February 11, 2006.
  4. Figueroa, Ivonne (July 1996). Taínos. Retrieved on March 20, 2006.
  5. Chief Pedro Guanikeyu Torres. The Dictionary of the Taíno Language. Taino Inter-Tribal Council Inc.. Retrieved on February 11, 2006.
  6. The second voyage of Columbus. World Book, Inc.. Retrieved on February 11, 2006.
  7. Vicente Yañez Pinzón is considered the first appointed governor of Puerto Rico, but he never arrived at the island.
  8. The laws, among other things, prohibited the use of any form of punishment toward the indigenous people, regulated their work hours, pay, hygiene, and care and ordered them to be catechesized.
  9. Mari, Brenda A. (April 22, 2005). The Legacy of Añasco: Where the Gods Come to Die. Puerto Rico Herald. Retrieved on March 1, 2006.
  10. Jones, W.A.. Porto Rico. Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved on March 4, 2006.
  11. Religion. Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquén. Federal Writers Project (1940). Retrieved on March 6, 2006.
  12. Puerto Rico and the Death Penalty. Death Penalty Information Center. Retrieved on March 21, 2006.
  13. French corsairs would again sack San Germán in 1538 and 1554.
  14. 14.0 14.1 La Fortaleza/San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico. National Parks Services. Retrieved on March 1, 2006.
  15. Miller, Paul G. (1947).Historias de Puerto Rico,221-237.
  16. The Life of Sir Francis Drake (July 20, 2004). Retrieved on March 1, 2006.
  17. The exact number of ships and troops is presently uncertain. The number of ships varies from 60 to 64 ships and the number of troops varies from 7,000 to 13,000. No exact number of ships is given by British accounts. For more information see Alonso, María M., The Eighteenth Century Caribbean & The British Attack on Puerto Rico in 1797 ISBN 1-881713-20-2.
  18. Alonso, María M.. Chapter XIV - Abercromby's Siege. The Eighteenth Century Caribbean & The British Attack on Puerto Rico in 1797. Retrieved on February 28, 2006.
  19. Abbad y Lasierra, Iñigo. Historia Geográfica, Civil y Política de Puerto Rico. ISBN 0-8477-0800-4. (Spanish)
  20. Aspectos políticos en Puerto Rico: 1765-1837. Retrieved on March 4, 2006. (Spanish)
  21. Grose, Howard B.,Advance in the Antilles ASIN B00085O1E8
  22. These clauses included that slaves were required to continue working for three more years and that the owners would be compensated 35 million pesetas per slave.
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 23.4 Chronology of Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War. Library of Congress. Retrieved on March 10, 2006.
  24. This legislature consisted of a Council of Administration with eight elected and seven appointed members, and a Chamber of Representatives with one member for every 25,000 inhabitants.
  25. The American peace commission consisted of William R. Day, Sen. Cushman K. Davis, Sen. William P. Frye, Sen. George Gray, and the Hon. Whitelaw Reid. The Spanish commission was headed by Eugenio Montero Ríos, the President of the Senate. Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, also negotiated on Spain's behalf.
  26. Military Government in Puerto Rico. Library of Congress. Retrieved on March 26, 2006.
  27. Hurricane San Ciriaco. Library of Congress. Retrieved on March 26, 2006.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 Foraker Act (Organic Act of 1900). Library of Congress. Retrieved on March 10, 2006.
  29. The Puerto Rican members were José Celso Barbosa, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, José de Diego, Manuel Camuñas and Andrés Crosas. The U.S. members were William H. Hunt, Secretary; Jacob Hollander, Treasurer; J. R. Garrison, Auditor; W. B. Eliot, Interiors; James A. Harlan, Attorney General; and Dr. Martin G. Brumbaugh, Secretary of Education.
  30. An American Empire: Relations with Territories gained in the Treaty of Paris 1898. National Center for History in the Schools Standards. Retrieved on March 21, 2006.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 Jones Act. Library of Congress. Retrieved on March 10, 2006.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Earthquake of 1918. Puerto Rico Seismic Network. Retrieved on March 12, 2006.
  33. Agriculture. Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquén. Federal Writers Project (1940). Retrieved on March 6, 2006.
  34. Industry, Commerce, and Labor. Puerto Rico: A Guide to the Island of Boriquén. Federal Writers Project (1940). Retrieved on March 6, 2006.
  35. Hodgson, Michael, E. and Palm, Risa I. Natural Hazards in Puerto Rico: Attitudes, Experience, and Behavior of Homeowners. 1993.
  36. Puerto Rico: Migrating to a new land. Library of Congress (April 22, 2004). Retrieved on March 10, 2006.
  37. Resistance in Paradise: Rethinking 100 Years of U.S. Involvement in the Caribbean and the Pacific. American Friends Service Committee. Retrieved on March 19, 2006.
  38. Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation. Retrieved on February 25, 2006.
  39. González, Juan (May 23, 2000). FBI Files on Puerto Ricans. Retrieved on March 24, 2006.
  40. Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts Section. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved on March 24, 2006.
  41. A literal translation of Estado Libre Asociado would be Free Associated State but since the U.S. is composed of states it was deemed cumbersome to make this the official name, hence Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was chosen.
  42. From 1895 to 1952 the Puerto Rican flag was outlawed.
  43. Elections in Puerto Rico: Results 1967 Plebiscite. Retrieved on March 14, 2006.
  44. For the complete statistics regarding these plebiscites please refer to Elections in Puerto Rico:Results.
  45. Moody's places Puerto Rico’s credit rating in watchlist for a possible downgrade. Government Development Bank of Puerto Rico. Retrieved on March 15, 2006.

General references


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