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Located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico was key to the Spanish Empire since the early years of 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 seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It 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 nineteenth century, Puerto Rico and Cuba remained 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 Puerto Rico was invaded and become a possession of the United States of America. The first part of the 20th century was marked with the struggle to obtain greater democratic rights from Washington. 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[edit]

Bohio of a Taíno Amerindian

Arawak Indians are thought to have settled the island of Puerto Rico around the 9th century AD [1], although some scholars suggest that their settlement dates back 5000 years [2]. At the time of Columbus' arrival, an estimated 30-60 thousand mainly Taíno Amerindians originally inhabited the island which they called Boriken, meaning "the great land of the valiant and noble Lord" or "land of the great lords" [3]. The natives lived in small villages led by a cacique (or chief). Taínos 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.

Spanish Rule 1493-1898[edit]

Colonization Begins[edit]

Christopher Columbus set sail from Cádiz on September 25, 1493, with 17 ships and 1,200-1,500 men for his second voyage [4]. On November 19, 1493, Columbus landed on the island in the name of the king and queen of Spain, 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 governor of the island. The following year, the settlement was abandoned in favor of the nearby islet on the coast which had a suitable harbor. By the 1520s, the island took the name of Puerto Rico, while the port became San Juan.

Colonization took shape as encomienda settlements, in which land and indigenous peoples were alloted to the settlers. Under the encomienda, settlers enslaved Tainos as laborers and in return provided military protection. The Spanish Crown, under pressure of the Roman Catholic Church, instituted the repartimiento system, which was a modification of the encomienda system. Under the repartimiento system, the conquistadors were supposed to pay the Indians for their labor and to teach them Christianity. The reality was more akin to abject slavery. By 1511, the Taínos revolted against the Spanish. It is claimed Cacique Urayoán 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 several days until they were sure that he was dead. The revolt was easily crushed by Ponce de León, who ordered thousands killed; within a few decades much of the native population had been decimated by disease, violence, and a high occurance of suicide.

That same year, Diego Columbus won rights to all land discovered by his father after presenting his case to the courts in Madrid. Years before, Cristopher Columbus had been stripped of rights over the lands he discovered. King Ferdinand of Spain ordered Juan Ponce de León to be replaced as governor by Diego Columbus. Not wishing to serve under the new governor, Ponce de León obtained title to explore the Upper Bahamas and areas to the north.

On August 8, 1511, Pope Julius II established two dioceses in the New World, one in Puerto Rico and the other one on the island of Hispaniola under the archbishop of Seville. The Canon of Salamanca, Alonso Manso, was appointed bishop of the Puerto Rican diocese, taking possession in 1513 and becoming the first bishop to arrive in America. On September 26, 1512, the first school of advanced studies was established by the bishop.

On December 27, the Burgos Law was issued by Ferdinand II of Aragon. This law regulated relations between Spaniards and the natives, particularly to ensure the spiritual and material welfare of the natives, who were often poorly treated. That same year, the settlement of San Germán was founded on the south western part of the island. On January 27, 1513, African slaves were introduced onto the island. In 1514, Carib Indians attacked settlements along the banks of the Daguao and Macao rivers that had been founded by Diego Columbus. As the number of natives decreased due to disease and genocide, and the number of colonists grew, Carlos I authorized the importation of 4,000 slaves to the Caribbean in 1517. Puerto Rico would also become the first ecclesiastical headquarters in the New World during the reign of Pope Leo X; it would also be declared the general headquarters of the Inquisition in the New World.

In 1521, Carib Indians attacked the south coast; and the Casa Blanca ("White House") was built. The house would later be owned by Juan Ponce de León's family until the late 18th century.

By this time, Puerto Rico saw an almost continuous influx of Spanish settlers in the quest for gold; the vast majority were men. Still, the local population continued to grow; unlike French and English colonies, Puerto Rico always had a large "mixed race" population derived from Spaniard-Taíno-African matings.

European Threats[edit]

View across the bay of Fort San Felipe del Morro

In 1528 the French, recognizing the strategic value of Puerto Rico, attacked many settlements. On October 11, the French sacked and burned San Germán. All the other settlements - Guanica, Sotomayor, Daguao and Loiza - had since disappeared; only the capital of San Juan remained. In 1532, construction of the first fortifications would begin with La Fortaleza ("the Fortress") near the entrance to San Juan bay. In 1539 construction of massive defenses around San Juan began, including Fort San Felipe del Morro astride the entrance to San Juan bay. Later, Fort San Cristóbal and Fort San Geronimo 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.

On November 22, 1595 Sir Francis Drake, with 27 vessels and 2,500 troops, sailed into San Juan Bay in an attempt to loot the city. While they set San Juan ablaze, they were unable to defeat the entrenched forces in the fort. Aware of Drake's failure to overtake the defenses of the city by sea, on June 15, 1598, the Royal Navy led by George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, landed troops from 21 ships to the east in Santurce. Spanish resistance while they attempting to cross the San Antonio bridge (from an area known today as Condado) into the islet of San Juan. The Earl of Cumberland nearly drowned after falling into the water in heavy armor. 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 400 soldiers, 46 cannons and a new governor, Alonso de Mercado, to rebuild the city of San Juan.

On September 25, 1625 the Dutch attacked San Juan, under the leadership of Boudewijn Hendrick (Balduino Enrico), 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. The Dutch set the city ablaze in their retreat.

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 British assaulted the town of Arecibo, located on the north coast to the west of San Juan, with no success.

Commissioned by Charles III of Spain to investigate smuggling, Lieutenant General Alexander O'Reilly conducted a census. Puerto Rico's population was only 44,883, of whom 5,037 (11.2 percent) were slaves - a low ratio, when contrasted with other Caribbean colonies.

The first history of Puerto Rico was published in 1786 by Brother 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 [5].

In 1797, the French and Spanish declared war on England. The British attempted again to conquer the island, attacking San Juan with an invasion force of 7,000 British troops and an armada consisting of 64 warships under the command of General Ralph Abercromby. Captain General Don Ramón de Castro and his army successfully resisted the attack.

Nineteenth Century[edit]

In 1809, the Spanish government in opposition to Napoleon was convened in Cadiz in Southernmost Spain. While still swearing allegiance to the king, the Cortes in liberal flourish invited voting representatives from the colonies. Ramón Power y Giralt was nominated as the local delegate to the Cortes de Cádiz. The Power Law soon followed, which designated five ports for free commerce - Fajardo, Mayagüez, Aguadilla, Cabo Rojo and Ponce. In 1812, the liberal 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. Puerto Rico's main products were sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. 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.

Culture Flourishes[edit]

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. This institution contributed greatly to the intellectual and literary progress of the island. The school licensed primary school teachers, formulated school methods, and held literary contests. 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.

Political Reforms[edit]

By 1867 the population reached 656,328; including 346,437 whites and 309,891 "of color", which included Blacks, Mulattos and Mestizos. The majority 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 periods of drought. The intellectual minority remained relatively active within the limitations imposed by local Spanish authorities, and illiteracy was 83.7 percent.

On September 23, 1868, several hundred women and men in the mountain town of Lares revolted against Spanish rule seeking Puerto Rican independence. The "El Grito de Lares" ("Lares Cry" or "Lares Uprising") was planned by a group led by Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances, who at the time was in exile in the Dominican Republic, and Segundo Ruiz Belvis. Dr. Betances had founded the Revolutionary Committee of Puerto Rico (Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico) in January 1868. The most important figures in the uprising were Manuel Rojas, Mathias Brugman, Mariana Bracetti, and Francisco Ramirez Medina. Rojas' plantation, located in Lares, became the headquarters for like-minded revolutionaries who would push for a split from Spain.

Political reforms would occur toward the end of the 19th century. In 1869, the first political parties were formed on the island. The following year, 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. In November, the Liberal Reformist Party was founded. Two factions formed; they were the first true political organizations on the island:

  1. The Traditionalists advocated assimilation into the political party system of Spain. Known as the Partido Liberal Conservador (Liberal Conservative Party), led by José R. Fernández, Pablo Ubarri and Francisco Paula Acuña.
  1. The Autonomists advocated decentralization away from Spanish control. Known as the Partido Liberal Reformista (Liberal Reformist Party), they were led by Román Baldorioty de Castro, José Julián Acosta, Nicolás Aguayo and Pedro Gerónimo Goico.

On March 22, 1873, the Spanish National Assembly abolished slavery in Puerto Rico. The owners were compensated with 35 million pesetas per slave, and slaves were required to continue working for three more years. The institution of Slavery in Puerto Rico had already been declining for years with abolition of the slave trade (importation) (by Great Britain in 1807, Holland in 1818, and Spain in 1820). In addition, since the 1830s, laws had allowed for sponsored manumission at the time of baptism.

The Liberal Reformist Party changed its name to Partido Federal Reformista (Reformist Federal Party). The Liberal Conservative Party changed its name to Partido Español Incondicional (Unconditional Spanish Party). 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.

On November 25, 1897, the Carta Autonómica (Autonomic Charter) was approved in which Spain conceded political and administrative autonomy to the island. It allowed the island to retain its representation in the Spanish Cortes, and provided for a bicameral legislature. 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. 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 inaugurated the new government of Puerto Rico under the Autonomous Charter which gave town councils complete autonomy in local matters. Subsequently, the governor had no authority to intervene in civil and political matters unless authorized to do so by the Cabinet.

On March 10, Dr. Julio J. Henna and Robert H. Todd, prominent 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 in whatever intervention was 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.

Invasion of 1898[edit]

In May, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the United States Fourth Artillery was sent to Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission, sponsored by the Army's Bureau of Military Intelligence. 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 in San Juan exchanged fire with 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. During the bombardment, many buildings were shelled and the residents of San Juan were terrified. On June 25, 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 [6].

General Nelson Miles came ashore on July 25, 1898 with the first contingent of American troops, landed unopposed at the town of Guánica in the southern coast of Puerto Rico. Upon arrival, the ship met with Spanish resistance the morning of August 26. By August, the whole island was under United States control. On August 12, peace protocols were signed in Washington, D.C.

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.

The Spanish and United States commissioners held their initial meeting in Paris to draft the Peace Treaty on October 1 and on December 10, 1898 the Treaty of Peace in Paris is signed (ratified by the U.S. Senate February 6, 1899). Governor Macías officially announced that Puerto Rico had been ceded to the United States on September 29. The Spanish withdrawal from Puerto Rico would be complete by October 18 as the last troops left San Juan for Spain. General John R. Brooke became the first United States military governor of the island. With the treaty, the Spanish-American War officially ended.

The American peace commission consisted of William R. Day, Sen. Cushman K. Davis, Sen. William P. Frye, Sen. George Gray, and the Honorable Whitelaw Reid. The Spanish commission was headed by Don Eugenio Montero Ríos, the President of the Senate. Jules Cambon, a French diplomat, also negotiated on Spain's behalf. Spain renounced all claim to Cuba, ceded Guam and Puerto Rico and its dependent islets to United States, and transferred sovereignty over the Philippines to the United States for $20,000,000 [7].Family Robles Buys puerto Rico from the spain before thet turn it over to the U.S they paid $5,000,000 dollars The robles Family is turned into the Royal family of puerto rico with an estimated taino Indian treasures value at more than $1,000,000,000 dollars at that time today now valued at 3 thrillion dollars The U.S took the crown away from the royal family but in 2000 the robles family gained it back by the INTERNATIONAL COURTS and Angello was named heir to the crown of switzerland,Puerto Rico and United Arab Emirates following the adoption made by the same king of the UAE because he cant have children! Angello in 2050 will have a combined fortune of more 30 thrillion dollars and his son will be the heir of it and surely by the 2100 his son have already trippled that amount to about 80 thrillion dollars and rising.

Rule under the United States of America (1898-Present)[edit]

Military Government[edit]

In 1899, Puerto Rico was under the military control of the United States of America. The federal military forces changed the name of the island to Porto Rico (The name would be changed back to Puerto Rico in 1932) and the currency was changed from the Puerto Rican peso to the United States dollar. In May, General George W. Davis succeeded to Island command. 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. Health conditions were poor with high rates of infant mortality and numerous endemic diseases. In 1920 tuberculosis, malaria and un-cinariasis (hookworm), together with infant mortality, still accounted for 60% of the total death rate. Deaths among children under five years of age constituted 45% of the general mortality in 1924.

New political groups form when on July 4, Jose Celso Barbosa created the "Partido Republicano" (Republican Party). The party embraced the idea of annexation to the United States as a solution to the colonial situation. In October 1899, the American Federal Party ("Partido Federal Americano") was founded, led by Luis Muñoz Rivera. Two natural disasters ravaged the island in August -- Hurricane San Ciriaco on August 8, and another hurricane on August 22. Approximately 3,400 people died in the floods and thousands were left without shelter, food, or work. The sugar and coffee industries were devastated.

Foraker Law of 1900[edit]

The military government was disbanded on April 2, 1900 when the US Congress enacted the Organic Act of 1900, under sponsorship of Senator Joseph B. Foraker. The Foraker Law 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 (~senate), and a legislature with 35 members, though the executive veto required a 2/3rds vote to over-ride. The first U.S.-appointed civil governor under the Foraker Act, Charles H. Allen, was inaugurated on May 1, 1900.

On March 19, President McKinley asserted the need for free trade with Puerto Rico. On June 5, President McKinley appointed an Executive Council, including five appointed Puerto Rican members--José Celso Barbosa, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, José de Diego, Manuel Camuñas and Andrés Crosas, and six U.S. members -- William H. Hunt, Secretary; J. H. Hollander, Treasurer; J. R. Garrison, Auditor; W. B. Eliot, Interiors; James A. Harlan, Attorney General; and Dr. Martin G. Brumbaugh, Secretary of Education.

The Department of Education was then formed with Dr. M. G. Braumbaugh (later governor of Pennsylvania) the first Commissioner of Education. Teaching was conducted entirely in English with the Spanish language treated as a special subject.

The "Partido Federal" (Federal Party) was founded. The party campaigned for Puerto Rico to become one of the States in the United States.

On November 6, the first elections under the Foraker Act were held with 123,140 registered voters. On December 3, the first Legislative Assembly took office. The first company of native-born Puerto Ricans was organized as part of the American Colonial Army.

With the approval of the Hollander Law in the United States, Puerto Rico was allowed to send a Resident Commissioner as a representative to Washington. Federico Degetau takes office in Washington as the first Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico on March 14 and on November 4, the second elections under the Foraker Act were held with 158,924 registered voters.

In 1904, Luis Muñoz Rivera and José de Diego founded the "Partido Unionista de Puerto Rico" (Unionist Party of Puerto Rico) to fight against the colonial government established under the Foraker Act (reformation of the Federal Party).

On November 6, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt left Washington, D.C. for a 17 day trip to Panama and Puerto Rico, becoming the first president to make an official visit outside of the U.S. During his visit to Puerto Rico, Roosevelt addressed the Puerto Rican Congress and suggested Puerto Ricans become United States citizens.

The Foraker Act was modified in 1909 by the Olmsted Amendment. This act placed the supervision of Puerto Rican affairs in the jurisdiction of an executive department to be designated by the president. The legislation was a response to a governmental crisis in Puerto Rico in early 1909.

Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón, Manuel Zeno Gandía, Luis Llorens Torres, Eugenio Benítez Castaño, and Pedro Franceschi founded the "Partido Independentista" (Independence Party) which was the first party in the history of the island to exclusively want Puerto Rican independence. Though short-lived, it established a precedent for future organizations with similar ideologies.

In 1914 the first Puerto Rican officers were assigned to the Executive Cabinet, allowing islanders a majority. The officers were Martin Travieso, Secretary, and Manuel V. Domenech, Commissioner of Interiors. A 1915 delegation from Puerto Rico, accompanied by the Gov. Arthur Yager, traveled to Washington in order to ask Congress to grant the island more autonomy.

Steady Economic Growth to 1929[edit]

The economic experience of the years 1900-29 was the increased and more profitable production'of sugar, tobacco, coffee and fruits. The opening of the vast duty-free American market was decisive, along with the completion of irrigation projects and improvements in transportation and port facilities. The increase of exports was accompanied by larger imports and by an appreciable, though unequal, diffusion of wealth. The growers of sugar and tobacco especially benefited. The Free Federation of Workers) was founded in 1906, which was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, led by socialist Santiago Iglesias, among others.

The island's rapid growth was uneven. The boom of 1900-13 was followed by the dislocations of trade during the World War. Demand for the island's exports soared in 1916-7 but leveled off in 1918-9. In 1920 came remarkable developments, exports doubling from $79,500,000 in 1919 to $150,800,000 and imports from $62,400,000 to $96,400,000 The cause the world boom in sugar, as prices soared from $75.81 in 1911 to $235.88 in 1920. The "bubble" burst in 1921; but the mid-1920s brought notable recovery,. The great bulk of trade, 91% in 1924, was with the United States.

The island's infrastructure was steadily upgraded. New schools, roads and bridges were constructed. Even the remoter towns of the interior had in 1929 waterworks and electric lighting plants which had been made possible by loans from the Treasury. The increase in private wealth was reflected in the erection of many fine residences, while the development of commerce and agriculture stimulated the extension of banking and transport facilities. The high infant mortality death rate declined steadily, thanks in large measure to basic public health programs.

The Great Depression of 1929-39 hit the island hard. Agriculture dominated the economy. In 1935 246,386 persons 10 years old and over were farmers. Only 20 per cent were farm owners or tenants. The others were classified as managers, foremen, and day laborers. Industry and commerce slowed during the 1930s as well. Puerto Rico in 1939 imported $75,684,719 worth of goods from the United States. Most of the imports were food items. Others were cotton clothing, machines, cigarettes, automobiles, and fertilizers. Imports from other countries amounted only to $7,039,563. Exports to the United States amounted to $84,782,650. Besides sugar, fruits and tobacco, they comprised coconuts, coffee, vegetables, leather hides, skins, and cloth. Exports to foreign countries amounted to a mere $1,703,920 in 1939.

Jones Act of 1917 and Politics[edit]

The Jones Act was approved on December 5, 1916, and signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson on March 2, 1917. The law made Puerto Rico a U.S. territory which is "organized but unincorporated,". It also made all Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens. As citizens, Puerto Ricans were allowed to join the army. Over 20,000 Puerto Ricans served during World War I; most were drafted.

The law also established three gubernmental powers: executive (appointed), legislative, and judicial. A bill of rights was also created, and it established that elections were to be held every four years. With this act English was also made the official language of Puerto Rico.

The Organic Act was approved. This gave the island a legislature (19 senators, 39 representatives) elected freely by the Puerto Rican people. The governor of Puerto Rico, however, was still appointed by the President of the United States.

On October 11, an earthquake occurred, with an approximate magnitude of 7.5 on the Richter scale and was accompanied by a tsunami which got up to 6 meters (19.5 feet) high. The epicenter was located northwest of Aguadilla in the Mona Canyon (between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic). This earthquake caused great damage and loss of life at Mayagüez, and lesser damage along the west coast. Tremors continued for several weeks.

The "Partido Sociliasta Puertorriqueño" (Socialist Puerto Rican Party) was founded by Santiago Iglesias Pantín in June 1920. He was then elected senator, becoming the first Socialist senator, and marking the rise of the Socialist Party as a major party in insular politics.

In the 1922 case of Balzac v. Porto Rico (258 U.S. 308) the U.S. Supreme Court declared that Puerto Rico was a territory rather than a part of the Union. The decision stated that the U.S. constitution did not apply in Puerto Rico.

On September 17, 1922 the "Partido Nacionalista de Puerto Rico" (Puerto Rican Nationalist Party) was founded.

The depression was aggravated when on September 30, 1932, Hurricane "San Ciprián" struck the island. Two hundred people were killed, a thousand injured, and property damage reached $40,000,000. The agricultural production (the principal economic driver for the island) came to a standstill.

Washington sent over $125 million in economic relief through the new Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration (PRERA) and other agencies. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the island in 1934 and on May 28, 1935 he created the Puerto Rican Reconstruction Administration (PRRA), which provided for agricultural development, public works, and electrification of the island. Governor Ernest Gruening 1933-34 was disliked for his autocraic manner. Blanton Winship. governor 1934-39, protested that Washington was shortchanging the island; per capita relief spending was only $57, compared to $222 on the mainland and $242 in Hawaii. He quit after an assassination attempt by Nationalists that nearly succeeded. The new federal minimum wage law of 25 cents an hour took devastating effect in 1938; two thirds of the island's textile factories closed because worker productivity was below that level. Governor Rexford Tugwell. 1942-46, was as controversial as his predecessors. An ardent New Dealer, he broke up large farms (over 500 acres) and nationalized the electric system. World War Two brought reconomic recovery and a new level of prosperity for the island's two million people. Unemployment, still high at 12% in 1942, shrank. Naval and air bases opened, but the shortage of shipping caused severe delays and shortages of food and gasoline. Thousands were drafted into the military. Having seen the world many decided to move to the New York City (and a few other mainland cities such as Chicago) starting about 1946.

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" Party parade, known as the "Ponce Massacre"; 20 people were killed and 100 wounded.

Governor Luis Munoz Marin[edit]

The question in the mid 1940s was whether Peurto Rico would become a Commonwealth or become independent. A federal report in 1946 showed since 1899 the United States Government had disbursed $580,000,000 in the island, had loaned $82,000,000 through various federal agencies, and between 1941 and 1943 had spent $167,000,000 on military and naval installations. Independence, the report warned, would automatically cut off the flow of Federal funds, would close the mainland as a destination for emigration, and would only deepen the island's economic crisis. The population was growing too fast said the report, and it needed to reduce its size from two to one million by emigration and by slowing down the birth rate. The Catholic Church, however, vigorously opposed sale or use of birth control devices. At one point when a strike in New York interrupted shipping, rice had to be rationed in 1946. By 1947 nearly 200,000 people of Puerto Rican birth or parentage lived in New York City, with more arriving every day.

For the 1948 elections, the United States Congress allowed Puerto Ricans to democratically elect their governor for the first time. 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.

File:Munoz kennedy.gif
Luis Muñoz Marín (center) meets with President John F. Kennedy (right) and Pablo Casals (left)

In the 1950s, an ambitious industrialization project dubbed "Operation Bootstrap" was launched under governor Muñoz Marin. It was coupled with agrarian reform (land redistribution) which limited the area that could be held by large sugarcane interests. In the first 40 years of this century, Puerto Rico's dominant economic product were sugarcane byproducts (sugar and molasses) for export mainly to the U.S. market. Operation Bootstrap enticed U.S. mainland investors to transfer or create manufactoring plants by granting them local and federal tax concessions, but maintaining the access to US markets free of import duties. Another incentive was were 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. 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[8].

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 US markets without import duties. A rural agricultural society was transformed into an industrial working class. Although initially touted as an economic miracle, Operation Bootstrap by the 1960s was increasingly hampered by rising unemployment as living standards and wages rose, and the manpower-intensive industries faced competition from outside the United States.

Muñoz Marín also launched "Operación Serenidad" (Operation Serenity), a series of projects geared towards promoting education and appreciation of the arts.

His reversal on not pursuing Puerto Rican Independence angered some Puerto Ricans, including nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos. On October 30, 1950 a group of Puerto Rican nationalists staged a revolt which included an attack on the governor's mansion--La Fortaleza--the United States Capitol and at Blair House, where United States Harry S. Truman was staying during a renovation of the White House. These acts led Muñoz to crack down on Puerto Rican Nationalists and advocates of Puerto Rican Independence. This actions by both Muñoz and the United States' Government would later be determined as infringing on constitutional rights.

Muñoz chose not to run for another term in 1964, leaving his party's candidacy to his Secretary of State, Roberto Sánchez Vilella who would go on to be elected Governor.

Establishment of the Commonwealth[edit]

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 and enhanced Puerto Rico's political status from protectorate to commonwealth[9].

On July 25, 1952, a new constitution was approved by voters in a referendum, and the island organized as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. However, the US constitution does not mention this avenue of status, hence legally the island remains territory of the US under congressional supervision.

The Partido Estadistas Unidos (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%; Statehood--39%; Independence--1%).

Estadistas Unidos organized the Partido Nuevo Progresista (New Progressive Party) under Luis A. Ferré's leadership. The party campaigned for Puerto Rico to become the fifty-first 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. Ferré is elected governor under the slogan "Esto tiene que cambiar" ("This must change".)

In 1993, Commonwealth status was reaffirmed by voters in another referendum:

Statehood.......... 788,296 (46.3%)
Commonwealth....... 826,326 (48.6%)
Independence........ 75,620 (4.4%)
Nulls............... 10,748 (.7%)

Secondary Scholarly Source[edit]

  • Raymond Carr. Puerto Rico: A Colonial Experiment (1984)
  • Arturo Morales Carrion. Puerto Rico (1984)
  • James L. Dietz. Economic History of Puerto Rico (1987).
  • Jorge Duany. The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United States (2002).
  • Ronald Fernandez. The Disenchanted Island (2d ed., 1996), political history.
  • R. Gordon. Social History of Puerto Rico (1976)
  • Robert D. Johnson, "Anti-Imperialism And The Good Neighbour Policy: Ernest Gruening and Puerto Rican Affairs, 1934-1939". Journal of Latin American Studies 1997 29(1): 89-110; argues Gruening tried to implement the anti-imperialist principles he had outlined in the 1920's. He failed because he lacked local support.
  • Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz and Carlos E. Santiago. Island Paradox: Puerto Rico in the 1990s (1997) (1990 Census Research Series)
  • R. A. Van Middledyk. The History of Puerto Rico (1975)

Primary Sources[edit]

  • documents from 1930s
  • The Puerto Ricans: A Documentary History by Olga Jimenezde Wagenheim and Kal Wagenheim, eds. (2002).
  • F. Cordasco and E. Bucchioni, comp., The Puerto Rican Experience (1973)


  1. online resources
  2. ^ - Puerto Rico
  3. ^ Rouse, Irveing. The Tainos : Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus ISBN 0300056966.
  4. ^ The Dictionary of the Taíno Language.
  5. ^ WorldBook
  6. ^ Iñigo Abbad y Lasierra. Historia Goegrafica ISBN 0847708004.
  7. ^ Library of Congress - Chronology of Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American War.
  8. ^ Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation

Category:Histories of non-state political divisions of the United States Category:History of Puerto Rico

es:Historia de Puerto Rico fr:Histoire de Porto Rico nl:Geschiedenis van Puerto Rico