"Be good, do good, live long in peace." --DJ 

Primer of Puerto Rican History

The history of a country... is generally written by the conquerors. The "conquered" seldom writes anything. Many things contribute to the correct and accurate depiction of historical data. Sponsorship by the wealthy was one of the favorite incentives. Such history tends to carry a partial or one-sided view of the facts. It is, consequently, up to the passionate historian to do adecuate research to verify the facts... starting with the simple fact that Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the world today!

Note: As you can see, this page is just a historical primer, not a comprehensive study of the History of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s native Taíno population, a hunter-gatherer Arawak ancestry, settled the island more than 1,000 years before the Spanish arrived—called it Borinquén or Borikén ("the great land of the valiant and noble Lord"), and called themselves as Boricuas. By the time Columbus came, there were about 45,00 Tainos in the whole 100x35 mile island

They lived in small villages led by a cacique Agüeybaná and lived on hunting, fishing and gathering of indigenous cassava root, vegetables and fruit.

By the The mid 1500s, Taíno domination of the island was almost gone, and the Spanish arrival marked the beginning of their extinction, yet their culture remains part of that of contemporary Puerto Rico. Musical instruments such as maracas and güiro, the hammock, and words such as Mayagüez, Arecibo, iguana, Caguas and huracán (hurricane) are examples of the legacy left by them. By the end of the 1500 most of the Taino native population had been killed by disease, violence, and suicide.

As part of the colonization process and because the Taínos were mostly gone, African slaves were brought to the island. The number of slaves on the island was small in comparison to those in neighboring islands, like Hispaniola (Haiti-Dominican Republic).

Also, early in the colonization, attempts were made to take control of Puerto Rico from Spain, by the fierce Caribs, a raiding tribe of the Caribbean. They attacked the Island but were easily beat by the superior Spanish firepower.

When the gold mines in Puerto Rico were empty, the Island was no longer important to the Spanish Crown. The Spaniards encouraged free people of color from British and French possessions in the Caribbean to emigrate to Puerto Rico, to provide a population base to support the Puerto Rican garrison.

Throughout the years, there were many slave revolts in the island. Slaves who were promised their freedom joined the 1868 uprising against Spanish colonial rule in what is known as the Grito de Lares. On March 22, 1873, slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico. The contributions of ethnic Africans to the music, art, language, and heritage have been instrumental in Puerto Rican culture.

2. Spaniard
Christopher Columbus landed at Puerto Rico in 1493 and claimed the island for Spain during this second voyage. The European powers, French, Dutch, and British... quickly realized the potential of the newly discovered lands and attempted to gain control of them, but the Spanish prevailed. In the Spanish Empire, Puerto Rico played a secondary, but strategic role when compared to bigger colonies like Peru and the mainland parts of New Spain.

Spain was determined to break the Taínos and after the remarkably blatant and cruel abuse the Spanish Crown used to keep Boricuas "in line", anything was welcome. One Lieutenant General Juan de la Pezuela y Cevallos had terrorized the island's population to the point of sheer desperation.

Have in mind that the Spanish ruled the Island despotically and with an iron fist, to put it mildly. Just eleven years earlier, in what history calls "The Terrible Year of 1887", one Spanish governor, Romualdo Palacio was so mean that he instituted a series of "compontes" or tortures to those who boycotted Spain's monopoly on merchant goods. Some of these included hanging men by their genitals (ouch!) and drowning their heads in "letrinas" (outhouses).

4. USA Invasion and Formative Years
On July 25, 1898, during the Spanish–American War, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico with a landing at Guánica, a southern town. As an outcome of the war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. under the Treaty of Paris, which went into effect on April 11, 1899. The treaty took effect on April 11, 1899

The United States and Puerto Rico began a long-standing metropolis-colony relationship. In the early 1900, Puerto Rico was ruled by the military, with officials including the governor appointed by the President of the United States. The Foraker Act of 1900 gave Puerto Rico a certain amount of civilian popular government, including a popularly elected House of Representatives. The upper house and governor were appointed by the United States. During an address to the Puerto Rican legislature in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt recommended that Puerto Ricans become U.S. citizens.

In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Jones–Shafroth Act, popularly called the Jones Act, which granted Puerto Ricans, born on or after, April 25, 1898, U.S. citizenship. In 1914, the Puerto Rican House of Delegates voted unanimously in favor of independence from the United States, but this was rejected by the U.S. Congress as "unconstitutional", and in violation of the 1900 Foraker Act.

In 1937, Albizu Campos' party organized a protest in which numerous people were killed by police in Ponce. The Insular Police, resembling the National Guard, opened fire upon unarmed cadets and bystanders.  Nineteen people were killed and over 200 were badly wounded, many in their backs while running away. The Hays Commission declared it a massacre and police mob action, and it has since been known as the Ponce massacre.

6. Autonomy
During the latter years of the Roosevelt–Truman administrations, the internal governance was changed in a compromise reached with Luis Muñoz Marín and other Puerto Rican leaders. In 1946, President Truman appointed the first Puerto Rican-born governor, Jesús T. Piñero. In 1947, the U.S. granted Puerto Ricans the right to democratically elect their own governor. In 1948, Luis Muñoz Marín became the first popularly elected governor of Puerto Rico.

On February 4, 1952, the convention approved Resolution 22 which chose in English the word Commonwealth, meaning a "politically organized community" or "state", which is simultaneously connected by a compact or treaty to another political system. Puerto Rico officially designates itself with the term "Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" in its constitution, as a translation into English of the term to "Estado Libre Asociado" (ELA).

The Constitution of Puerto Rico was formally adopted on July 3, 1952 and modified and ratified by the U.S. Congress, approved by President Truman on July 3 of that year, and proclaimed by Gov. Muñoz Marín on July 25, 1952. This was the anniversary of July 25, 1898, landing of U.S. troops in the Puerto Rican Campaign of the Spanish–American War, until then celebrated as an annual Puerto Rico holiday.

The people of Puerto Rico made history by requesting, for the first time ever, the conclusion of the island's current territorial status and be considered as a state of the USA by popular vote. The US Congress has denied this petition. On December 11, 2012, the Legislative Assembly of Puerto Rico enacted a concurrent resolution requesting the President and the Congress of the United States to respond to the referendum of the people of Puerto Rico, held on November 6, 2012, to end its current form of territorial status and to begin the process to admit Puerto Rico as a State. The initiative has not made Puerto Rico into a state.

Constitutionally, Puerto Rico is subject to the plenary powers of the United States Congress under the territorial clause of Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. They say "jump" we say "how high?". Laws enacted at the federal level in the United States apply to Puerto Rico as well, regardless of its political status. Their residents do not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress nor Presidential vote.

Like the different states of the United States, Puerto Rico lacks "the full sovereignty of an independent nation", for example, the power to manage its "external relations with other nations", which is held by the U.S. federal government. The Supreme Court of the United States has indicated that once the U.S. Constitution has been extended to an area (by Congress or the courts), its coverage is irrevocable. To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this Court, say "what the law is"



This political cartoon, published in 1898, shows a cynical but not inaccurate view of how Puerto Ricans received the "invader" USA. The great Puerto Rican historian Francisco Scarano, comments on how joyous was the reception by the many local communities... "with cordial enthusiasm that verged into carnival-like happiness... what the mayor of Yauco called 'a miracle intervention by the God of the just'." 


Castillo San Felipe del Morro also known as Fuerte San Felipe del Morro or Castillo del Morro, is a 16th-century citadel located in San Juan. Built between 1539-1587


The Spanish conquistadores treated the native Taino people in
Puerto Rico with extreme cruelty, and the Indians were virtually extinct by the mid-1500s.


The Taíno people were one of the largest of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of Cuba, Trinidad, Jamaica, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and Puerto Rico.


The cart pulled by two oxen was a common sight in 1903. Poverty was so rampant that everybody is virtually skinny, even the poor oxen, yet they did their work. Spain had left 5 years earlier and had taken everything... even the kitchen sink. Notice the ubiquitous straw hut in the background. That was affordable housing. ¡AY, BENDITO!


Caserio en Ponce 1942
The first housing projects were not concrete apartments as became in the 1950s and 60s, but individual houses with their own outhouses (letrinas)


On that date in 1898, U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico, beginning a period of U.S. colonial domination on the island that continues to this day. The United States invaded Puerto Rico, along with the Philippines, Guam and Cuba, in the setting of the Spanish-American War.



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