Written and Edited by Efrain Nieves & Victoria Cepeda
For Puerto Ricans, July 25th 1898 represents the fateful day when the United States invaded the island. At the time, the goal was to become independent from Spain. However, the island’s political and economic infrastructure was broken and drained of resources. Country folks had no idea who the newcomers were. As most of us know, the 19th century became a turning point in history as many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean gained their independence from Spain and Portugal except for Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines.
Great Britain feared that the frail newly independent countries in the region would fall under Spain’s control once again. Therefore the Brits asked the United States for help to warn Spain and other European nations to stay out of the Americas. The U.S. agreed and created the Monroe Doctrine on December 2, 1823. Spanish dominance over the Americas was about to end.
In 1868, a pro-independence rebellion began in the islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, Dr. Ramón Emeterio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis founded the Comité Revolucionario de Puerto Rico and planned the uprising known as El Grito De Lares which took place on September 23rd. Cuba’s uprising, La Guerra de los Diez Años, came less than a month later when sugar mill owner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and his followers proclaimed Cuba’s independence from Spain. Unfortunately, both uprisings failed and both islands remained under Spanish rule.
In the years following the uprising, Spain established a liberal government giving Cubans and Puerto Ricans the right to send representatives to the Spanish Cortes and paved the way for the first national political parties. In Puerto Rico, El Partido Liberal Reformista (Liberal Reform Party) was formed but were divided on their reform ideas. Some party members supported the idea of total assimilation while others preferred a self-government under the Spanish flag.
During the late 1870s The Partido Liberal Reformista changed their name to Partido Autonomista Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican Autonomist Party) dropping the idea of assimilation and calling for self-government. In the later years, Puerto Rico suffered from a severe economic crisis since “Spain promoted an export-based agrarian Puerto Rican economy, centering on the production of sugarcane, coffee, and tobacco, that served to finance and support its military troops on the island. Few, if any, funds were ever allocated to improve the island’s infrastructure (roads, railroads, ports) or social conditions” (Society and the Economy in Early-Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico). On November 25, 1897, Puerto Ricans were granted the right to self-govern by Spain when La Carta Autonómica was approved by the Spanish Cortes to take effect during the March elections in 1898.
However, the Feb. 15, 1898 explosion of the USS Maine on the harbor of Havana, Cuba that killed 266 U.S. sailors changed all propects of self-governing for Puerto Rico. The U.S. blamed the Spanish government of planting a floating mine on the harbor and rejected Spain’s willingness to compensate for the ship. Consequently, “on April 25, 1898, President William McKinley, with the consent of the U.S. declared war against Spain” (1898 invasion of Puerto Rico & the emergence of U.S. imperialism).
The invasion was led by the Gen. Nelson Appleton Miles on July 25th, 1898. General Miles and his soldiers stormed the shores of Guánica Bay defeating the Spanish and Puerto Rican defense. Before the U.S. troops could reach San Juan, Spain had agreed to sign a peace treaty. The Treaty of Paris was signed on December 1oth, 1898 ceding the island of Puerto Rico, along with Guam and Philippines, to the United States.
Several U.S. appointed governors followed the occupation and in 1917, via the Jones Act, Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens. Some argue that citinzenship was granted in advance of the Selective Service Act that the U.S. passed two months later. The Jones Act allowed conscription to be extended to the island. As such 20,000 Puerto Rican soldiers were sent to World War I. On June 10, 1948 the then U.S. appointed governor Jesús T. Piñero passed a law which made it illegal to display a Puerto Rican flag, to sing a patriotic tune, to talk of independence, or to fight for the liberation of the island. It wasn’t until 1948 that Puerto Ricans were allowed to elect their own governor. On November 2nd, Luis Muñoz Marín became the first elected governor of the island officially taking seat on January 2, 1949. On July 25th, 1952, the Constitution of Puerto Rico was approved and it was then that the island was officially recognized as a commonwealth. It was also in 1952 that the Puerto Rican flag was publicly displayed for the first time.
To be politically correct the island was occupied by the United States between 1898 and 1952. Hopefully, this article helps shed some light as to why Puerto Ricans did not fight off the “invasores” but “nunca llueve al gusto de todos”. My take away? Puerto Rico, along with Guam and the Philippines, were commodities traded off by the empire of turn. In this fable, Goliath’s might overcame David’s will. No fairy tales thereafter.
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