U.S. Invasion of Puerto Rico: Misconceptions vs. Facts


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.

Spanish and Puerto Rican POWs

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.


Carta Autonómica

Society and the Economy in Early-Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico

1898 invasion of Puerto Rico & the emergence of U.S. imperialism

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13 Responses to “U.S. Invasion of Puerto Rico: Misconceptions vs. Facts”

  1. Thanks for this concise history lesson on the roots of our Island Puerto Rico’s history as it pertains to our occupation! Well done!!!

  2. This was very interesting to read. As a Latina, of Mexican descent, I appreciate when I gain a better understanding of cultural, political, history of other Latino’s. Thank you.

  3. Neftali Martinez Santana Reply July 28, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    After so many years it is great to refresh my memory on history .Thank you.

  4. felix arrufat jr. Reply July 29, 2012 at 7:10 PM

    being born in n.y.c. this history of puerto rico is what young people, need to know and how far we need to go for change.
    thank you.

  5. I recently saw some pictures of the US invasion in 1898 and its subsequent colonization in a social network. I really felt offended by these “reminders” of that tragedy and its celebratory comments. Personally, I feel that that is one day that will forever live in infamy. Presently, I feel that Puerto Ricans have fully accepted their present status and that Puerto Rico will never be free of US dominance. Puerto Rico will be, forever, a “property” of the United States. Sad.

  6. I believe you have to go further back in history to understand the dynamics of this part of the world.Like all the way to 1509 when Spain sent Ponce De Leon to Puerto Rico in the search for gold. Like Cuba, Guam, the Phillipines and much of latin America the Spanish are the ones who first invaded the islands and committed genocide and slavery all in the name of Christianity. Their quest for gold was the true invasion of Puerto Rico that wiped out or enslaved most of the natives of the caribean islands. When the US landed there in 1898 the Spanish Empire had all but fallen and the island was in a pitiful state. In my opinion Puerto Rico gained it’s independance from Spain. It’s not the “property” of the US. IS it really so terrible to be a common wealth of the US? Looks to me like it’s much better than to be ruled by a socialist country like Spain.

  7. The reality is that Puerto Rico indeed is a territory/Colony of the USA. Your so call citizenship, with “NO VOICE or Vote” less to much to be desire for your description of we are better off. We are just the same way we where with Spain in 1898. Nothing have change. To be correct: Luis Muñoz Marin, gave or resources for the commodity of manufacturing which in reality was a way for the rich and powerful in the USA (Congress and the wealthy) to enrich themselves more by promising better knowing the in a short time they have to remove the manufacturing while at the same time giving a carrot to Muñoz and his cadre that followed up and left the population were it is today. Do to a corrupt government on the Island (trained by the corrupt politicians in the USA), we have mishandle the resources (land and metality and manpower of the Puerto Ricans. On top of that they gave freely checks (mantengo/cupones, you named) and know they would like to cut their losses… Re think your history and Puerto Rico, you have the same right to become a “FREE NATION” and with strong morality of character become “La Perla del Caribe” listen to Betancez and those, including luis Muñoz Rivera who really wanted independence..the right of man is to be free, no tight up to what Congress want. In the USA nothing is free, eventually you get the bill.

  8. I suppose the smartest thing for Puerto Rico to do now is declare its independence and cancel all its debts. Becoming a US state after being taken advantage of for over a century is asking a lot. The only way the US Congress could induce PR to become the 51st state is if Congress itself canceled Puerto Rico’s debt. But since Paul Singer’s and Goldman Sachs’ vulture funds now own PR’s debt, and they own the US Congress, I wouldn’t expect PR to put its trust in the US Congress.


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