of Puerto Rico
During one period seven years passed and not one
ship came from Spain. Since Puerto Rico was a colony of
Spain and could not commerce with any other country,
contraband flourished with neighboring Dutch, French and
British islands. Even local officials were involved in
the smuggling business which became the most important
part of the economy in Puerto Rico. The coastal towns
of Cabo Rojo, Aguada, Fajardo and Arecibo were constantly
being visited by international pirates.
Puerto Rico was becoming a ethnically mixed society. The
people who lived on the countryside were called
"Jibaros". They lived in small huts and slepped
on hammocks like the aborigines. They ate native fruits
and vegetables and planted tobacco, sugar cane and
In the mid 1770s, the 13 English colonies rebelled against England. English ports of Jamaica and Barbados were closed to all American vessels. Soon ships from the USA were anchoring in San Juan eager to trade slaves and foodstuffs for agricultural products including molasses for making rum. Also, during the American war for independence, some American ships took shelter here in Puerto Rico.
In the 19th century tension began to grow between the Puerto Rican Creole population and the Spanish minority that ruled Puerto Rico's military and business affairs. On September 23, 1868 a rebel force made up of hundreds of brave men bearing guns, knives and machetes took over the town of Lares and proclaimed the Republic of Puerto Rico. This proclamation called all Puerto Ricans to arm against the Spanish government and social injustice. They offered freedom to slaves who joined them. This is known as "El Grito de Lares" or The Cry of Lares. Unfortunately for the rebels, the Spanish government had recieved inside information about the rebel's plans. Troops were sent in to stop the revolt before any other towns were taken. The rebels and leaders fought courageously but were not strong enough to stop the Spanish forces. The revolutionaries finaly were hunt down, imprisoned and many were slain.
"El Grito de Lares" served to draw attention on the Puerto Rican reality to the Spanish government. In the coming years Spain turned more generous when it came to reform. On March 22, 1873 slavery was abolished and nearly 30,000 slaves were freed. Also many of the repressive rules were eliminated.
Puerto Rico, by
royal decree, was granted autonomy on November 28,1897.
The Charter of Autonomy granted Puerto Rico more autonomy
than ever before in the history of Puerto Rico. Puerto
Rico elected delegates to both houses of the Spanish
Courts. Puerto Ricans elected 35 members of the local
house of representatives also 8 of 15 members of the
local Administration Council. Local legislature set its
own budget and taxes. They accepted or rejected
commercial treaties concluded by Spain.
General elections were held in March and on July 17,1898 Puerto Rico's autonomous government began to function, but not for long. The Spanish American War broke out in April of 1898. On July 25,1898 Puerto Rico was invaded by the USA. General Nelson A. Miles and 16,000 American troops came in through Guanica located on the island's southwestern shore. The Americans found little opposition. The Spanish forces soon retreated and on October 18, 1898 Puerto Rico's autonomous government was officially changed to an American military government. General John Brooke became the first American governor of Puerto Rico.
The Spanish American War officially ended on December 10, 1898. The Treaty of Paris stated that Spain was to cede Puerto Rico, Guam and Philippines to the USA. Cuba would become a protectorate of the USA.
The military government lasted two years. On May 1, 1900 the US government approved the Foraker Law which changed the military government to a civil government. Under this new government the governor, his cabinet and Higher House of Delegates (something like a senate) were appointed by the President of the USA and approved by the American legislature. A 35 member Local House of Delegates was elected by popular vote. Also Puerto Ricans voted for a Resident Commissioner who represented Puerto Rico in the US House of Representatives but had no vote. Puerto Ricans were distressed with this new government. After having been granted autonomy by Spain, Puerto Rico had now taken a step back to colonialism. The discontent was such that in 1909 the House of Delegates refused to pass any bills.
On March 2, 1917 President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Law. This law granted Puerto Ricans American citizenship. Also the Jones Law granted such freedoms as liberty of speech, freedom of press, presumption of innocence until proven guilty, the right to a trial before being incarcerated and more. Also it created a Senate of 19 senators and a 39 member House of Representatives which was elected by popular vote. The governor was still appointed by President of the USA. The appointed Governor, the President or the US Congress could veto any law approved by the Puerto Rican Congress. Also Puerto Ricans were now eligible to serve in the American Armed Forces. Puerto Ricans took a major role in all of the USA military conflicts from then on.
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