Puerto Rico


Puerto Rico
   Officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, an eastern Caribbean island, named originally Boriquen by the indigenous Taíno Indians, and self-governing entity associated with the United States. Between 1509 and 1898, the island was under Spanish colonial rule. After 1815, Puerto Rico experienced opposition to Spanish rule and was granted Home Rule in November 1897. After victory in the Spanish-American War of 1898, the United States acquired Puerto Rico in the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. With a population of less than a million and little bilateral commerce, this most distant island of the Greater Antilles, more than a thousand miles east of Miami, was of particular strategic value to the United States, as it guarded the Mona Passage, a key shipping lane to Central America and the envisioned interoceanic canal. It thus complemented Cuba in Washington’s notions of an “American Mediterranean,” and served a function similar to that of Malta for the British Empire.
   The American colonial government placed great emphasis on social engineering and educational reforms. As part of a campaign to “Americanize” the island’s Hispanic institutions, Washington created a school system that mirrored that in the United States. English became the official language in all schools, as American teachers and missionaries flooded the island between 1905 and 1915. In addition, the United States executed a substantial program of infrastructure improvements, sanitation measures, public inoculations, and educational reforms. Initially welcomed as liberators, many Puerto Ricans quickly rejected the new colonial rulers as they granted the locals inferior political rights to those experienced under the Spanish crown. The first interim military government lasted until April 1900, when the U.S. Congress passed the Foraker Amendment, which set the legal framework for the civil government of Puerto Rico until 1917. This first Organic Act of Puerto Rico made the dollar legal currency, set up colonial administration with a governor appointed by the president, made the U.S. Supreme Court arbiter of the Puerto Rican legal system, and denied the locals citizenship. At the same time, the act established a system of taxes and tariffs on Puerto Ricans despite their lack of representation. The island was considered an unincorporated territory belonging to, but not part of, the United States with no prospect of eventual statehood. Much of the debate over its colonial status was highly charged with racial and cultural discrimination towards the island’s Hispanic population. The Jones Act of 1916 confirmed the territorial doctrine but granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship.
   See also <>; <>.
   FURTHER READING:
    Burnett, Christina Duffy, and Burke Marshall, eds. Foreign in a Domestic Sense. Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution . Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001;
    Caban, Pedro A. Constructing a Colonial People: Puerto Rico and the United States, 1898–1932 . Boulder, CO: Westview, 2000.
   FRANK SCHUMACHER

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.


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